When I grabbed a copy of the IHSA playoff football brackets Saturday night, I couldn't stop looking at the Class 8A field.
Then I finally peeked at 7A ... then 6A. Each bracket, in fact, has its own terrifying identity.
This week's Eyes on Five looks at some of the interesting storylines as we embark upon our first taste of the postseason.
1. Crazy eights:
There's no sugarcoating the Class 8A bracket. It's ridiculous.
Perennial powers Glenbard West, Lincoln-Way East and Maine South all went from being 7A qualifiers last year to overloading the 8A field this year. That's just the start of the brutality.
Seven unbeatens landed in 8A, forcing many of the eight-win teams to suffer the fallout. Brother Rice lost its only game on Friday to top-ranked Loyola and dropped all the way to the eighth seed. Curie is one of only two eight-win teams in the state having to play on the road.
If you really want to see how tough it is in 8A, look at the West Suburban Silver and the DuPage Valley Conference.
Regarded as "power" conferences for the high level and depth of talent, the leagues will go head-to-head in three 8A showdowns: No. 31 Waubonsie Valley at No. 2 Hinsdale Central, No. 20 Glenbard West at No. 13 Neuqua Valley and No. 19 Lyons Twp. at No. 14 Naperville North.
In a 1-32 bracket I can't remember two conferences matching up that many times in the opening round. When the regional quadrants were in place, maybe. But not in a 1-32 seeding.
2. High definition:
Film exchange is always an interesting part of the playoffs' opening round. It's a science where coaches try to pinpoint which of their opponent's games to choose (while at the same time tracking down game film from other sources).
Almost always, coaches choose the previous week's game to exchange because they want to see the most current personnel on the field. But that didn't happen with Benet this week.
The No. 11 Redwings (7-2) play host to No. 22 Hoffman Estates (6-3) in Class 7A on Friday, and Benet coach Pat New didn't pick the Hawks' game film against Fremd last week. Instead he chose Barrington, Schaumburg and Palatine.
The reason New didn't choose the Fremd game? Having already clinched its first playoff berth in 22 years in Week 8, Hoffman Estates didn't play a single starter in a 51-0 loss to the Vikings.
With no relevant personnel to look at, the Fremd film also became irrelevant.
"Usually we'd choose the previous game," New said. "But in this case there were just better games to look at."
3. Trickle down:
Last year the IHSA made the smart move of returning Class 7A and 8A to a straight 1-32 seeding instead of two 1-16 brackets or the dreaded eight-team quadrants.
With the beneficiaries pleased as can be with the straight draws, it's time to bring 1-32 seeding down to Class 6A.
Now split into north and south brackets seeded 1-16, 6A is heavily loaded in the north with unbeaten Prairie Ridge and Antioch in addition to Cary-Grove (8-1) and defending 6A champion Montini (6-3).
Sacred Heart-Griffin (9-0) is the clear favorite in the southern bracket, although Lemont (9-0) is also a threat as the top seed of that group. There are other talented teams in the south, but it's nowhere near as deep as the north.
A straight 1-32 draw would bring much-needed balance.
We can't sign off without providing an update on the DuPage Valley Conference situation.
With DVC members Glenbard North, Lake Park, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South engaged in talks to form a new conference with Upstate Eight Conference members Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North, the DVC announced last week that it was exploring expansion options to allow for coverage regardless of whether or not the four schools leave.
Contrary to what you might be hearing, expect the DVC to look at Bolingbrook, Oswego and Oswego East as its primary targets to arrive at an even number of schools.
The status of the new conference is a little unclear, especially in the wake of comments Batavia football coach Dennis Piron made to my Daily Herald colleague Jerry Fitzpatrick in an article last week.
In that article Piron says, "If we are, in fact, talking about a conference change -- which we aren't initiating or leading and others are lumping us in with them as an afterthought like, yeah, Batavia should do what they do just because -- that's very, I don't know, disrespectful."
5. Stat time:
Of the 256 playoff qualifiers, four will make their first postseason appearance. Of the four, St. Joseph's achievement is most impressive.
The Chargers are 7-2 -- matching their win total from the previous six years combined. Before this year the program won a total of 12 games in 15 seasons, including five straight winless campaigns between 2003 and 2007.
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