It seems like a broken record when referring to the Class 8A playoff field, but once again the field is incredibly deep.
There are some obvious favorites, but as many as 20 teams could legitimately make a run at a place at the University of Illinois for the state finals and very few of the teams in the field would be a complete surprise if they managed to reach into the later rounds.
Lincoln-Way East vs. Conant: Lincoln-Way East played and lost to Conant in its first ever postseason appearance in 2001, it is fair to say they regrouped nicely from that early setback. The Griffins have been on cruise control for much of the season, while Conant scuffled a bit in the second half and didn’t secure its playoff spot until a Week 9 win.
Pick: Lincoln-Way East
Lane vs. Neuqua Valley: The rechristened Champions of Lane haven’t been in the postseason field since 2013 and they haven’t received a very friendly draw for their return. Neuqua Valley is likely one of the most dangerous under seeds in the field and look like the kind of team that are going to be difficult to dispatch from the field.
Pick: Neuqua Valley
Warren vs. Stevenson: A regular season rematch where Warren claimed a 36-16 victory over Stevenson in Week 4. Even though that looks fairly one-sided, Stevenson is one of the few teams that have done much against the Warren defense, as it has allowed just 14 points over the final four games of the season and even in its lone loss of the season to Lake Zurich, allowed just 23.
Huntley vs. Andrew: Huntley did a nice job of bouncing back as a program after failing to qualify for the playoffs earning a share of a three-way tie for the Fox Valley Conference crown. But they really went on the grind to do it, winning half of its games by less than 10 points. Andrew has sort of been all over the map this season, but finished strong with wins in four of its last five contests.
South Elgin vs. Belleville East: South Elgin broke some of the stigma of its conference’s ability to prepare them for the rigors of the Class 8A playoffs by picking off a playoff win last year. It still sort of lurks though, but the Storm don’t lack the capabilities to score points. Belleville East’s schedule makes them a tough read as five of its opponents combined for 41 wins while the other four combined for just three.
Pick: South Elgin
Maine South vs. Bolingbrook: This does not have the feel of a first round playoff contest as both programs have had a history of making their presence felt when the postseason calendar hits. Maine South was 2-2 at one point, but has rattled off five consecutive wins. Even so the Hawks will certainly have its hands full with the Raiders high octane offensive attack that has posted at least 31 points in every game this season.
Pick: Maine South
Glenbard West vs. Lockport: These two have some playoff familiarity with one another having met in the second round of the Class 8A draw last year during Lockport’s run to the state crown. The shoe appears to be on the other foot this time around as the Hilltoppers look poised to make a postseason run with Lockport struggling through a litany of injuries across its roster.
Pick: Glenbard West
Glenbrook South vs. Homewood-Flossmoor: Glenbrook South’s only regular season blemish came at the hands of long-time nemesis Maine South but narrowly escaped a second loss in the regular season in a 15-14 win over Sandburg. The same Sandburg team that Homewood-Flossmoor dominated 44-7 seven weeks later.
York vs. Oswego East: York has successfully followed up its breakout season last year with another tremendously successful campaign. The Dukes defense has been particularly stout, having gave up single digit scoring in six games this season and never more than 17 points. Oswego East will have to quickly reverse a late season trend that had them losing three of four down the homestretch.
Naperville North vs. Marist: This could be one of most difficult pairings in the first round in terms of quality of opponent. Marist has three losses on the season to team’s with a combined record of 25-2 (Mount Carmel, Loyola, Glenbard West). Naperville North’s two losses also come to quality opponents and enter the postseason on a three-game winning streak where it has outscored foes 131-17.
Palatine vs. Downers Grove South: Palatine’s offensive attack has been potent all season and even in its lone loss of the season to Glenbrook South still posted 43 points. The Pirates are paired with an interesting battle with Downers Grove South who is currently in the midst of a six-game winning streak.
Glenbard East vs. Minooka: This might come down to which defense blinks first. Glenbard East has only allowed 42 points all season with 22 of those happening in its lone loss of the year to South Elgin. Minooka’s level of competition has been a bit higher, but excluding a bit of a meltdown in a Week 1 loss to Bolingbrook its defense has been equally impressive.
Plainfield North vs. Rich Township: Plainfield North completed its first ever undefeated regular season campaign and has done so in resounding fashion. Quietly, Plainfield North’s dominant defense has held five opponents to a touchdown or less and only one foe has managed to cross the goal line three times against them in a game. It should be a challenge for Rich Township, a school that is making its first playoff appearance since its consolidation of Rich East, Rich Central and Rich South’s athletic programs.
Pick: Plainfield North
Lyons vs. Naperville Central: Lyons played a gauntlet of a schedule and made a solid accounting for itself even in its losses. Naperville Central counters with an even more impressive slate, with its losses coming to programs that had a combined 23-4 record during the regular season while also upending one of those three teams it lost to in a rare repeat regular season game with Naperville North.
Pick: Naperville Central
Loyola vs. Plainfield South: Loyola capped its season with a rare regular season loss to Mount Carmel and is probably itching to get back on track. Plainfield South enters the postseason on a little bit of a tear, having rattled off five consecutive victories, but the Cougars haven’t seen a level of competition like Loyola has week in and week out.
O’Fallon vs. Edwardsville: Both of these programs have been chasing East St. Louis for Southwestern Conference supremacy and the regular season matchup was a doozy. O’Fallon nipped Edwardsville by a point in that game which seems to indicate another very close matchup is probably in the offing.