This is the time of year when every high school football head coach wishes he could hire a numbers/statistics/probability guru.
After all, you almost have to be a mathematician to predict the most likely scenarios in the IHSA state football playoffs, which kick off next weekend.
"It can be kind of fun sometimes to sit around with the other coaches and talk about the "what ifs," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "A couple of our (underlevel) coaches, John Sawyer and Scott Kapchinski, are really into it and they're researching all the possibilities. It's interesting to look at all that stuff.
"But it can also be a bit much because there are so many scenarios out there. You really never know what might happen."
Between now and the IHSA pairings television show on Saturday night (8 p.m., The U Too), the teams that are already guaranteed a spot in the 256-team, eight-class field could be as busy prognosticating as they are practicing for their regular season finales on Friday. There's a lot to figure out, such as possible matchups and whether or not they'll be awarded a home game in the first round.
Meanwhile, the teams that will qualify only if they have enough playoff points (which are based on opponent wins), are furiously calculating how many points will likely be needed to qualify in their class.
"It's a lot of guessing at this point," said Antioch coach Brian Glashagel, whose team needs to defeat Vernon Hills on Friday to have a hope of qualifying on playoff points in Class 5A. "I mean, you're starting to narrow things down. But you never really know for sure."
There are actually some things we know for sure about the football playoffs in the Daily Herald's Lake County coverage area.
Five teams are in for sure. They are Stevenson and Warren in Class 8A, Lake Zurich in Class 7A, Grayslake North in Class 6A and Lakes, which sits near the enrollment cutoff between Class 6A and Class 5A. The Eagles could wind up in either class.
"We feel strongly that we're going to be in Class 6A," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "If you look at the teams around us that are likely to qualify, we think that will push us up to 6A.
"But it really doesn't matter to us where we go. One thing I really love about football is that it's unlike any other sport in that you actually have to earn a spot in the postseason, instead of having everybody make it. So any team we play, in 5A or 6A,is going to be really good."
At 8-0, Lake Zurich is one of the very best teams in the area, and will get a home game in the first round no matter what happens in Friday's showdown at Stevenson for North Suburban Conference supremacy.
Stevenson and Warren, both 6-2, could also get home games in the first round if they end on a win.
At 7-1, Lakes is essentially a lock for a home game and Grayslake North (6-2) would also likely get a home game with a win over Woodstock North on Friday.
"We really want to secure that home playoff game. That's what we're focusing on this week," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "At the same time, we're trying not to put too much pressure on the kids. We're already in the playoffs and right now, we control our own destiny with everything else. We're just trying to worry about ourselves."
Not so sure things:
Speaking of worry, there are three teams that probably have some angst going into Week 9.
Antioch, Grayslake Central and Wauconda, all Class 5A teams, are 4-4 and need to win to become playoff eligible with a 5-4 record. They also need to also finish with enough playoff points to beat out other 5-4 teams for the final spots in Class 5A.
Antioch has the best chance. Only three teams in Class 5A that could finish 5-4 currently have more points than the Sequoits, who boast 40 points and finish with Vernon Hills on Friday.
Meanwhile, Grayslake Central, which takes on Woodstock on Friday, has a respectable 36 points right now. In comparison, Wauconda's situation looks grim with only 23 points. The Bulldogs, who take on Grant in their finale, have the fewest points of any team in Class 5A that could finish with a 5-4 record.
"I think we have a really good chance of getting in," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said. "We've been doing the calculating and we've been researching on the Internet and we've thought for a while now that 38 points should get you in and we're already at 40. We should end up with 45 points and if 45 doesn't get you in, then there's something wrong.
"The thing we have to do first though is win because if we don't, none of this stuff with the points even matters. Our job is to keep our kids grounded and focused on that."
Know your enemy:
At Lakes, there's no such thing as information overload.
The Eagles have been given just about all the research on potential playoff scenarios that their coaches have.
"We're kind of unique in what we do. We advocate that our kids be informed, so we give them all the information and tell them that we could play Team A, Team B, Team C and so on," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "We encourage them to look at all the scenarios and start learning about those teams.
"We are trying to create a vision for our program and we feel it's important for them to see where we need to go. I think it gives them a purpose."
Mertens says that the technology of today doesn't necessarily guarantee that his players are already up on their football news.
"When I was in high school, we used to read the newspapers every day about other teams in our area. We knew who was good, we knew all about the other teams," Mertens said. "Some kids these days are too busy texting and tweeting about themselves. We've got to encourage them to go out and get informed."
Of course, advancing one round after another will be the No. 1 motivation of Grayslake North as it settles into its playoff journey.
But there is something else at stake that will keep the Knights interest piqued from game to game.
Advancing another week gives them a chance to open another "present."
"Each week, we give our guys these little gifts, just to show our appreciation for their hard work," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said. "It's been everything from a simple T-shirt, to a nicer sweatshirt to some free food.
"Football is a long season, and we know all of our guys want to win. But you never want to get to the point where the guys aren't sure if they want to keep working hard enough to win. I think the little gifts we give out help them to keep working hard."
Happy to be home:
With a win over Mundelein on Friday, Lakes will lock up a home game for the first round of the playoffs.
It couldn't have come at a better time.
The Eagles have been road warriors lately, having played away from home for the last three games of the regular season.
"Any time you don't have to get on the bus, it's a good thing, regular season or postseason," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "It makes a huge difference. It's difficult on any level to come off the bus and get everyone pumped up again.
"And I can tell three straight road games is wearing on us. It will be nice to be at home."
In or out:
It's a 50/50 proposition at this point with one of the best quarterbacks in the area.
Lakes senior TJ Edwards will find out Thursday if he will be cleared to play in Friday's regular season finale against Mundelein. Edwards injured his knee recently and has missed the last couple of games.
"I think he looks good and he's optimistic," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "But it's still very much up in the air. It could go either way."
Quote of the week:
Antioch needs to win its final regular season game on Friday against Vernon Hills to move to 5-4 and have a chance to qualify for the playoffs on points. The Sequoits have played a tough schedule and already have 40 points, third-most among potential 5-4 teams in Class 5A.
Antioch head coach Brian Glashagel on being on the playoff bubble: "We lost to two teams (Lake Zurich and Glenbard South) that could go 9-0. We could finish second in our division with one (division) loss. We're projected to get 45 playoff points. And there's a chance we might not make it in? If we win on Friday and we don't make it, it would be a travesty. It would be a mockery of the playoff system. We deserve to be in the playoffs and I guarantee whoever would draw us in Week 1 would be in for a game. We wouldn't be your typical 5-4 team."