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Playoffs, pairings & pizza: Schools gear up for Selection Saturday

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Playoffs, pairings & pizza: Schools gear up for Selection Saturday

It's probably a good thing Le Roy head football coach BJ Zeleznik coaches a team in class 1A and not 8A. His pizza party bills would be astronomical.

"No kidding," Zeleznik chuckled. "Well, we used to co-op with Downs Tri-Valley and we would have close to 90 kids join us on Selection Saturday. But we still have 45 kids in the program this year, freshmen through upperclassmen. They'll all joins us. It's a nice tradition."

And it's a ritual that dates back to 1986. BJ's father, Jim, who coached Le Roy from 1979-2000, came up with the idea of having a pizza party on the Saturday after the prep football regular season was complete. The gathering was centered on watching the high school pairings show. Coaches and players would eagerly anticipate hearing their school's name called on the broadcast.

"It's just one part the whole excitement around having a good year," Zeleznik said. And it's a great time of year; the harvest comes in, leaves are falling, it's good to get everyone together. It's a lot of fun."

Le Roy is a town of roughly 3,500 people, just north of Interstate 74 in McLean County. And the bond between the football program and the people of Le Roy goes back generations.

"With some of the kids on our team ... their fathers played for my father. So they know the party is all about. The pizza party can be a motivational tool -- maybe even more so for the coaches."

It's part of the charm about this part of the high school football season. Many teams from around the state will gather together to watch the IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show, this Saturday at 8 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet and CSNChicago.com. Some schools will have pizza parties. And others will celebrate with a setting that only Norman Rockwell would dream of capturing. Just west of Le Roy, the Downs Tri-Valley football team will gather to watch the show in the town's fire station.

For other schools, Saturday night represents a zenith of excitement in overcoming challenging times. Take Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, for example. The Warriors didn't win a single game last season. This year, they're going to the playoffs. Or how about Aurora Central Catholic, which hasnt been to the playoffs, period, since 1997? And if Bloom High School in Chicago Heights beats Rich Central on Friday, it will clinch a spot in the playoffs for the first time since ALF was dominating the NBC Monday night lineup (1989).

Those schools represent just a small portion of the 256 playoff qualifiers across eight classes who will be anxiously waiting Saturday night. Five weeks later, high school football fans will be able to check out Comcast SportsNet's coverage of the state championships from Memorial Stadium in Champaign-Urbana. The 1A-4A title games will take center stage on Friday, Nov. 23. The 5A-8A games will be on the marquee the next day, Saturday, Nov. 24.

The pairings show and championship games can be seen in Comcast SportsNet's entire viewing territory. Viewers are encouraged to check out csnchicago.com for channel locations or the IHSA's channel finder by market.

Better yet, regardless if you (or your team) made the postseason, you can join in on the fun this Saturday. Fans can interact via live chat on CSNChicago.com and fans are also encouraged to interact via Twitter using the hashtag IHSA.

Nerds in Sports DeadTalk: Walking Dead S8 E1 "Mercy"

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Nerds in Sports DeadTalk: Walking Dead S8 E1 "Mercy"

From the makers of the Game of Thrones Recaps, Nerds in Sports returns weekly breakdowns for the latest season of “The Walking Dead.” Michael Piff is joined by Nerds in Sports n00bs Scott Changnon and Matt Buckman to recap the 100th episode and Season 8 Premiere of the zombie phenomenon.

Our DeadTalk trio give their general reactions to TWD’s return, Rick’s attack on Negan’s camp, what’s with the time jumps, Weird Al?, and what’s next for the survivors. We also give bold predictions for the season, our reasons for still watching after 100 episodes, and open the floor to questions from listeners. React and ask along by tweeting @NerdsInSports!

Blackhawks mailbag: Defensive challenges and happy campers

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks mailbag: Defensive challenges and happy campers

The Blackhawks entered this season with the same mantra they have countless others: get off to a good start and save yourself a point chase at the end of the season.

My first season on the beat was probably the Blackhawks’ best lesson lately on what happens when you’re scrambling late; they just about missed the playoffs, losing to Detroit in the regular-season finale and needing Minnesota to beat Dallas to get into the postseason. And while the overall results have been a mixed bag, their opening record (5-2-2) isn’t shabby.

Still, there are questions regarding where the Blackhawks are and where they’re heading. To that end (yeah, we’re finally getting to the point of this whole spiel), we bring you this week’s mailbag:

The Blackhawks’ happiness with Tanner Kero was partly because of Kero’s work last season. But in terms of comparing to other centers, Kero’s emergence had more to do with replacing Dennis Rasmussen than it did Marcus Kruger – Kero re-signed with the Blackhawks around the same time talks reportedly went awry between the team and Rasmussen. Anyway, back to Kero. I don’t think it’s so much what he’s not doing as what Tommy Wingels is doing in that fourth-line spot. The Blackhawks originally envisioned Wingels at wing but he has previous experience at center and his work there has been pretty good. Saturday night’s game certainly helps, be it for Wingels alone or keeping that fourth line together (he, John Hayden and Lance Bouma, who scored the game-winner). Don’t be surprised if there’s some rotation there, though.

Maybe, although either of those guys will likely still be rotating in/out with another player. Just depends on how much the Blackhawks want those guys playing constantly (I would guess that would be the case with rookie Matthew Highmore more than Hinostroza).

We all know this contract, all know how it hamstrings the Blackhawks for a while. But in the immediate future, what can you do? Fellow scribe Mark Lazerus has asked a few times about Seabrook’s place in the lineup and coach Joel Quenneville has demurred. Granted, we’re guessing general manager Stan Bowman doesn’t want Seabrook out of the lineup, either. Seabrook’s leadership skills are tremendous; to a man, the Blackhawks will say how vocal he is. His past work, especially in the playoffs, speaks for itself. It depends on how things progress as the season goes but I don’t foresee Seabrook coming out of the lineup right now. Speaking of Seabrook…

Highly doubt it. The asking price won’t be just one guy for another. And with any trade talk I remind everyone to see a player’s NMC status. Seabrook has a full no movement clause.

Nope, he’s not going anywhere, as the traveling media confirmed with Quenneville on Monday afternoon in Las Vegas. I had to be reminded that DeBrincat was nearing that deadline on Sunday, his status not coming up in conversations with Quenneville and Stan Bowman like it did when Brandon Saad made the team at 19. DeBrincat has made such an impression that it was going to take something extraordinary for the Blackhawks to reassign him. DeBrincat has found his place in the lineup and whether or not he’s been scoring he’s been good. So here, he remains.

You don’t trade him. The Blackhawks are where they are right now due in large part to their goaltending, especially Crawford. There have been, what, two games in which the Blackhawks dominated? So no, you don’t trade Crawford.

We’re quite a while from the trade deadline, so let’s tap the breaks on any talk about what the Blackhawks may do several months from now. As far as Murphy’s current status, no, I don’t believe his job is in jeopardy. Again, part of this is the eight-defensemen situation. But it’s also getting Murphy more ingrained in the system. I talked to Dave Tippett, Murphy’s former coach, a few weeks ago. He said, “we put him into situations he may not have been ready for [with Arizona], but he always continued to improve in those situations. He still has a lot of growing to do but he’s a very dedicated athlete and I think there’s a lot of upside there.” It’s easy to look at who the Blackhawks traded away for Murphy and Murphy’s contract and say, “yeah, he should be an everyday guy.” He should be at some point but considering what I mentioned above, I’m not surprised he isn’t right now. Speaking of defensemen rotating in and out of the lineup…

Yeah, I’m still not a big fan of the eight-defensemen set, for the reason you just mentioned. I wrote about the Blackhawks’ defensive juggling act on Sunday and, while I still think it’s tough to do I believe the Blackhawks will stay with it for a while. I list some reasons in Sunday’s story, which is linked above. So far (judging from outward appearances) the defensemen seem to be on board with the changes. I’m just curious to see how long they can keep the balance to where no one is sitting too long. That’s always the challenge.

Signing Cody Franson was part of the short-term plan regarding the long-term injured reserve funds. I think the Blackhawks just let things play out now for a while. You’re not going to make a move based on the first month of the season.

Yeah, someday I will stop writing about the power play’s woes but it won’t be today. I personally don’t think it’s the personnel. Whenever we talk about this it’s usually the same culprits: lack of movement, not enough shots and net-front traffic. I still say a strong penalty kill is more important and if the Blackhawks’ 5-on-5 scoring increases the power-play concerns fade. But it has cost them, so it’s certainly a concern.

I wouldn’t take the stern expressions as a sign of unhappiness. I’ve seen them plenty of times arriving at an arena looking like that; just focused before a game.

Going to go with a B-plus mainly because they came out of those first eight games with a pretty solid record. Granted, goaltending deserves a massive pat on the back for that. But it’s still early and I still figure the lines will get rolling at some point. Penalty kill has been very good and power play absolutely has to get better.