With many of the big games in the books through the first seven weeks of the season, the focus on the IHSA playoffs shifts back to the back end of the playoff field in my mind.
The last members of the field have a big effect on where the class breaks land, and with so many power teams hovering on those prospective bubbles, the identities of the teams that make up the last 50 teams in the field have more significance than almost ever.
Heading into Week 8, 118 teams have locked down berths by winning a minimum of six games, 78 already have five wins and most of those teams have secured enough playoff-point standings to ensure that they will get into the field regardless of whether they win either of their remaining two games.
For the sake of argument, let’s say 50 of those 78 teams that already have five wins are secure in the playoff field.
That leaves about 95 slots that still are up for grabs.
There are 78 teams that have 3-4 records that need to win both of their remaining games just to get into the discussion for the playoffs.
Many of these teams have roads that range from the difficult to near impossible to reach the five-win plateau, and only five (Pekin, Chester, Thornridge, Lake Forest and Oakland Tri-County) have two games remaining where their opponents have two wins or fewer.
All of the others schools in the 3-4 group have to pull at least one upset, and possibly two, just to get to the eligible list.
Then we arrive at the healthy list of teams at 4-3. The list includes 72 teams, with some prominent ones mixed in. Like the 3-4 group, only a handful of teams have two games against teams that are out of the playoff race already.
Others aren’t as fortunate.
Let’s take a look at a few bubble teams and the tough roads they have to navigate:
Lake Park: The Lancers clearly are a playoff-caliber team. Their schedule, however, might keep them from participating.
The Lancers played very competitive football in the middle of their slate, losing to 6-1 DeKalb (20-17), 5-2 Naperville North (21-14) and 6-1 Wheaton North (21-12), and now face another brutal stretch with back-to-back contests against Neuqua Valley and Naperville Central.
They only need one, but that one will be hard to come by.
Mount Carmel: Are the Caravan in danger of missing the playoffs again? After last week’s surprising loss to De La Salle, they very well might be.
Mount Carmel’s two remaining games are both winnable, but a scenario is easily seen in which they could lose to both Montini (which cruised past De La Salle in Week 6) and Providence (which has been on fire since starting the season 0-2).
Fortunately, the Caravan’s stash of playoff points mean they only have to win one of the two remaining games on their slate. But it clearly won’t be easy.
Woodstock: The Blue Streaks could be on course to be one of the rare teams that starts 4-0 only to finish 4-5 and miss the playoffs.
They are underdogs against rival Woodstock North this week based on comparative results, and it might all come down to the Week 9 matchup with Richmond-Burton. And because of a relatively easy slate to start the season that isn’t producing many playoff points, the Blue Streaks might need to get to six wins to breathe easy on playoff pairings night.
BY THE NUMBERS
Teams that remain playoff eligible: 352
Undefeated teams: 34
Teams that already have at least five victories: 201
7-0 vs. 7-0 showdowns: 0
3-4 teams fighting to remain playoff eligible in Week 8: 78
• Steve Soucie brings more than two decades of Illinois high school football knowledge as a contributor to Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @thesouc.