The playoff bubble.
It’s not a particularly comfortable position for those with weak stomachs and a propensity to bite their fingernails.
Or for prep football teams with playoff aspirations.
But that’s where as many as 16 south suburban teams wanting entry into the postseason find themselves in Week 9 of the regular season.
For those unfamiliar with playoff guidelines, here’s a brief summation: Six wins automatically qualifies a team for the postseason, which 12 area teams already have accomplished: Lemont (8-0), Lincoln-Way West (7-1), Lincoln-Way North (7-1), Lincoln-Way East (7-1), Richards (7-1), Bloom (7-1), Providence (7-1), Reavis (6-2), T.F. South (6-2), St. Rita (6-2), Homewood-Flossmoor (6-2) and Joliet Catholic (6-2).
Teams with five wins must compile the necessary playoff points — the total number of wins by a team’s opponents — to qualify. What’s the cutoff for those necessary playoff points, you ask? Great question, but one I definitively can’t answer. That magic number will not be revealed until Saturday, though in past years it has hovered between 33 and 39 points.
For a team such as Evergreen Park, which already has five wins but just 29 playoff points thus far, my advice would be to beat Bremen on Friday to get a sixth win and lock in a playoff spot. It’s likely the Mustangs will add to their playoff points in Week 9 by way of their opponents recording wins.
Still, losing to Bremen will put Evergreen Park in danger of missing the cut.
“We need six wins,” Evergreen Park coach Ray Mankowski said. “We told the players that this is Week 1 of the playoffs for us. We have to win.”
There are other 5-3 teams, such as Brother Rice (53 points), Crete-Monee (41) and Lincoln-Way Central (41), that likely can suffer a loss this week and still gain entry at 5-4. History shows as much.
Other 5-3 teams, such as Oak Forest (37), Tinley Park (35) and Rich East (33), are treading in ominous waters. With Oak Forest and Tinley Park playing one another Friday, one is going to be sitting at 5-4 and heading to Saturday Mass for a prayer session. The other will be 6-3 and preparing for a first-round playoff game.
Rich East will host a Bloom team Saturday that can record its first outright conference championship since 1984. Think linebacker Kyle Pugh, quarterback Jordan Benavides and the rest of the Blazing Trojans are going to allow history to slip through their hands? Me, neither.
Then there are the 4-4 teams that must win to reach the five-win mark even to be considered for the postseason party. And, again, based on their playoff points, or lack thereof, a fifth win might not earn an invite. As I see it, the exceptions are Mount Carmel (44 points), Argo (42), Rich Central (42), Marist (41) and Thornton (38).
On the flip side, while it’s possible that Sandburg (36), St. Laurence (33), T.F. North (32) and Leo (30) — all sitting at 4-4 — will qualify by registering a fifth win, it’s far from a slam dunk.
It all depends on the playoff points cutoff.
Another side note to the drama is the number of noteworthy playoff streaks that are at stake among a handful of teams.
The most glaring, obviously, is Mount Carmel. Not only has the Caravan qualified for the postseason 28 consecutive years, it has won 11 state titles and finished runner-up on five occasions — not a bad run. To reach five wins and extend its streak, Mount Carmel has to take down Loyola on Friday. That’s the same Loyola that is playing for a chance to earn a share of its fifth straight Catholic Blue title and a higher playoff seed.
But I wouldn’t dare bet against the two-time defending state champion Caravan rising to the occasion at Gately Stadium.