Despite all of the variables in the IHSA football state playoff system, it is a fairly predictable model regarding how the fields typically look from year to year.
Certainly, there are breakthroughs from year-to-year. Teams emerge from relative obscurity to fight their way into the playoff field, while other programs that simply seem to make playoff appearances on a year-to-year basis slide back a bit and miss the field.
But overall, the number is remarkably stable. In fact, over the past decade, the turnover rate (teams that make the playoffs year in and year out) hovers above 80% in every single year.
Using a three-year win model, you often can get an accurate representation of how the playoff field might be constructed on a year-to-year basis.
Obviously, there are quirks in the system that could cause these landscapes to change, but more often than not these brackets should look similar to the ones that are rolled out next postseason.
Now, let's get to the potential Class 7A field.
• Nazareth: Being hit with the success formula certainly hasn't hurt the Roadrunners. In fact, it seems likely that they will be hit with it again despite more restrictive rules now that we are in a two-year enrollment structure.
• Mount Carmel: The Caravan look like a well-oiled machine with an army of returners for Year 3 of the Jordan Lynch regime. Mount Carmel might have difficulty running the table in a stacked schedule, but as long as the Caravan get in, they are an absolute force to contend with.
• Batavia: As consistent as you get in terms of prominent programs. Even with a lot to replace, it's hard to see a scenario where the Bulldogs aren't on a seed line with a relatively small number on it when the bracket is released.
ON THE RISE
• Willowbrook: If you were thinking about calling the Warriors' runs in recent years a fluke, it is pretty safe to dismiss that notion. Willowbrook has emerged as a real program to look out for in the Class 7A landscape.
• DeKalb: The Barbs continue to prove the doubters wrong. Some thought the leap from the now disbanded NIC to the DuPage Valley might be too much, but DeKalb more than held its own in that mix and seems poised for the next step.
• Maine West: Although it hasn't resulted in a lot of playoff success yet, the regular season win stacking can't really be ignored.
THE WILD CARDS
• Prospect: The projection process doesn't look all that favorably on the Knights, but it's clear this a program trending upward. If that continues, a much higher seed could be in the offing.
• Rolling Meadows: You can seemingly always count on the Mustangs to pile up regular season victories, but coaching changes can sometimes be a difficult transition. Wouldn't count on a collapse of any kind, though.
• Lincoln-Way West: Another program going through a coaching transition of a slightly different kind. Veteran coach Dave Ernst remains on staff in a role other than head coach, so the Warriors might experience less bumps in the road.
TEAMS ON THE VERGE
(Teams that appear the closest to breaking into the projection that are not currently in)
• Plainfield East: Major strides were made by the Bengals in the first year under coach Brad Kunz. Although a lopsided playoff loss to a state finalist in 8A Gurnee Warren took some of the shine off, odds are they will keep progressing.
• Elgin Larkin: The Royals ended a long playoff drought by breaking into the field last year. There's opportunity for it to not be a one-time deal in a cluttered Upstate Eight Conference race.
• Bradley-Bourbonnais: A series of close calls both positive and negative led to a wild season for the Boilermakers. It's hard to imagine the missed playoff string reaching four seasons for a program that until this rough patch was a regular postseason staple.
THE FULL BRACKET
• (32) Blue Island Eisenhower at (1) Nazareth
• (17) Benet at (16) Moline
• (25) Lincoln-Way Central at (8) Hononegah
• (24) Lincoln Park at (9) Hersey
• (29) Belleville West at (4) Phillips
• (20) Harlem at (13) DeKalb
• (28) Wheaton North at (5) Willowbrook
• (21) Andrew at (12) St. Charles North
• (31) Downers Grove North at (2) Mount Carmel
• (18) Glenbard East at (15) Hoffman Estates
• (26) Rockford Auburn at (7) Rolling Meadows
• (23) Buffalo Grove at (10) Normal Community
• (30) Prospect at (3) Batavia
• (19) Wheaton Warrenville South at (14) Lincoln-Way West
• (27) Glenbrook North at (6) Lake Zurich
• (22) T.F. South at (11) Maine West