It's the one week of the season where football coaches talk as much about playoff points, seeds and pairings as they do about X's and O's.
With Week 9 games about to commence and with the IHSA football pairings set to be unveiled Saturday night this is a good chance to check in on the playoff picture in DuPage County.
Congratulations to the nine area teams that have nothing to sweat this weekend in terms of the playoffs. Conference champions and teams with at least six wins are guaranteed a postseason spot in the eight-class field of 256 teams, meaning 173 spots already are taken statewide.
Among the 173 clinchers are area teams Addison Trail (7-1), Downers Grove South (8-0), Fenton (6-2), Glenbard West (8-0), Hinsdale Central (6-2), Montini (6-2), St. Francis (6-2), Waubonsie Valley (7-1) and Wheaton North (7-1).
That doesn't mean, however, these teams have no motivation to win. An extra victory can drastically improve playoff seeding.
Take Fenton. Right now the Bison have 21 playoff points, a strength of schedule statistic representing the total number of wins by Fenton's opponents.
The IHSA uses playoff points as a tiebreaker. Teams with identical records will be seeded according to playoff points, from highest to lowest.
Because Fenton has only 21 playoff points, an extra win would vault the Bison from the lowest seed among six-team wins to the lowest seed among seven-team wins. That could make a big difference.
Everything but officially in:
While six wins guarantee a playoff berth, a large number of five-win teams will grab the final spots. Last season 50 teams with 5-4 records qualified because they had the most playoff points among five-win teams.
This year's cutoff for playoff points looks to be right around 40 points, which means five-win teams want to have more than 40 playoff points when the pairings are announced or they could be left out of the field.
Five area teams have five wins and plenty of playoff points. A sixth win "officially" gets them in but, honestly, they can start printing playoff tickets right now because each is guaranteed at least a few more points this weekend.
Welcome to the playoffs Glenbard South, which has 44 playoff points entering Week 9, Immaculate Conception (39 points), Naperville Central (39), Naperville North (38), and Wheaton Warrenville South (43).
Win and in, lose and bubble bound:
This is where it starts to get a little scary. Glenbard North, Neuqua Valley and York each have five wins, but all three may need help getting over that mark of 40 playoff points.
Glenbard North started strong with five straight wins, but the teeth of the DuPage Valley Conference schedule cost the Panthers three straight losses. They face Naperville North on Friday in a crucial game.
Should Glenbard North lose and finish the regular season at 5-4, it still has a chance at qualifying.
The Panthers enter the final week with 35 playoff points. If they lose they'll get 4 points from the DVC, meaning they'd be guaranteed to get to 39 points. To get to 40 or above, they also need wins from Week 1 and 2 nonconference opponents Oak Park (3-5), which faces Proviso West (4-4), and Fenger (5-3), which plays Orr (4-4).
Neuqua Valley, loser of two straight, enters its game against Lake Park (4-4) with 36 playoff points. The Wildcats are guaranteed to get to 39 points, a number that climbs higher if they get wins from Naperville North, Naperville Central, St. Charles North or Metea Valley.
York sits at 5-3 after back-to-back losses to Lyons Twp. and Glenbard West. The Dukes face a crucial Week 9 game at home against Hinsdale Central, winner of four straight.
The Dukes have 36 playoff points. If they lose they're guaranteed four more playoff points and have a shot at six.
Neuqua Valley and York look to be in better shape than Glenbard North if they finish with five wins. Like Glenbard North, though, it's definitely ideal to lock in a spot by notching a sixth win.
Need a win and help:
Hinsdale South and Lake Park sit with 4-4 records and 34 playoff points. Both teams must win to have a chance at qualifying, but even then they might struggle to get enough playoff points.
Lake Park, which faces a tough must-win game against Neuqua Valley, is guaranteed only 2 more points this weekend with a victory. The Lancers would need additional wins from Conant (6-2), Glenbard East (1-7), St. Charles East (2-6) and Metea Valley (3-5) just to get to their maximum of 40 points.
Hinsdale South, which plays Willowbrook (0-8), is guaranteed 3 more points this weekend with a win. The maximum number of points the Hornets can get with a win is 39 points, which would require Romeoville (2-6) and Leyden (3-5) also winning.
If the cutoff for playoff points does turn out to be 40 or above, Lake Park and Hinsdale South might be in trouble regardless of whether or not they reach five wins.
Wait til next year:
Unfortunately, eight area teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. Benet (1-7), Downers Grove North (2-6), Glenbard East (1-7), Lisle (2-6), Metea Valley (3-5), West Chicago (1-7), Wheaton Academy (1-7) and Willowbrook (0-8) will play their final games of the season this weekend.
Like the teams still alive for the postseason, though, there's always motivation to play with pride especially for the players entering the final game of their career.