As Week 9 began on the IHSA football calendar, there were still 295 teams eligible to either reach five victories, the basic standard of playoff eligibility, or win a conference championship that comes with the automatic bid to the field attached regardless of overall record.
But as the week develops that number is likely to deplete.
The Chicago Public League will likely be forced to conclude that they will not be able to contest games in Week 9, a source with knowledge of the situation told Friday Night Drive. That would eliminate three teams from that list in Simeon, Military-Bronzeville and Phoenix as none of that trio would be able to reach the eight-game minimum required of teams to be eligible to earn a playoff slot.
Five more schools currently with 4-4 records (King, Solorio, Vocational, Whitney Young and Back of the Yards) also wouldn't have a chance to get to five victories.
Two of those teams, Joliet West and Urban-Prep Bronzeville, appear to be the only schools that can still get a guaranteed spot in the field as a team with less than five wins. Joliet West currently holds tiebreaker over the other two teams (Plainfield South and Plainfield East) that they are tied with in the SouthWest Prairie East. With a win, the only way they could lose the bid is if Plainfield South lost, which would make it a head-to-head tiebreaker with Plainfield East, and Plainfield East won the head-to-head matchup.
Urban-Prep Bronzeville is in position to win its conference automatic bid despite winning just three games in the regular season. They are currently in a three-way tie for the lead of the CPL's Illini Heartland along with Vocational and Brooks, but UP-Bronzeville beat both schools in head-to-head matchups.
There are six matchups that feature a pair of teams that are both 4-4 on the season. The winners will all almost certainly get bids, but the losers drop to five losses on the season and further winnow the list to 281 teams.
Then there are 23 games involving teams that have 4-4 records with teams that have records better than 4-4. The most current projection has one team rising up and beating the team with the better record (St. Charles North) and obviously that number increases with each "upset" from a 4-4 team over a team with a better mark. But let's just assume that if all the teams with better records do finish off those hoping to stay alive at 4-4. The list falls to 258 teams.
Historically though, it is worth noting that this is almost always where Week 9 has teams that rise up. Joliet Catholic was one of those teams just last season when they toppled Niles Notre Dame and then went on to win the Class 5A state championship.
There are 32 other games where non-playoff-eligible teams will try to play spoiler against 4-4 teams. There are a few circumstances where that looks viable, and if a few of them happen, and the number of 4-4 teams that win against teams with better records is minute, the chance of that number dipping below 256 teams becomes a distinct possibility.
To fill the 256-team field if vacancies remain after all five win and above teams are placed in the field, 4-5 teams would be placed in the field based on which of them had the most accumulated playoff points. Teams projected to finish 4-5 with the highest projected points are Marist, Naperville Central, Illini West, Lockport and Tri-Valley.
Games to keep an eye on in regards to playoff field construction:
• St. Charles North (4-4) at Wheaton-Warrenville South (5-3): It's hard to imagine the North Stars not in the field just a year removed from a state title game appearance, but that's the situation if they can't topple the Tigers. Wheaton-Warrenville is playing for seed position rather than a berth, so the incentive edge goes to St. Charles North.
• Johnsburg (3-5) at Wood River-East Alton (4-4): An odd non-conference pairing to close the regular season. Although it might look like Johnsburg is playing for little more than pride, the Skyhawks would be armed with enough playoff points to be in the discussion if 4-5 at-larges were in the mix for a playoff berth. WREA has a one-win advantage, but the schedule on paper shows a much softer slate has been played by the Oilers.
• Marist (4-4) at Loyola (6-2): The Redhawks will be one of the last teams to finally solve their playoff fate as they play on Saturday at 1 p.m. which is the latest kickoff time allowed by the IHSA on the final Saturday. Loyola is the favorite, but if Marist can pull off the upset they'd enter the field as an extremely high-point at-large team. With a loss, and a 4-5 at-large team gets entrance into the field, Marist will be at the top of that list with nearly 60 playoff points in hand.
• Downers Grove North (4-4) at Downers Grove South (5-3): Downers Grove North needs the win in the district rivalry just to get a field slot, while Downers Grove South is safely in the field even with a loss here. Although in a rivalry contest like this one, it seems unlikely that Downers Grove South is going to let up in the slightest.