Daily Herald's 2016 Season Coverage
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updated: 10/24/2013 8:28 PM

Life on the bubble can be complicated

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  • Willowbrook quarterback Brian Johnson (#9) fires one during the Proviso East at Willowbrook football game Friday in Villa Park

      Willowbrook quarterback Brian Johnson (#9) fires one during the Proviso East at Willowbrook football game Friday in Villa Park
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer


Many football teams already know they'll be in the playoffs, and many more teams know they won't.

What about the tweeners? What about the teams stuck in the middle that won't know where they stand until the IHSA announces the pairings Saturday night?

Eyes on Five this week looks at some of the teams sweating it out as we head into the final week of the regular season.

1. Wild West Suburban:

Downers Grove South enters the weekend atop the West Suburban Gold standings at 5-0, but Hinsdale South and Willowbrook loom right behind at 4-1. If Hinsdale South beats Downers South and Willowbrook wins, all three will tie for the Gold title.

West Suburban Conference rules dictate the three teams would be declared tri-champions and plaques given to each school. No problem, right?

Wrong. Way wrong.

The big question is who becomes the IHSA's representative as conference champion in the playoffs? Downers South (5-3) and Hinsdale South (4-4) may need that automatic playoff berth just to qualify. And the IHSA decides the representative, not the conference.

If Addison Trail beats Willowbrook, it comes down to the head-to-head meeting between Downers South and Hinsdale South. But if Willowbrook and Hinsdale South both win, the tiebreakers come into play.

According to the IHSA's Terms and Conditions, the conference representative is decided by the fewest points allowed in the games between the three teams.

Downers South has a huge advantage in fewest points allowed, so much so that it'd take at least a 3-touchdown Hinsdale South victory for the Hornets to even have a chance at being the playoff representative.

The Hornets, however, almost stumbled into a loophole. On the IHSA Web page "How the Playoff Pairings are Determined," there's a sentence reading that tiebreakers are enforced only until two teams remain. Then it comes down to the head-to-head outcome between the remaining two teams.

That would be great news for Hinsdale South because Willowbrook likely would be first eliminated on the fewest points allowed tiebreaker. At that point Hinsdale South would just have to beat Downers South in the head-to-head meeting to be the conference representative.

After checking with IHSA officials, though, the loophole closed. The IHSA informed Hinsdale South that the Terms and Conditions trump that critical sentence on the "How the Playoff Pairings are Determined" Web page.

To make a long story hopefully not too long, Hinsdale South needs a massive victory over Downers South to have any shot at being the IHSA's conference representative in the playoffs.

Without the designation of conference representative, even with a fifth win the Hornets may not qualify because of a lack of playoff points.

2. Always bubbled:

Which brings us to the poor teams that always seem to be on the qualification bubble, a list that includes Hinsdale South.

Because only 256 schools make the playoff field, not all 5-4 teams typically qualify. Five-win teams that aren't conference champion representatives must qualify based on a strength-of-schedule tiebreaker known as "playoff points," or the number of wins by the opponents on a team's schedule.

Teams like Downers South, Fenton, Hinsdale South and Lisle sit firmly on the bubble as we enter Week 9. Downers South and Fenton need a sixth win for automatic qualification, while Hinsdale South and Lisle need a fifth win and a lot of good luck.

Unfortunately, it's a familiar spot for Lisle.

"I think I'm living in the bubble," Lisle coach Dan Sanko told my colleague Dave Oberhelman earlier this week. "My philosophy this week is play like we do have that playoff chance. You never really know, and that's what you've got to believe."

The bubble's been somewhat kind to Lisle, which qualified in 2005, 2006 and 2008 with 5-4 records. The Lions missed out with five wins last year.

Fenton's split in its bubble years, qualifying in 2004 but missing out the year after. Hinsdale South missed out at 5-4 two years ago.

By late Friday night they'll all know a little more about their bubble status. For those with hope, it'll then be another long 24 hours waiting to find out if they're in.

3. Familiar foes:

Naperville Central coach Mike Stine would love to beat rival Naperville North on Friday. In terms of the playoffs, though, he doesn't see much difference in being 5-4 or 6-3.

He also doesn't see much difference in being 7-2, 8-1 or 9-0, for that matter. Regardless of Naperville Central's record, Stine just assumes the Redhawks will be trapped in a Class 8A playoff bracket with Naperville North, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley.

Stine, however, can take solace in history. Since 1987 the four schools have played each other a total of 12 times. Half the matchups were between Naperville North and Naperville Central.

It's true the playoffs have become more regional, but the District 203 and 204 schools, for the most part, have managed to avoid each other. In fact before Neuqua Valley beat Naperville North and Waubonsie Valley last year, none of the four schools had met in the postseason since 2004.

4. Rivalry week:

The schedule makers sure know how to close with a bang. I can't remember a Week 9 that featured so many rivalry games.

District 88 mates Addison Trail and Willowbrook vie for a trophy known as "The Lady" while Downers North and Hinsdale Central play for the "Old Oaken Bucket" and Downers South and Hinsdale South meet for the "Rebel Cannon."

Naperville Central and Naperville North reunite at North Central College in the Wes Spencer Classic. Last but not least, a budding rivalry in District 204 continues between Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley.

Expect to see some pretty big crowds this weekend.

5. Stat time:

Of the 256 playoff spots spread among eight classes, 163 have been filled. That leaves 93 teams poised to join the field this weekend.

You can watch all the pairings unveiled on the IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show on Comcast SportsNet Chicago from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday.

Yours truly will be part of the panel discussing the pairings, so consider this an official shameless plug.

And of course we'll have full coverage at also.

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit

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