What we learned in Week 5: Cluster around the .500 mark likely won’t get cleared up

65 teams carry undefeated records into Week 6

Lincoln-Way West’s Noah Wendt celebrates after giving Joey Campagna an extra push for the touchdown run against Bolingbrook on Friday, Sept. 22 in New Lenox.

Sixty-five teams kept their ledgers clean through the first five weeks of the season.

There are a lot of usual suspects on that list such as Mount Carmel, Lincoln-Way East, Richmond-Burton, Maroa-Forsyth and Lena-Winslow.

There also are some teams making appearances for the first time or after a long hiatus such as Morton, T.F. North, Stark County, Roxana and West Aurora.

One conference, the Northwest Upstate Illini, has three undefeated teams in Lena-Winslow, Durand-Pecatonica and Forreston.

Those 65 teams are what the state characterizes as “playoff-eligible” as they already have netted five wins. But if trends continue, five wins should be enough to get you into the 2023 playoff field.

Some of those trends can be parsed out by simply looking at a chart of where wins have been distributed thus far.

Win totalTeams at that win level

The undefeated (5-0) total isn’t out of the ordinary. But the number of teams (150) that fall in the first two categories (5-0 or 4-1) is significantly lower that in years past.

The next group of teams (3-2 or 2-3) is exceptionally large, and it seems likely that the number of teams around the .500 mark is only going to increase.

Traditionally, it has taken five wins to ensure you have a chance to make the playoff field. Last season, we had the first at-large four-win team qualifier in Buffalo Grove. Could we see more this year?

There are 498 teams that are playoff eligible this season, and 256 eventually will earn playoff spots. Through five weeks, the state has only 251 projected to reach the traditional five-win mark, and because of some unique rules in select Chicago Public League divisions, a small handful of teams from the CPL won’t qualify even if they finish above .500.

Why is this happening?

Conferences usually start to establish a relatively routine pecking order by this time of the season. But for many, a clear cut stack isn’t happening. Instead of having two or three teams at the top, three or four teams in the middle, and two or three teams at the bottom of a larger conference, many are finding their teams are congregating in the middle.

Using the CCL/ESCC as an example, only four teams (Montini, Loyola, Mount Carmel and IC Catholic) have gotten through the first five weeks unscathed, and half of the league’s 24 teams find themselves with either two or three losses.

Scenarios like this are setting up for an almost unbelievable amount of games with teams with multiple losses locking horns with a playoff berth on the line for the teams on both sidelines.

Conference stronghold

The CCL/ESCC deservedly gets a lot of credit for being a strong conference.

But the SouthWest Suburban Conference has something going on that even that league can’t match.

All 10 of the conferences’s teams, dividing into Blue and Red Divisions, find themselves above the .500 mark heading into Week 6.

The pack is led by Lincoln-Way East. But the rest of the conference is throwing haymakers at one another and nobody can afford to take a week off.

There’s even a hypothetical way all 10 of them could earn playoff berths, but it would be an impressive and chaotic needle to thread.

Considering neither league qualifies for an automatic playoff berth [neither division contains the minimum six teams], it would almost be fitting if the conference somehow pulled it off.

Sterling’s Andre Klaver picks up yards against Galesburg Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023 at Sterling High School.

The woes of scheduling

Football schedules can be put together years in advance.

When something unexpected happens, such as a team defecting to another conference or a school declining to field a varsity program, the repercussions can be sweeping.

The IHSA has a caveat for such situations and it would have applied for Princeton, which lost a scheduled date with St. Bede’s decision to leave for the Chicagoland Prairie Conference, and Sterling, which had a schedule vacancy created by Alleman not participating in varsity football this season.

Because of the late developing situations, both would be entitled to a forfeit.

Instead the two power programs decided to play.

Princeton won 28-6 Friday, which hurt the playoff hopes of the Golden Warriors (2-3). Sterling faces two straight weeks of undefeated teams, Geneseo and Quincy, before closing the season against Western Big Six stronghold Moline. Sterling will need to win at least two of those three games and beat winless Rock Island in Week 8 just to get to the five-win mark.

If it doesn’t, Sterling will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Some clarity from the CPL

The CPL changed its qualifying structure this season and some of the changes weren’t confirmed until recently.

The CPL placed 16 of its more competitive programs in a Large Red Division, where its seven league games would all be played from inside its 16-team ranks. So far, most of the division teams are beating up on one another rather than separating themselves. Only Morgan Park and Amundsen have gotten through the first five weeks with less than two losses. Both teams are 4-1.

This likely will lead to less qualifiers from the Red Division.

In the White Divisions, the rules are also different. Four of the divisions (White Northwest, White Southwest, White South Central and White West) potential qualifying teams must not only meet the IHSA standards with wins and playoff points but also finish in the top four of its conference.

One other division, a 10-team group known as the White Central will only send the top two finishers in the conference regardless of win/loss record.

In the long run, the new alignment could mean five or six fewer CPL qualify for the postseason. Twenty-six CPL schools advanced to the playoffs last season, only Morgan Park and Kenwood advanced past the second round.