St. Rita quarterback Tommy Ulatowski is sacked by Rochester linebacker Johnny Neal during their Class 5A state football championship game last November in Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University.
St. Rita quarterback Tommy Ulatowski is sacked by Rochester linebacker Johnny Neal during their Class 5A state football championship game last November in Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University. — Mark Busch - mbusch@shawmedia.com

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.

The bubble between 5A and 6A is also very critical to keep an eye on. Like noted in our earlier discussion of where East St. Louis might land, the Flyers are projected as the smallest school in 6A currently. If they shift back down into 5A, the landscape of this bracket changes substantially.

Geography is also quite pivotal in constructing the 5A bracket. There's not a very clear north/south division, requiring that either teams from the northwest area of Illinois (Rochelle, Sterling, etc.) would get sent south in this hypothetical bracket or teams from the south suburbs (Hillcrest, St. Rita, etc.) There is precedent for either scenario.

Now on to the projected Class 5A bracket, which by rule, is divided into a pair of 16-team north and south brackets.

THE MAINSTAYS

• Sterling: A conference switch certainly didn't slow the Golden Warriors down as they continued to roll through most of their regular-season opposition. They are just one of three teams currently in this classification that has exceeded 30 wins over the past three seasons, so they've established a track record of success.

• Montini: The only thing that keeps Montini from being on a top line is a brutal schedule that often includes the best that Class 7A and Class 8A has to offer. The schedule is often so rigorous that the Broncos will usually see multiple teams in the regular season that make their postseason road look like a breeze.

• Hillcrest: The turnaround in Country Club Hills in a little less than a decade is nothing short of astonishing. During a five-year stretch from 2010-2014, the Hawks were a collective 1-44. That's a distant memory now for one of the most productive programs in the south suburbs.

ON THE RISE

• Joliet Catholic: The Hilltoppers weren't able to maintain their pace after running down a state title in 2018 despite going 5-4 in the regular season. But there's a ton of underclassman talent in Joliet and some of it has already made an impact.

• Marmion: It was a big bounce back year for Marmion and it does not look like a momentary blip on the radar. Leaning heavily on underclassmen, Marmion has a great foundation returning.

• St. Laurence: Another team that benefited from the Catholic League merger with the East Suburban Catholic Conference. The schedule is still rough, but manageable enough to find a path to a playoff bid.

THE WILD CARDS

Kankakee: It was a huge surge from the Kays, who went from nonqualifier for the previous three seasons to an eight-win regular-season squad. Is it sustainable? It looks like it could be.

• Metamora: The Redbirds missed the playoffs last season, but even going through a coaching transition from retired veteran Pat Ryan, it just seems unlikely that Metamora will stay down for too long.

• Sacred Heart Griffin: Although the Griffins have been removed from their perch at the top of the Central State Eight in recent seasons, there's just no way you can count them out of the conversation when discussing 5A.

TEAMS ON THE VERGE

(Teams that appear the closest to breaking into the projection that are not currently in)

• Geneseo: A playoff regular for years, the realigned Western Big Six proved to be a tough fit for the Leafs, but if they find a way to get through that rough slate, they have a history of being an effective postseason team.

• Woodstock North: The Thunder are always right around the line of being in the field or out of it. A slight step up would find them with an automatic bid rather than trying to sweat out an at-large one.

• Marian Catholic: A big leap forward got the Spartans into the playoffs last season, but it remains to be seen if that was just a blip on the radar or something that is repeatable.

THE FULL BRACKET

North Bracket

• (16) Fenwick at (1) Sterling

• (9) Back of the Yards at (8) Solorio

• (13) Glenbard South at (4) Payton

• (12) De La Salle at (5) Sycamore

• (15) Hyde Park at (2) Montini

• (10) Marmion at (7) Elmwood Park

• (14) Rochelle at (3) Rockford Boylan

• (11) St. Laurence at (6) Amundsen

South Bracket

• (16) Evergreen Park at (1) Hillcrest

• (9) Decatur MacArthur at (8) Cahokia

• (13) Triad at (4) Sacred Heart Griffin

• (12) Mascoutah at (5) Morris

• (15) Metamora at (2) Highland

• (10) Morton at (7) Marion

• (14) Kankakee at (3) St. Rita

• (11) Carbondale at (6) Joliet Catholic