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.
Before we get to the potential Class 6A field, there are a few important enrollment distinctions to take note of. Once again, East St. Louis looks to be teetering between 5A and 6A. Early trends last year pointed to the Flyers leaning toward 5. They are slightly higher on the totem pole this time around, moving one slot from last year's exercise that had them as the potential largest Class 5A school. This time around, East St. Louis finds itself in the slot designated for the smallest 6A team. It's going to be a scenario that once again warrants regular inspection due to the impact East St. Louis has on both the Class 5A and Class 6A fields.
Now on to the projected Class 6A bracket, which by rule, is divided into a pair of 16-team north and south brackets.
• East St. Louis: As mentioned before, where East St. Louis lands classification-wise is the big thing to watch. The defending Class 6A champions will likely be the odds-on favorite regardless of which classification they show up in as they continue to have tons of Division I talent in their midst.
• Prairie Ridge: Another program that seems to stack wins in bunches. It would be surprising to not seem the Wolves with a relatively small number next to their name when the bracket comes out in the fall.
• Crete-Monee: The Warriors have been a dominant program for the better part of a decade, but the Southland Conference expansion gave them an even clearer path to a top record. No one in the league has proven up to the task of toppling the Warriors in several years.
ON THE RISE
• Dunlap: As its enrollment increases (Dunlap used to find itself in the large 4A/small 5A range), so does its skill level. The Eagles have now become a team to keep an eye on year in and year out.
• Peoria: The high-octane squad lost some pieces to graduation, but its free-wheeling attack mode probably won't slow down too much. The Lions have a good thing going and have some solid younger pieces ready to step up.
• Glenwood: The Central State Eight used to be a battle between Rochester and Sacred Heart Griffin for many years, but you simply can't limit things to just those two any more.
THE WILD CARDS
• Richards: One might wonder how the Bulldogs function without standout running back LeShon Williams, but the program seems to be back to its sturdy foundation as one of this classification's more dominant teams.
• Yorkville: The Foxes made a splash in the Southwest Prairie Conference in their debut in the league. If they can sustain that and manage to slide into 6A as one of the largest schools (they are currently the largest projected 6A school), things could go well.
• Kenwood: Maybe not quite at the marquee level of Phillips and Simeon, Kenwood has established itself as a consistent Chicago Public League winner. They also became a member of a fairly exclusive club of CPS schools that have snagged a playoff win against a non-CPS school.
TEAMS ON THE VERGE
(Teams that appear the closest to breaking into the projection that are not currently in)
Morgan Park: A brutal nonconference schedule over the past few years coupled with being involved in one of the more difficult Chicago Public League divisions has made life more difficult for the Mustangs. The slate has softened a bit which should help.
Thornwood: The T-Birds took a big step up last year, competing well in the restructured Southland. They also added St. Laurence's standout running back Nate Thomas via transfer, making them a team to look out for.
Crystal Lake Central and Crystal Lake South: The Fox Valley seems to get deeper every year, which makes wins harder and harder to come by for the middle tier teams in the league. These two are hoping to be one of the teams that emerge from the fray.
THE FULL BRACKET
• (16) Mather at (1) Prairie Ridge
• (9) Belvidere North at (8) St. Ignatius
• (13) Grayslake North at (4) Antioch
• (12) Lake Forest at (5) Simeon
• (15) Riverside-Brookfield at (2) Cary-Grove
• (10) Kenwood at (7) Kaneland
• (14) Reavis at (3) Richards
• (11) Deerfield at (6) Lakes
• (16) Rock Island at (1) East St. Louis
• (9) Providence at (8) Shepard
• (13) Yorkville at (4) Dunlap
• (12) Springfield at (5) Normal Community West
• (15) Quincy at (2) Chatham Glenwood
• (10) Peoria at (7) Lemont
• (14) Thornton at (3) Crete-Monee
• (11) Danville at (6) Washington