Studying the Lake Park effect on the playoffs

Updated 10/17/2017 7:53 PM
  • Lake Park's qualification for the playoffs this season is having a trickle-down effect on the playoff field.

      Lake Park's qualification for the playoffs this season is having a trickle-down effect on the playoff field. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Week 9.

You can interpret that line in dozens of ways when it comes to IHSA football. Or, in DuPage County, one way for each of our 28 football teams heading into the final game of the regular season.

This week's Eyes on Five looks a just a few of those interpretations.

1. Trickling down:

Kudos to Lake Park.

The Lancers (5-3, 5-2 DuPage Valley Conference) all but guaranteed their first playoff berth since 2009 with Friday's overtime victory over Neuqua Valley. It's a feat that's even more impressive given a three-game losing streak that included back-to-back gut-wrenching losses.

Lake Park persevered. Again, an admirable accomplishment after last season's team closed the year with six straight losses. The heart clearly beats differently with this group.

The Lancers take a three-game winning streak into their Week 9 home game against Naperville Central, and a win would give the program a share of its first DVC title.

This is a moment to savor for Lake Park. The Lancers obviously don't have time to savor anything except the opportunity to prepare for their next game, but eventually this will sink in.

And the trickle-down effect of their playoff qualification will reach the entire state.

2. Bounced:

Lake Park's revival from a 2-3 start surprised folks, but it also upset the bracket. There are eight playoff classes divided by enrollment, and the Lancers are firmly in the largest class.

What that means is one team previously slated for Class 8A is getting bumped down to Class 7A, the second-largest class. And that team looks to be Glenbard West.

The Hilltoppers competed in 8A last year and in 2014, and in 7A in 2015 and 2013. They've always tiptoed on the border between the two classes, and Lake Park's win likely pushes them to 7A. If other larger schools like Downers Grove South and Waubonsie Valley win to qualify, teams like Edwardsville and Maine South could drop to 7A.

Got all that? Good ... because Lake Park's trickle-down effect reaches further down the bracket.

Willowbrook has been a 7A or 8A team since the expansion to eight classes in 2001, but this year the Warriors have teetered on the edge of 7A and 6A. Lake Park's qualification now likely drops the Warriors to 6A.

In the long run it may not make a difference for any of the teams. The top teams in 6A, 7A and 8A could win any class.

It's a matter of depth, though. If dropping down a class creates a better draw in the opening couple of rounds, it's worth it.

3. Safe and unsound:

Here's a rundown of where DuPage County's potential playoff teams stand.

Six teams already have qualified with at least six wins -- Glenbard West, Hinsdale Central, IC Catholic Prep, Naperville Central, Wheaton North and Willowbrook. A bunch of five-win teams also will qualify based on playoff points, which is a strength-of-schedule tiebreaker representing the total number of wins by opponents on a team's schedule.

Five-win teams Benet, Glenbard South, Lake Park, Montini and Naperville North will surpass the expected minimum playoff point total of 38 or 39. If four-win teams Downers Grove North, Downers Grove South, Glenbard North, Waubonsie Valley and Wheaton Academy win, they'll also qualify based on a high number of playoff points.

Two five-win teams really need a clinching win to avoid the bubble: Hinsdale South and Neuqua Valley.

Hinsdale South enters the weekend with 34 playoff points and a tough game against Hinsdale Central. The Hornets will get four to six playoff points this weekend, putting them right on the bubble if they don't beat the Red Devils.

Neuqua Valley is in much more dire shape if it doesn't get a sixth win. With 32 playoff points, there's no way the Wildcats can reach 38 or 39 points. They pretty much have to beat Glenbard North to qualify.

4. Grand finale:

I can't believe we're entering the final weekend of DuPage Valley Conference football as we know it. The nine-team league is splitting in half at the end of this school year, with Glenbard North, Lake Park, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South leaving to form the DuKane Conference with Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North.

The possible outcomes from Friday's grand finale are fascinating.

There could be a sole champion in Naperville Central, or as many as three champions with the Redhawks, Lake Park and Wheaton North.

If Glenbard North and Waubonsie Valley win, there will be a remarkable seven playoff-eligible teams among the nine DVC schools. Only Metea Valley and WW South are officially eliminated from postseason play.

As mentioned earlier, though, Neuqua Valley likely won't qualify if Glenbard North beats the Wildcats. It simply adds to the intrigue of a weekend where every conference game matters.

One hope for Friday night ... I'd love to see WW South break out the hook-and-ladder one last time against Naperville North. Just for old times' sake.

5. Stat (shameless plug) time:

Sorry ... it's time for my annual shameless plug.

Tune in to NBC Sports Chicago+ at 8 p.m. Saturday to see me and a stellar panel of colleagues break down this year's playoff football pairings.

The IHSA's pairings show will be broadcast live once again to unveil the matchups in all eight classes. It's a fun night, and I'm honored to be a small part of it.

Tune in if you can!

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