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 enrollment bubbles cause some interesting wrinkles in this field, too. Some historically strong teams fall on one side of the bubble with schools like Tolono Unity, which is narrowly in Class 3A, while Quincy Notre Dame and Breese Mater Dei slide down into the 2A mix.
Now on to the projected Class 3A bracket, which by rule, is divided into a pair of 16-team north and south brackets.
• Byron: Few programs have won more games over the last decade than the Tigers. It's a regular occurrence to find them on a very high seed line. It would be surprising to see any deviation from that trend.
• Monticello: The Sages haven't failed to win at least one playoff game (and usually more than that) in nine seasons. They are about as regular as it gets as far as field construction.
• Williamsville: In the last decade, the Bullets have won 104 games. Think about that for a minute. Talk about an absolute powerhouse.
ON THE RISE
• Eureka: Although enrollment-wise it is one of the larger schools in the Heart of Illinois Conference, which features largely Class 1A/2A programs, there are a lot of good football teams in that league regardless of size. The Hornets have done quite well after years of being an also-ran.
• Princeton: The Tigers surged last year in what usually proves to be a very difficult conference to get a foothold in and even harder to make a substantial jump in wins against strong opposition. Princeton did both last year.
• Paxton-Buckley-Loda: The Panthers have one last year in the Sangamon Valley Conference, before stepping up to the Illini Prairie Conference in 2021. They've done a nice job of establishing a consistent playoff team. The next step would be making a deeper run.
THE WILD CARDS
• Tolono Unity: Tolono's here largely because it is one of those programs that for the past few seasons has played ping pong between 3A and 4A. If the Rockets end up in 3A, they are a dangerous team that should be considered a big-time threat based on past history.
• Peotone: The Blue Devils have been a solid program over the past few seasons, but haven't quite taken the next step yet.
• Mt. Carmel: Always one of the hardest teams to get a handle on prior to this year as the schedule used to contain largely out of state opponents. There aren't quite as many now, but it's still hard to know where this program fits.
TEAMS ON THE VERGE
(Teams that appear the closest to breaking into the projection that are not currently in)
• St. Joseph-Ogden: Not having the Spartans in the playoff projection seems very strange, but the rigors of a good league have wore at them for a few years and keeps their three-year win total down a bit.
• Elmwood: Sometimes things go in swells for smaller programs, and things haven't gone as well as they had in previous years for the Trojans. It's still hard to imagine too many years without Elmwood finding itself in the field.
• Seneca: The Fighting Irish seem to be a perennial bubble team. A bearish nonconference schedule hasn't exactly helped their overall charge to earn a year-in, year-out playoff berth, but they seem as likely as any to burst through.
THE FULL BRACKET
• (16) Rock Island Alleman at (1) Byron
• (9) Spring Valley Hall at (8) North Boone
• (13) Monmouth at (4) Eureka
• (12) Dunbar at (5) Paxton-Buckley-Loda
• (15) Harlan at (2) Farmington
• (10) Peotone at (7) Princeton
• (14) Carver at (3) Wilmington
• (11) Lisle at (6) Herscher
• (16) Wood River-East Alton at (1) Williamsville
• (9) DuQuoin at (8) Anna-Jonesboro
• (13) Alton Marquette at (4) Carlinville
• (12) Pleasant Plains at (5) Vandalia
• (15) Mt. Carmel at (2) Monticello
• (10) Tolono Unity at (7) Greenville
• (14) West Frankfort at (3) Fairfield
• (11) Newton at (6) Beardstown