What we learned in Week 4: Clarity won’t come easy this season

Losses stacking up in unexpected places

IC Catholic's Arron Harvey is tackled by Nazareth's Trenton Walker on Friday, Sept.15,2023 in Elmhurst.

With most conferences in Illinois getting at least a few in-conference games under their belts, there’s usually some clarity emerging after four weeks.

Some of those signs are still there, but does it count if you have to squint to see them?

Let’s start with discussing a few locked conferences, those conferences where teams do not play anyone from outside their own league during the regular season.

A typical orchestrator of chaos, the Fox Valley Conference, has actually provided a bit of consistency. There are now just two teams that have gotten through four weeks unscathed in Prairie Ridge and Cary-Grove. The league will have a singular leader after Week 5 as those two teams lock horns on Friday night.

Other closed conferences, such as the Vermilion Valley, have already found its front-runner in surprising Momence, which is the only team in the 10-team league without a loss.

Then we get to looking at other conference and things get a little harder to read.

Take the Big Northern Conference, for example. Byron and Dixon have broken away from the pack at 4-0, while Stillman Valley is a step behind at 3-1 after a loss to Dixon. But four teams (Oregon, Genoa-Kingston, North Boone and Rockford Lutheran) find themselves at 2-2 with the first three having all played one another. Those three came out with one win and one loss in head-to-head meetings. The fourth team, Rockford Lutheran, is yet to play any of the other three.

That’s a recipe for chaos.

And, more importantly, whatever way that cluster eventually gets separated there’s going to be losses tacked on to a bunch of teams’ ledgers. There’s a mathematical way that chaos could end up with that league producing four, five or even six postseason qualifiers.

That gets to the larger point.

It’s not really unusual for the state to have 79 undefeated teams through four weeks. What is unusual is that just 183 teams are above the .500 mark right now. That number is usually at or around 200 at this stage.

More teams are clustered at the .500 mark through four games, and the number of quality programs already with three or four losses right now is surprising to say the least.

Consider this: the Chicago Public League decided to align its better programs in a mega 16-team conference this season. There are subdivisions inside of that group, but regardless, its best programs are running into each other on a weekly basis. Through four weeks, none of those 16 teams are undefeated and just two (Morgan Park and Amundsen) have only one loss.

Much has been made – and deservedly so – about the strength of the CCL/ESCC this season. But that strength is probably going to come back to bite some very deserving teams. Early results are already showing that to be likely.

Five teams are undefeated through four weeks in the CCL/ESCC: Loyola, Mount Carmel, IC Catholic, Montini and Carmel. Another five squads stand at 3-1.

A whopping 11 teams in the CCL/ESCC already have two losses. The remaining schedules for almost all 11 feature schedules where going a bare minimum of 3-2 to qualify for an at-large playoff berth will not be easy.

All four of the teams in the CCL/ESCC Red are 2-2 and face a supreme challenge the rest of the way. Even if either of the two teams that won in Week 4, DePaul Prep and Marian Catholic, win the rest of their in-division games, they still have to figure out a way to get at least one crossover victory just to get to five wins to qualify as an at-large playoff team. Four-team conferences do not get automatic bids to the playoffs for its champion as you need six teams minimum to allow for that designation from the IHSA.

Teams with 2-2 records from all conferences appear to be facing more pressure to stay above that .500 line than ever. It can be argued that all of these indicators would point to there being a likelihood that more 4-5 teams might get into the playoffs this year.

But no one should bank on that, especially when it looks more likely that the number of teams that land in the five-win and four-win group could be extraordinary high.

Who has a flashlight?

Two games that came down to the wire in Week 4 were halted by an uncommon reason: power outages.

With IC Catholic and Nazareth heading toward an overtime, IC Catholic’s last drive in regulation was stopped by a power outage in Plunkett Park. Once power was restored, IC Catholic wouldn’t score on its last drive of regulation, but did convert a touchdown and a two-point conversion before stopping Nazareth’s two-point try to secure 36-34.

In the Fenwick and St. Francis matchup at Triton College, Fenwick kicked Noah Sur had plenty of time to think over a potential game-winning kick.

With under 30 seconds to play and Fenwick driving inside the St. Francis 10, the lights went out. After about a 20-minute delay, Fenwick threw a pair of incomplete passes before sending out Sur to boot a 25-yard field goal that pushed the Friars to a 17-16 victory.