I've had the pleasure of knowing Kankakee Daily Journal sports editor and noted IHSA playoff projectionist/expert Steve Soucie for nearly 15 years, and after all these years one word that I wouldn't use to describe Soucie at this time of the year is "under control." Yet I can't help but ask Soucie why in fact he seems downright calm these days?
"This has been so far one of the strangest years I can ever remember, but it's also been a bit easier for me this year as well," he said. "The scenarios that could happen between now and Saturday is pretty limited."
Here are five storylines to pay attention to as we get ready for the release of the IHSA State Football Playoff Pairings on Saturday night.
Expect a low total of playoff points needed to qualify. Soucie for now is looking at the total number of playoff points (total amount of opponents wins combined) to be "in the 34-35 range, yet I can also see a few scenarios where 32 could be the number. Even at 34 or 35 points this would be easily the lowest amount of playoff points needed since we went to the 256 team state football playoff field."
Could we see a 4-5 at large bid go out to a team in the 2015 IHSA state playoff field? The IHSA State Football playoff field is selected by the top 256 teams that qualify under system. In a few cases in the past a handful of 4-5 teams made the state playoffs, yet those teams received an automatic bid for winning a conference which is predetermined by the IHSA before the start of the season. Yet this could be the year according to Soucie that "we could see a 4-5 at large bid or two go out. I have a few scenarios that show all 5-4 teams getting in and then the IHSA needing to drop down to fill a slot or two with a 4-5 team." Playoff points would be used to determine in this case which 4-5 team would received a state playoff bid.
How will Class 8A and 7A look this year? Gone this coming playoff season in Class 8A and 7A is the old geographical formula that essentially grouped teams based by record as well as by location. The positives of the new 1-32 seeding based system in 8A and 7A is that each class will no longer continue to see the same teams at the same round in each playoff bracket. Yet if the latest Steve Soucie Playoff Projections are any indication, expect at least a few conference teams to be matched up against each other in opening round action. Again, the system isn't perfect and expect a few gripes, yet the large majority of coaches are more willing to accept the seeding based strictly off of merit.
How will the Success Factor factor into Class 6A? Both Montini Catholic (8-0) and Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin (8-0) fall under the new Success Factor rule, which forces non-boundary schools who have participated in two state finals over the past four seasons to be "moved" up a class. So what will the impact of moving up two former 5A powers into 6A? Both schools will see new faces yet I fully expect both schools to be highly competitive in 6A as well. Montini Catholic would most likely wind up in the North portion of 6A and would be considered a favorite to advance deep into the state playoff bracket. Sacred Heart Griffin would become an extremely far south suburb in the South bracket in 6A and would be matched up against the likes of Lincoln-Way North (8-0), Lincoln-Way West (7-1), Crete-Monee (7-1) and Lemont (7-1) are a few names to watch.
Will it be 4A or 3A for Chicago Phillips? Early on it sure looked like it was 3A Phillips (8-0), who made it to the state title game last season and lost to 4A power Rochester (8-0). Yet this week? Phillips is looking more like 4A for now as the Wildcats for now and according to Soucie the Wildcats are "three teams deep right now into 4A." Again never say never but...