Ninety-seven teams made it through the first three weeks without taking a loss.
In some cases, the routes were direct. In others, not so much.
That number is lower than we usually see at this stage. There’s a number of reasons for this.
First and foremost, there are now just 491 playoff-eligible programs playing 11-man football in Illinois. That number has been over 500 every season since the playoffs began and has been as high as 570 at one point.
Less teams obviously means less opportunities to get wins, and with the exodus of multiple programs to the 8-man ranks in recent seasons, that means teams are now running into opponents that can topple them faster on the schedule.
And then there’s the elephant in the room: the forfeit rule.
Teams that elect to find a new opponent are then putting that forfeit win on the line. One of the two teams that would have had a win, now has a loss.
The more simplistic way to look at it is this: if two teams were about to take forfeit wins, did just that, the equation would be two wins for two teams and two losses for teams forced to forfeit. A rescheduled game between the two teams that were set to take forfeits, the equation becomes one team with a win and three with losses.
If that happens enough, it begins to take away from the teams that can run the table. And, more importantly, it starts to take away teams that can reach five wins. Less eight-, seven- and six-win teams make it extremely likely that every five-win team gets in and the 256-team playoff field of 256 will need a large number of four-win squads just to fill the field appropriately.
The chase will be mostly the same, but it’s going to look a little different.
Let’s take a look at some teams that made some big strides in Week 3:
Marmion dazzle again: When Marmion held Bishop McNamara to a touchdown in what some perceived an upset win in Week 1, a nod was given to its defense. When the Cadets did it again against a well-regarded Montini team to just 10 points in Week 3, it’s clearly not a fluke, it’s a pattern. And Marmion’s defense might be strong enough to carry it to a playoff bid through a schedule that could be easily classified as a minefield.
Hard to predict: Colleague Josh Welge correctly pointed out what I suspected might be the case in the DuKane Conference this season:
The league started the week with five undefeated teams at 2-0. It finished the week with just two (Batavia and Glenbard North). There’s going to be a ton of jostling in this conference, and from week-to-week there’s likely to be a somewhat surprising result. There’s a complicated path to where an eight-team conference can get five or six teams into the dance, and if there’s any league that might do it, I’d bet on the DuKane.
CPL update: Through three weeks, just seven teams from the Chicago Public League have gotten through unscathed at 3-0. A number of teams have picked up at least one forfeit win in the CPL so far, something that seems likely to increase as the season moves along. This also means that the number of at-large bids the CPL can achieve is going to decrease as well, as there will be less teams accumulating wins, and, more importantly, playoff points. It’s yet another reason some four=win teams will be making the playoffs this season, but the only way low-point CPL teams will be among that group will be if they win a division and earn an automatic berth in the process.
Locked conferences: There are multiple 10-team conferences, otherwise known as locked conferences, where the schedule is stable and you are locked into a certain amount of playoff points based on how many games you win. There’s security in that as a five-win team has never missed the playoffs if they are qualifying from a locked conference. So barring a log jam in the middle of the league, finish in the top half of those conferences and you’re in. Finish in the bottom half and you aren’t.
But based on the same stability that locked conferences provide, it likely won’t allow a four-win team from a locked conference to get an at-large berth. Four-win teams are guaranteed to finish with 41 points, no more, no less. Early projections are indicating that it will take at least 43 points as a four-win team to have a chance of cracking into the field.