Analysis | Friday Night Drive

Steve Soucie’s Week 5 playoff projection: Things are stabilizing but far from settled

Plainfield North’s Sean Schlanser celebrates a touchdown catch against Plainfield South. Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, in Plainfield.

As expected, the turnover in the field’s construction is starting to settle down.

Last week we saw a season high 29 teams enter (or return) to the projection from the previous week. This week that number dropped to 18.

Typically what happens on one of these field switches is that a team either pulls off a mild upset or wins a toss-up game that the projection did not have them winning to earn their spot in the projection field.

That certainly happened a few times this week as Evergreen Park, Jacksonville and Quincy Notre Dame provided examples of that scenario.

But the other less seen scenario that creates field shifts is when a projected team loses to a team that isn’t projected to make the field and the win likely still doesn’t create enough projection capital to get the team that pulled the upset into the field.

That happened multiple times this week, which further speaks to the parity that has been making this process more complicated than usual, and to add another interesting wrinkle almost all of the teams that this happened to this week came from a smaller school classification.

So with a line that is already trending down in regards to schools projected to find themselves in a smaller classification than they might be expecting or accustomed to, the shift in the line keeps moving schools, particularly in the middle classifications, up the board (from a larger classification to a smaller one).

The most unexpected wrinkle this week came with Richmond-Burton emerging as a viable candidate for a spot in the Class 3A field. They currently sit as the largest Class 3A school in the projected draw. This week’s projection also required the invoking of the addendum of the “playing up” rule that Joliet Catholic is currently utilizing. If the Hilltoppers place on the enrollment draw indicates that they will land in 3A, they would then “play up” to Class 4A. This week’s projection indicated that Joliet Catholic would slide into the 3A draw by enrollment count, thus making it necessary to push the Hilltoppers back into the 4A bracket.

Also confusing log jambs that are developing in several conferences in the middle of leagues are opening up the possibility of more spots becoming up for grabs. Leagues like the Upstate Eight, Cakohia (Illinois Division), Central Suburban North, Central State Eight, Chicago Public League Red South and Red Southeast, North Suburban, South Central, Southwest Prairie East and particularly the Little Illini aren’t really providing clear pictures as to how things might shake out at the end of the year.

The projection makes distinctions between groups of what appear to be evenly matched teams in the middle of larger leagues (in membership, not school size). In a three-team group for example, it would project one team to win both games between those three foes, one to spilt those games and one to lose both. In a season like this, reality seems to be pointing to those three teams splitting those contests leading to a three-way tie. That’s OK for playoff qualification if all of those teams end up at 5-4 after that scenario, but its considerably more likely that it probably means that all would finish 4-5 and all would end up missing, particularly in locked conferences.

That conference instability plus those upset losses led to the need for even more 4-5 teams to round out the 256-team field. That number spiked to 12 teams this week. And the playoff point total needed to qualify also dropped two points with some teams projected to 45 points getting field spots via a tiebreaker.

Another note about the potential 4-5 at-large teams. The list of teams most likely to earn those types of bids almost exclusively come from the largest classifications. Of the 12 squads projected to take those sorts of bids, just three of them come from classifications below Class 4A.

Prairie Ridge and Simeon still are staying in the 5A projection to date. But it must be emphasized how precarious the position of both of those schools staying in that field. In an almost unprecedented situation for this early in the season the two schools have stayed in spot 159 and 160 in the projected draw for three consecutive weeks. A one-team shift down would move Simeon into spot 161, which is the smallest school slot in the 6A draw. Simeon’s school enrollment is one student larger than Prairie Ridge’s.

Could the field shift back in the opposite direction? Certainly. In order for that to happen, sometime over the course of the remainder of the season the upstart scenario that effected the smaller classes this week would have to happen to the larger ones. And there’s always the Public League wrinkle to consider, all four CPL teams removed from this week’s projection came from the Class 1A-4A ranks with the two newcomers joining Class 5A and Class 6A.