There were a number of notable teams that found themselves in dire straights in regards to their playoff positioning heading into Week 8.
But you don’t become notable by not figuring out a way out of tough situations.
In a year where it seems just about anything can happen, it would be easy to lean into the chaos, but in some ways, things remain the same.
• Barrington limped into a Week 8 matchup with a Conant squad that had pieced together a slightly more impressive resume. Both squads needed the win to remain in the chase. Barrington not only rose to the challenge, it won by a substantial margin, 56-14. There’s still work to be done, but the Broncos did what pedigreed programs do when pushed: they responded with authority.
• Highland, which has been a Class 4A/5A stalwart for multiple years, looked like it was going to need a lot of help from the rest of the field as a potential four-win at-large team. That was before it edged out previously undefeated Mascoutah, 29-27. While the Bulldogs still need a Week 9 victory to push into the field by normal qualification standards, Highland was yet another example of a program rising to meet the challenge at hand.
• Simeon is typically a Chicago Public League entrant in the IHSA playoffs, but after a Week 7 loss to rival Morgan Park that was preceded by nonconference losses to Bolingbrook, Joliet Catholic and Phillips, Simeon was sitting on four losses and facing a challenge with undefeated Kenwood in Week 8. A loss would have given Simeon five on the year and put it at the mercy of needing a fourth win in the opening round of the CPL playoffs just to enter the conversation. The Wolverines still need that win in Week 9 to get to five, but the Kenwood win assures that CPL playoff pairing wasn’t as daunting.
• Newman Central Catholic has not missed the playoffs since 2000, but with its final two games coming against a solid Mendota squad in Week 8 and undefeated Kewanee in Week 9, and a win required by the Comets in at least one of those two contests, things didn’t look particularly rosy. But as elite programs do, Newman rose up and earned the win over Mendota, 24-7, completely relieving the pressure of making sure it would be in the 256-team field.
On the other side, there’s a number of interesting stories developing.
• Shepard looked buried after an 0-4 start, but the Astros are on the verge of turning one of the rarest tricks in IHSA playoff qualification standards. With a win over 3-5 Argo in Week 9, Shepard can earn its place in the field with five consecutive victories to close the regular season.
• Hoopeston hasn’t made the playoffs since 1993. The Cornjerkers also haven’t won more than four games since then either, a streak that ended when Hoopeston secured its fifth win with a narrow win over Salt Fork, 22-20, its second consecutive narrow win. The win was almost a must for Hoopeston as its Week 9 foe is undefeated Bismarck-Henning.
Let’s take a look at the win breakdown after eight weeks:
|Win total||Number of teams|
That chart shows 213 teams have made themselves playoff eligible. And although that leaves 43 spots still yet to claim for teams trying to get to the five-win level, the group of 72 teams at 4-4 has enough instability to leave four-win at-large teams as a distinct possibility.
Of that group of 4-4 teams, seven games are showdown games pairing two teams that both have 4-4 records, 26 teams play teams with superior records and 26 teams play teams with lesser records.
Hypothetically, seven teams will be sent to the five-loss group with losses to other 4-4, and if the teams that are playing teams with lesser records all won and the teams that are playing teams with better records all lost, that would leave 252 teams at five wins and four bids for 4-5 at-large teams.
This is just a hypothetical and there will be teams that reach up and grab bids by beating teams with better records in Week 9. It always happens. But what also happens is that teams also lose in the other group when they are playing teams with lesser records that play spoiler.
So unless there’s an absolute stream of upsets from the 4-4 group playing teams with better records and virtually no damage done by the schools that are playing 4-4 teams with lesser records, there’s more than enough reason for teams that end up at 4-5 with a large cache of playoff points to hold hope.