After nine weeks of surprises, comebacks and powerhouses getting the job done, it's time to start the season that matters: the playoffs.
The 256 high school football teams that qualified for the Illinois state playoffs learned their fate Saturday night when the first-round playoff pairings were announced.
Teams are split into eight classes of 32 schools each based on enrollment. Class 1A is the schools with the lowest enrollment, and Class 8A has the highest.
There's no other way to look at it: Class 8A is stacked with talented teams and lots of rematches. The top half of the bracket features the top two ranked teams in state in Maine South and Loyola Academy.
The bottom half includes defending state champion Bolingbrook, which could be dangerous with a healthy Aaron Bailey at quarterback. But first they would have to get past Sandburg in a rematch and then Nequa Valley.
Marist, Mount Carmel, Waubonsie Valley and Homewood-Flossmoor also bring lots of talent to this bracket.
|1. Maine South||16. Lane Tech|
|8. Conant||9. New Trier|
|4. Glenbard N.||13. Fremd|
|5. Stevenson||12. Gurnee Warren|
|2. Loyola||15. Evanston|
|7. Leyden||10. Bartlett|
|3. Palatine||14. Niles West|
|6. Schaumburg||11. Glenbrook S.|
|1. Nequa Valley||16. Naperville N.|
|8. Sandburg||9. Bolingbrook|
|4. Waubonsie Valley||13. Proviso West|
|5. Hinsdale C.||12. OPRF|
|2. Marist||15. Lyons|
|7. Homewood-F.||10. O'Fallon|
|3. Mount Carmel||14. Brother Rice|
|6. Simeon||11. Bloom|
Glenbard West and Lincoln-Way East were favorites entering last year's 7A playoffs but were both upset early. Batavia joins those undefeated teams in 7A and looks to make a run.
If everything shapes up as expected, Glenbard and L-W East should meet in the state championship. But don't count out Benet, which shocked many people by winning its conference this year, or Wheaton North. Glenbrook North and Providence Catholic are also both strong 4-seeds.
|1. Glenbard West||16. Elk Grove|
|8. Harlem||9. Libertyville|
|4. Glenbrook N.||13. Prospect|
|5. Wheaton N.||12. St. Charles E.|
|2. Rockford Boylan||15. Jacobs|
|7. Fenwick||10. Huntley|
|3. Hononegah||14. Willowbrook|
|6. Lake Zurich||11. Crystal Lake S.|
|1. Batavia||8. Downers Grove N.|
|4. TF South||5. Thornton|
|2. Benet||7. Andrew|
|3. Oswego||6. Plainfield N.|
|1. L-W East||8. Plainfield C.|
|4. Providence||5. B.-Bourbonnais|
|2. Edwardsville||7. Pekin|
|3. East St. Louis||6. Belleville West|
Cary-Grove and Crete-Monee are the favorites in Class 6A, but there are some challengers in one quadrant that will fight for a berth in the state championship.
Oak Forest, Richards and Lemont are all 8-1 and in the same quadrant. The winner of those first two round would likely meet Crete-Monee with a title game berth on the line.
|1. Cary-Grove||16. Auburn|
|8. St. Patrick||9. Glenbard S.|
|4. Crystal Lake C.||13. Hyde Park|
|5. Grant||12. Lake View|
|2. Lakes||15. St. Viator|
|7. Rolling Meadows||10. Lake Forest|
|3. Grayslake N.||14. Niles/Notre Dame|
|6. Foreman||11. Steinmetz|
|1. Oak Forest||8. Hinsdale South|
|4. Perspectives||5. Shepard|
|2. Richards||7. L-W North|
|3. Lemont||6. Morgan Park|
|1. Crete-Monee||8. Springfield|
|4. Richwoods||5. Bloomington|
|2. Ottawa||7. Normal Community|
|3. Rock Island||6. Normal C. West|
Joliet Catholic was the state runner-up in Class 5A last year, but finished 5-4 this year after lofty expectations. Still, JCA has a good shot at winning a couple of games to get a challenge against No. 1 Kaneland. JCA is a 12-seed and plays at Elmwood Park in the first round.
If they win, they would play the winner of Westinghouse and 14-seed Tinley Park (5-4).
Morris and Centralia are two teams in the bottom half of the bracket to keep an eye on.
|1. Kaneland||16. Belvidere|
|8. Rochelle||9. L-W West|
|4. Westinghouse||13. Tinley Park|
|5. Elmwood Park||12. Joliet Catholic|
|2. Marian||15. Wauconda|
|7. Woodstock N.||10. Sterling|
|3. Montini||14. Bremen|
|6. Sycamore||11. King|
|1. Normal U.||8. Galesburg|
|4. Metamora||5. Washington|
|2. Morris||7. Rich East|
|3. Urbana||6. East Peoria|
|1. Jersey||8. Mattoon|
|4. Chatham Glenwood||5. Marion|
|2. Centralia||7. Jacksonville|
|3. Sacred Heart-Griffin||6. Highland|
There's only one team from Patch's coverage area in the Class 4A playoffs: Evergreen Park. The No. 7-seed Mustangs (6-3) play at No. 2 North Chicago (7-2) in the first round.
If Evergreen Park advances, the Mustangs will play the winner of the No. 3 Harper and No. 6. Richmond Burton.
Elmhurst's Immaculate Conception (6-3) is the only Class 3A team in Patch's coverage area. The Knights are a No. 12 seed and play at No. 5 Boone Grove in the first round up the playoffs.
If they were to advance, they would face the winner of Aurora Christian and Chicago-Raby.