High school football notebook: Public League schedule shake-up, Anthony Birsa commits to Northwestern

The Public League football schedule is changing this fall, and Phillips coach Joe Winslow is all for it.

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Phillips’s Ryan McDonald (18) makes the reception against Simeon.

Phillips’s Ryan McDonald (18) makes the reception against Simeon.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

The Public League football schedule is changing this fall, and Phillips coach Joe Winslow is all for it.

There will be less of an emphasis on the Prep Bowl playoffs and more on getting the elite CPS teams better prepared for the IHSA postseason. 

It’s an ongoing push, especially after Public League teams went 2-20 in the first round of the state playoffs last season and only Phillips got as far as the quarterfinals.

Under the new format, the Public League playoffs — which decide the CPS representative in the Prep Bowl — will be cut back to eight teams and won’t start till after the regular season. 

Previously, Week 9 was reserved for the first round of the Public League playoffs and other crossover games. Now, all Public League teams will know their entire schedule from the beginning of the season.

In the top two conferences, the Red Bird and Land of Lincoln, teams will play five league games and two crossovers against the other elite conference.

“It creates more competition and gives me more [playoff] points going into the state playoffs,” Winslow said. “That’s definitely a plus.”

It’ll also end some of the late-season scrambling for the elite CPS programs in terms of scouting. Until now, they had to have multiple potential opponents on their radar not just for the IHSA postseason, but also for that city playoff game in Week 9.

“I would rather play nine [locked-in] games,” Winslow said. “If it’s a Kenwood or Simeon, we can prepare for them. [Instead of] ‘who we got this week? Payton? What the heck do they run?’ In the first quarter, you’re trying to figure out people.”

Besides providing schedule certainty, the new format also can help the top CPS teams ramp up for the higher caliber of play in the IHSA postseason.

The hope is that playing another elite Public League opponent in Week 9, rather than a lower-seeded team from a different conference, might help make CPS more competitive on the state level.

“It’ll definitely prepare you for the bigger games downstate later in the season,” Winslow said.

Elsewhere, the top two conferences will have two new members. Brooks moves up to the Red Bird after winning the Big Shoulders last fall, while Clark joins the Land of Lincoln after sharing the Prairie State title with Payton. Dropping down are Perspectives and Lincoln Park.

Evanston-bound

Anthony Birsa didn’t expect to make a commitment so soon.

“I always thought it would be sometime in the summer,” said the Joliet Catholic junior, who is the state’s consensus No. 11 prospect in the class of 2023.

An offensive line mainstay for the defending Class 4A state champs, the 6-5, 270-pounder got his first Division I offer in October from Eastern Kentucky.

Then the process gained momentum after the season when offers came from several Mid-American Conference schools. Iowa State was Birsa’s first Power Five offer.

In January, he started talking with Northwestern.

“I loved the coaches, I loved everything about it,” Birsa said. “I saw the pictures of the facility, but when I visited I was totally blown away.”

Being able to play in the Big Ten and close to home made it an easy call for Birsa to give the Wildcats a verbal commitment on March 4. 

“I felt that’s the place I was meant to be,” he said.

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