Scramble in store for Southwest Prairie

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The first two weeks in the high school football season are devoted to nonconference matchups.

The debate will continue ad nauseam on whether teams benefit more from playing tough opponents, patsies or something in between.

Regardless, we can put that discussion behind us because conference play begins in earnest this weekend.

Every year, it seems, the Southwest Prairie Conference is tough to handicap. That’s because you realistically could foresee a majority of the league teams battling for playoff berths, and many of those contending for the conference championship.

It’s no different this year. In a full set of Friday night openers, Minooka entertains Oswego, Plainfield Central is home to Romeoville, Plainfield South is at Plainfield North and Oswego East is at Plainfield East.

All four could be placed into the toss-up category. Plainfield Central (2-0) may be the favorite against Romeoville (0-2), but the Wildcats probably were the favorite in Week 9 last year, when the Spartans scored a thrilling 49-46 victory that ousted Central from the playoffs.

Minooka is interesting. The Indians are 0-2 under first-year coach Paul Forsythe after losing to Morris and Providence. But remember, Minooka also was 0-2 last season, then ran off six straight conference victories before dropping the SPC finale to Oswego 21-7.

Most observers think Oswego (1-1), with its high-powered offense, and Minooka will be among those contending for the SPC championship again this season. But this time around, with the league scheduled flipped, they meet early rather than late.

Based on what we have seen in the conference portion of the schedule, all four Plainfield schools — South (1-1), North (1-1), East (0-2) and Central — have reason to believe they can contend for the league title, or at least a playoff berth.

With quarterbacks in the league such as Minooka’s Joe Carnagio, Plainfield North’s Kurt Palandech and South’s Ricky Luna, with running backs the caliber of Central’s Jordan Ellingwood and Gino Giarratano, offenses will score points. The difference may be which team(s) can get it done defensively.

Other conferences where area teams could be among several in the title chase are Coal City (2-0) in the Interstate Eight Large, Joliet Catholic (1-1) in the East Suburban Catholic, Providence (2-0) in the Catholic Blue and Lincoln-Way West (1-1) in the SouthWest Suburban Red.

When Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp was discussing the necessity of the Hilltoppers winning their ESCC opener at St. Viator, he noted, “The four games after this one being what they are (Nazareth, at Marist, at St. Patrick and Carmel), we are really going to have to work to get into position to make the playoffs.

“We are going to have to put forth great effort every week because there are quality teams all around. The talent level is the highest in our conference that it has been since I’ve been here.”

A couple of other conferences involving area teams do not project the same multi-team scrambles. If Bolingbrook and Lincoln-Way East are not the top two teams in the SouthWest Suburban Blue, if the winner of their Sept. 28 meeting is not the eventual league champion, there should be an investigation. Ditto if Lemont is not the kingpin in the South Suburban Blue, and if Wilmington does not run the table in the Interstate Eight Small.

With everyone focused on making the playoffs, conference championships may not carry the weight they once did. But don’t for a minute think they do not matter to the coaches and players involved.

In most instances, conference opponents are your oldest, fiercest rivals. Who wouldn’t want to show them who is the best?

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