Edgy Tim: Is 2019 the season of good –but not great– teams?


I recently saw a local writer discussing the positive attributes of a Class 8A team and claimed, "________ is a serious contender for an 8A state title this year."
I had to chuckle to myself.
A message to any 8A football schools with a winning record-- and even a few of you with losing records: Right now, all of you are all serious contenders for a state title. I'm not kidding.
Welcome to the "Year of the Good, not the Great."
With five weeks of IHSA football under our belts, I can say with a pretty strong conviction that (outside of, say, 5A's East St. Louis Flyers), everyone else has a real shot at winning a state football title in late November.
I've been searching high and low for that one dominant team that sets the bar and will be THE team to beat. Outside of the aforementioned Flyers, the playoffs are completely up for grabs.
I've seen 20 out of the 25 teams that are currently ranked on the NBC Sports Chicago Preps Power Rankings. 13 of those 20 schools are in Class 8A.
Regarding 8A, let's start with my top-ranked team in Chicagoland, Lincoln-Way East (5-0). The Griffins have a lot of positives. And after seeing East beat H-F 28-14 last Saturday I definitely feel good about where I have the Griffins for now. Lincoln-Way East has major star power --Michigan commit A.J. Henning tops the list-- and plenty in the skills department. They also boast an impressive offensive line. On defense, they have playmakers in DE Adrain Wilson (Bowling Green), DE Sean McLaughlin (Northwestern) and a ton of speed overall on the roster. Even special teams at East are pretty special with K/P Dominic Dzioban (Miami OH). But I still have some key questions regarding the Griffins' long-term state title run potential: Can LWE's offensive put up enough points in the postseason, especially if they run into someone who can quick-strike/big play their defense? Can the Griffins' passing game lead this team if needed come November? This East team, especially on offense, reminds me a lot of the 2016 state title team...and things worked out just fine for them. But it's still a valid question.  
Ironically, the Top 25 is loaded with several 8A undefeated teams. It's the most at this stage of the season I can remember in a long time. That's a good thing, right. Maybe.
Warren Township (5-0) might have Chicagoland's top defense. They have already posted three consecutive shutouts. But how battle-tested are the Blue Devils? Hinsdale Central (5-0) has been lights-out defensively. And they've always been a tough out over the years; that said, the West Suburban Silver currently has just three teams with winning records (Hinsdale Central and Glenbard West are 5-0, York at 3-2). Minooka (5-0) and Oswego (5-0) are both ranked in the latest 8A AP poll, but does anyone really know just how good the locked Southwest Prairie West conference truly is this season? Notre Dame (5-0) is rolling. They've posted some very impressive wins (Marist and Providence to name a few). The Dons are one of the better surprise stories this season. Are they ready to make the jump from a 2018 6A playoff team to an 8A state playoff team in 2019?
Several other teams with winning records need to be heavily considered in 8A: Loyola (3-2), H-F (4-1), Bolingbrook (4-1), Neuqua Valley (4-1), Barrington (4-1) and Maine South (3-2), among several others. Every school here is well coached, has considerable talent and has various strengths on both sides of the football. But in many cases these schools also have some issues that could prevent them from making a lot of traction once the postseason begins. Has Loyola settled on a quarterback? Is the offense ready to take off? Can Bolingbrook and H-F, both run-first programs, go to the play-action passing game if/when it's needed? Are Neuqua Valley, Loyola and Barrington's "signature games" so far this season be defined as close losses? Is Maine South finally healthy --and can they stay healthy-- as the regular season progresses? Heck, can all of these team catch a break in the health department? 
Some years the separation between the upper-echelon schools in the Top 25 Power Rankings can feel like the Great Wall of China. But this year, the separation between, say,  #10 and #25 feels like a small pebble laying in the road.
So buckle up. Enjoy the ride. While we might have one or two power programs, we are left with a truly wide-open playoff field. It might be as predictable as trying to set a high school game time to avoid oncoming bad weather 48 hours before kickoff.

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