Winning conference championship after conference championship certainly is fun, but time after time you witness examples that any good team needs a fierce rival to try to pull a little bit more out of themselves as a season develops.
When taking a closer look at the teams ranked between 21 and 30, you'll see that trend starting to develop. While there are clear favorites in some of these conferences, more often than not you'll find many leagues where things are wide open from week-to-week with many threats to win the crown.
Here's a closer look at the teams ranked No. 30 through No. 21 in the Friday Night Drive conference rankings:
30. Kishwaukee River (decade rating 65.801): Richmond-Burton's recent success is only a piece of a very solid decade for the Rockets. Each of the team's other programs, most notably Johnsburg's strong stretch in the middle of the decade, have contributed something to the mix. The all-or-nothing stance of several teams is the only thing that keeps this league from ranking higher.
29. Illinois Central Eight (decade rating 66): Wilmington and Coal City provide an excellent bedrock for this league's success ratio and a few solid playoff runs from Herscher in recent seasons makes the conference's card look even more formidable.
28. Big Northern (decade rating 66.2): There are multiple teams in this conference that have held the baton of success at times. Right now the league is chasing Byron, but an extremely strong run by Rockford Lutheran in the middle of the decade combined with a very steady Stillman Valley squad for much of the studied stretch gives the Big Northern a nice pedigree to lean on.
27. Mid-Suburban West (decade rating 66.501): Barrington has been a consistently strong program providing year-in and year-out success as a foundation for this conference. Palatine actually has the best rating of the group, but most of that success came at the early part of this decade. What this league does have that few leagues do is the lack of a program or two that drag down the overall ranking. The least successful teams in the league score at worst average overall scores as individual entities.
26. Central Illinois (decade rating 67.125): Tuscola has a tremendous pedigree over the last decade and certainly boosts the Central Illinois league. This is also a grouping that has done significantly better over the last five years after it really struggled to do much in the first part of the decade.
25. Western Big Six (decade rating 68.75): Sterling, Geneseo and Rock Island Alleman make up an impressive trio that all individually score seasons of over 10, one of the few leagues in the state that has more than two teams with such a distinction. But the success of those teams is hindered a little bit by the fact that a few other teams in the Western Big Six find themselves on the exact opposite end of the spectrum.
24. Southwest Prairie West (decade rating 68.833): The split into two divisions saw the majority of the successful teams in the Southwest Prairie finding themselves in the same division – the West.
Five of the six teams made the playoffs in 2019 and all six have metrics that would qualify them at the very least as above average as individual program scores.
23. Lincoln Trail (decade rating 69.125): We recently discussed the relative rarity of having three teams with double digit individual teams scores. This conference is another with three teams – Mercer County, Kewanee Wethersfield and Stark County – all scoring above 12.
The only thing keeping the Lincoln Trail from scoring higher is a few seasons where it barely registered any success at all, which offsets some of the truly solid years in conference history.
22. Illini Prairie (decade rating 70.4): Some of the teams' success ratios in this league are all over the map, but some of the bigger years by some rise-ups coupled with the consistent efforts of Tolono Unity, Monticello and St. Joseph Ogden keep the Illini Prairie very highly rated.
Possibly more important is that this grouping has never had a year that could be classified as anything other than at the very least above average.
21. Interstate Eight (decade rating 71.8): All but one of the teams in the I-8 have recorded at least one playoff win in the last decade, and in this ranking system, that's something that is worth its weight in gold.
No team clearly stands out from this group in either the positive or the negative sense of the ledger, which is an excellent indicator of a good, solid conference.