What we learned about DuPage County teams from the first round

  • Neuqua Valley quarterback Mark Gronowski goes on a touchdown run against Conant in a first-round playoff football game in Naperville Saturday.

      Neuqua Valley quarterback Mark Gronowski goes on a touchdown run against Conant in a first-round playoff football game in Naperville Saturday. John Starks | Staff Photographer

Updated 11/5/2019 8:31 PM

One down and four to go.

That's the situation as DuPage County's playoff football survivors shift from an interesting first round to a treacherous second round of action.


This week's Eyes on Five looks at some of the storylines as we move a crucial step closer to DeKalb.

1. Class is in:

Say what you want about the IHSA's eight-class playoff system, but it's fascinating.

Some years Class 7A is decidedly better than 8A. And then there's this year.

DuPage County's top 8A teams -- Glenbard West (10-0) and Neuqua Valley (9-1) -- face brutal second-round games, respectively, against defending champion Loyola and Homewood-Flossmoor, whose only loss was to unbeaten Lincoln-Way East.

Granted, in 7A you've got Glenbard North playing top-seeded Mt. Carmel (10-0). But it's much nicer lower in the bracket where Willowbrook, Downers Grove North and Wheaton Warrenville South eye deep runs.

In recent seasons state powers like Glenbard West, Lincoln-Way East, Mt. Carmel and others teetered on the edge of 8A and 7A. Even Glenbard North was close to landing in 8A this year.

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It's amazing how the power shifts season to season depending on where the teams fall, but this year there's nowhere to hide in 8A.

2. Upstate out:

If you have mixed feelings about closed conferences, you should.

A closed conference is a league of 10 teams, and those teams only play each other. No nonconference games.

There are 10 such conferences in the state including the Upstate Eight, and each is guaranteed five playoff qualifiers. That didn't work out so well for the UEC last weekend.

Four UEC teams lost in the first round with only South Elgin advancing. Glenbard East, Glenbard South, Bartlett and Elgin all lost.

Which begs the question, how much does it hurt a closed conference to not see any outside competition during the regular season? How do you know how good you are?

Closed conferences are a dream for scheduling, but it might cost you in the playoffs.

3. Prowling:

I don't know if No. 16 Glenbard North (7-3) will upset No. 1 Mt. Carmel (10-0) on Saturday, but I guarantee the Panthers expect to win.


After watching them dismantle Benet last week, I can't imagine there's a more confident team in the state. And they've got the talent to back up that confidence.

As always they lean on a power run game with Jordan McQuarter and Cordell Smiley, but quarterback Mike Vazquez brings diversity to the offense with a dangerous passing game. The offensive line mauls and the defense is typically stout.

It'll be tough for Glenbard North to escape the top half of 7A, which looks stronger than the bottom half.

Coming off the Panthers' 0-9 season last year, though, it sure is a fun to watch them try.

4. Propped up:

The IHSA released its annual list of bylaw amendment proposals and, as expected, football is well-represented.

Two proposals are a direct counter to districts, the system voted in last year that's scheduled to go into effect in 2021. Under districts, conferences would be eliminated and replaced by eight- or nine-team groups formed by the IHSA based on enrollment and geography.

One new proposal offers expansion as a counter to districts. Another simply asks to keep things as they are now.

Pretty straightforward stuff, but I can't help thinking other proposals are also aimed at districts.

One wants the voting by member schools on the proposals to be made public. That was a common complaint after last year's vote when everyone wanted to know who said yes to districts, how schools without football programs voted, and which schools didn't vote at all.

Another proposal restricts changes to or elimination of approved amendment proposals for three years after they've been in place. There's a fear that new football systems will be voted in year after year, and that's no way to properly run a sport.

The process plays out this month at town hall meetings before the IHSA decides which proposals to put on the December ballot.

5. Stat time:

Before you grow too attached to playoff expansion for football, keep in mind this fact from last week.

Of the 128 first-round games, 93 were decided by a margin of at least 3 touchdowns.

Allow more teams into the field and blowouts become more of a problem.

Twitter: @kevin_schmit

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