There was a time in IHSA football when you would almost never find a power-packed matchup in Week 1.
Sure, there were some good games dotted across the opening week’s schedule, but very rarely would you see a slate like the one 2023 provides.
In the past, teams preferred to ease into the regular season, saving their marquee matchups for a little bit deeper in the campaign. Those games are still there, but over time some of the state’s premier programs started running out of willing opponents.
In the race to five wins, why would you willingly face a buzzsaw?
As such, most elite teams have now found themselves with a decision to make. The first choice is to travel out-of-state. Fifteen schools chose that path, making treks to Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Missouri. Wheaton Academy will play its season opener in Austin, Texas against St. Michael.
The second option is to simply play another one of the in-state powerhouses. It was a last resort for many, especially those that already had plenty of landmines on their existing schedule. A few didn’t fill open spots until early August.
That’s all led to some titanic collisions right out of the game in Week 1.
East St. Louis has played a national schedule over the past few seasons, but credit to the Flyers and the Caravan for creating a titanic clash that stayed inside state lines.
Both teams have fascinating roster questions that are going to be put to the test immediately. East St. Louis’ mammoth and talented offensive line graduated all of its starters last season. A rebuild up front can’t be expected to happen overnight.
Mount Carmel, meanwhile, has a healthy Darrion DuPree to unleash at running back and is making a transition at quarterback as Jack Elliott replaces a highly-prolific graduated Blainey Dowling.
Lincoln-Way East vs. Kenwood at Gately Stadium, 10 a.m., Saturday: This game was originally scheduled to kick off the season on Thursday night, but weather concerns pushed the contest to Saturday morning.
Lincoln-Way East, the Class 8A runner-up last season, returns a lot of experience, most notably at quarterback with Braden Tischer.
Kenwood, with the addition of some high profile transfers including former Bolingbrook wide receiver I’Marion Stewart, is one of the state’s most intriguing teams. Pound-for-pound Kenwood might have the most Division I-caliber talent in the state on its roster. Can the Broncos put all the pieces together?
Rochester at Peoria, 7 p.m., Friday: Venerable Peoria Stadium got a facelift in the offseason and they are rechristening the field with an absolute doozy of a matchup.
Although the personnel has changed a bit on both sides, there’s little doubting the scoreboard will be working overtime in this one. The two teams combined to scored 1,277 points last season.
Brother Rice at Maine South, 7:30 p.m., Friday: Two teams that frankly can’t afford too many early-season losses based on the rigorous schedules they are about to undertake. After this game, Rice has three defending state champions (Loyola, Mount Carmel and Nazareth) still remaining as well as two semifinalists.
Nazareth at Kankakee, 7 p.m., Friday: Odds are we won’t get a duplication of last year’s Week 1 result where Nazareth claimed a 2-0 victory. Both teams will likely show a lot more vigor on offense, particularly a still young Nazareth roster that grew by leaps and bounds over the second half of the season.
Kankakee enters the season as a little bit of a wildcard with a new coach in Miles Osei and a possible injury issue for offensive lineman Marques Easley, a Georgia commit.
Other games to note: Crete-Monee at Carmel; DeKalb at Sycamore; Fulton at Forreston; Jacobs at Prairie Ridge; Joliet Catholic at Iowa City; Lockport at Plainfield North; Lyons at Prospect; Marist at Glenbard West; Newman Central Catholic at Rockridge; Palatine at St. Charles North; Prairie Central at Tolono Unity; Richmond-Burton at Marian Central Catholic; Sacred Heart Griffin at Normal Community; Warren at Barrington; Wilmington at Seneca; York at Glenbrook South.