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St. Viator players (left) meets Joliet Catholic players at the line of scrimmage during their game on Saturday, September 7, 2012, in Arlington Heights, IL. | Chandler West~Sun-Times
If message board activity numbers are to be trusted — as opposed to what gets posted on message boards — this might be the most anticipated weekend of the high school sports year.
State final weekends are big, especially for the marquee sports of basketball and football. But not as many fans have a stake in those games.
There’s a lot more interest in what will unfold Saturday night, when the Illinois High School Association unveils the 256-school field and pairings for the 39th edition of the state football playoffs.
A lot of teams have assured themselves of berths by reaching the six-win threshold or clinching titles in the conferences with automatic bids. But there are also plenty of bubble teams, whose playoffs are already under way because they’re in win-or-stay-home mode.
Some of those clubs will be looking to get in with six wins, others will get in with five wins and enough playoff points (opponents’ wins), a number that figures to be around 39 or 40.
With so many teams, so many scenarios and so many tiebreakers, even most lawyers couldn’t make sense of all the possibilities heading into the final weekend of regular-season games. But one guy who’s made it his mission to demystify the process for the rest of us is Steve Soucie, a sports writer for the Daily Journal in Kankakee who has built a reputation as the state’s premier bracketologist.
He offers a few insights into what to keep an eye on until we get the answers we’re looking for during the IHSA’s playoff pairings show that airs from 8-10 p.m. Saturday on Comcast SportsNet.
* Who’s in and who’s out in Class 6A?
As more and more teams get eliminated from contention, who’s in which classes becomes clearer. But three of the state’s premier mid-sized programs all sit on the bubble. As of this week, Soucie projects No. 24 Kaneland — 8-0 heading into Friday’s Northern Illinois Big 12 East showdown with a fellow unbeaten, No. 22 Morris — as the smallest team in Class 6A with its enrollment of 1,346. Meanwhile, Soucie sees a pair of 8-0 powers — Boylan (1,899) and Batavia (1,910) — as the two smallest schools in 7A.
That’s nothing new for Boylan, which is a two-time defending state champ in different classes (6A in 2010, 7A last fall). If all those schools wind up in 6A — not a long shot at all — that bracket could become a lot tougher than it might have looked a few weeks ago.
* What are some Week 9 games that could have the biggest impact on the brackets?
St. Viator (5-3, 36 playoff points) vs. St. Patrick (5-3, 45 points), 11 a.m. Saturday at Hanson Stadium. “If St. Viator loses, they’re squarely on the bubble to get knocked out,” Soucie said.
“St. Patrick is good either way. They have a boatload of points.”
Hinsdale South (5-3, 26 points) at Willowbrook (6-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday. Willowbrook is in with six wins, but “Hinsdale South has to win,” Soucie said. “They are buried points-wise.”
Hales (5-3, 28 points) at Cahokia (4-4, 44 points), 7 p.m. Friday. “Hales ... has nowhere near enough points,” Soucie said. “Last year, Cahokia had to come up here and Hales blew them out [49-0]. The winner’s in, the loser out.”
Consider that a preview of what’s to come, starting next week.