Analysis | Friday Night Drive

Steve Soucie’s Week 4 playoff projection: 29 new teams cause significant changes

Plainfield North’s Sean Schlanser breaks away after a catch against Plainfield South. Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, in Plainfield.

Twenty-nine teams either entered the projection for the first time this season this week or returned to the projection after a hiatus.

And more so that any other week this season thus far, this shuffling caused a rather notable shift in the classifications.

At least at this stage of the season, almost any result that causes a team to fall out of the projection usually has a counter effect with another school that benefited directly.

In most cases, this is a situation where maybe a Class 6A team is upset by a 7A team, which ends up taking the slot in the projection. Most conferences have no more than a two or three classifications between its smallest and largest schools.

That isn’t so in the Chicago Public League. While this week’s projection didn’t see a significant expansion of CPL teams in the field from last week’s projection – we stand at 26 CPL qualifiers, up from 25 – but what we did see was CPL newcomers having significantly larger school enrollments than the ones they replaced.

That led to a shift and it’s why were are seeing a lot of schools in the middle classifications sliding into a lower projected classification than we typically see.

Two teams currently ranked at the top of their classifications clearly have a chance of dropping a class. Morris is now residing in the Class 4A draw and Sacred Heart Griffin is down in 3A.

This is perplexing to some, especially in the case of Sacred Heart Griffin. But the Cyclones enrollment of 607 simply isn’t high enough to dismiss this as a possibility. Unlike the smaller classifications where there is typically only a couple of students difference between each school on the enrollment list, there are only 31 playoff-eligible football schools in the state that have enrollments between 500-600. Twenty-one of those teams already have at least two losses. A slide into 3A is more than possible for the Cyclones.

There was also a spike in teams that are currently projected to make the field with 4-5 records as at-large teams. That number stood at nine in this week’s projection.

A few rules of thumb to go over in regards to potential 4-5 teams making the field.

Leading candidates to do this typically are larger schools. There are several reasons for this, most notably stronger nonconference opponents to add to playoff point totals. Twenty-two schools are projected to finish with more than 50 playoff points. Only four of those schools have enrollments of less than 500 students and none are on track to make the postseason.

There are also more locked conferences (member schools play no nonconference games) in smaller classifications. A team that finishes 4-5 is unable to garner more or less than 45 points. It appears that it will take close to 50 points to be in the conversation for a potential at-large berth for a 4-5 team.

Twenty-nine teams either entered the projection for the first time or returned to the projection after a hiatus.

• Five of the six members of the Central Suburban North already have three losses, and the leader of the pack (Highland Park) has two. The league is guaranteed an automatic bid to its winner regardless of record, but it doesn’t appear there will be a bunch of at-large berths coming out of this conference.

• The Southwest Prairie East doesn’t have a single team with less than three losses.

• The West Suburban Gold’s seven members went just 7-21 collectively during the first four weeks of the season. Just two of its members are at the .500 mark at this point.

• No members of the Lincoln Prairie Conference (eight teams) has less than two losses.

The biggest shifts inside the classifications came in two groups. Class 7A saw a whopping nine teams either move into the classification or arrive as a new team in the projection. That’s the biggest reason why teams shifted down the enrollment board. There were also seven swaps in Class 4A.

Class 2A was the most stable, seeing just three swaps in the field.

Plainfield North and Edwardsville were the notable schools that moved from 8A to 7A in the projection, while Prairie Ridge and Simeon retained basically the same position from a week ago, which has them both trending as large Class 5A squads.