The Class 7A playoff field is a lot like the old Royal Rumble of the World Wrestling Federation. You throw a whole lot of talent in the ring and wait for anything to happen.
Fourteen of the 32 teams in the 7A playoffs were ranked at some time this season. Ten of them appeared in the top 10. Five of them spent time in the top 5. One of them has been No. 1 the last eight weeks.
“I don't think you can overstate the depth of quality teams in this class,” Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling said.
If there was a Hulk Hogan of the group, it would be Wheaton Warrenville South. The Tigers have been the best team in the state from start to finish. They’ve rolled through their schedule – not an easy one either – and have out-scored their opponents by 35.8 points.
Wheaton Warrenville South may be the favorite, but Simeon, Carmel, St. Rita and Glenbard West are all just slightly behind. Those five times comprised the ranking’s top 5 before Glenbard West and St. Rita were upset by Class 8A teams in the final week of the regular season.
If those five teams are the top tier, the next tier would be Elk Grove, Lake Zurich, Lincoln-Way East, Marian Catholic, Minooka, Plainfield North, Plainfield South, Prospect, Schaumburg and Wheaton North. Those 10 teams have lost a combined 15 games. Of those 15 losses, eight were to other teams in the 7A field and 10 of them were to ranked teams.
Then, there’s the story of East St. Louis. Nationally ranked along with Wheaton Warrenville South, the Flyers were considered another state title contender. That was until Tuesday when the IHSA forced them to forfeit all of their 2010 wins and removed them from the playoffs due to using ineligible players.
“Obviously, the whole East St. Louis thing has added drama to this class,” Minooka coach Bert Kooi said.
The Royal Rumble always had that as well.
Best opening-round game
No. 9 Schaumburg at No. 8 Elk Grove: Elk Grove defeated Schaumburg 36-34 in one of the more intense regular-season games. The Grenadiers stopped Schaumburg short on a two-point conversion to pull out the win. Elk Grove quarterback Nick Meyer threw for three touchdowns and ran for two in the win. Saxons quarterback Mark Iannotti had four touchdown passes. The winner of this will likely get Simeon.
Top 10 Class 7A teams
1. Wheaton Warrenville South (9-0): This could be one of the best teams in state history
2. Simeon (9-0): Looking to become the first Public League state champion
3. Carmel (8-1): Won the East Suburban Catholic Conference
4. St. Rita (8-1): Played six playoff teams and defeated five of them
5. Lincoln-Way East (8-1): Has played exceptionally well since losing to Wheaton North
6. Glenbard West (8-1): Unexpectedly lost in Week 9 to Lyons
7. Lake Zurich (8-1): Only loss was Stevenson
8. Wheaton North (7-2): Has a knack for winning close games
9. Prospect (8-1): Winners of its last eight games
10. Schaumburg (7-2): Ended Maine South’s two-year winning streak
Top 5 players to watch
1. Reilly O'Toole, Wheaton Warrenville South, SR, QB: An Illinois recruit, O'Toole is the front-runner for the ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year award. He’s thrown for 1,700-plus yards, 26 touchdowns and just one interception.
2. Kapri Bibbs, Plainfield North, SR, RB: A Colorado State recruit, he has been the complete surprise of the season. Despite missing the opening week of the season, he’s rushed for 2,519 yards and 37 touchdowns.
3. Jordan Walsh, Glenbard West, SR, OL: An Iowa recruit, Walsh is one of the country’s top offensive lineman.
4. Robert Gregory, Simeon, JR, QB: He can run and pass the ball with the best of them. He’s made the Wolverines a state contender.
5. Shepard Little, Schaumburg RB: After sitting out last season, Little has made up for lost time by running for 1,500-plus yards.
Plainfield North (7-2): The way Plainfield North can compile yards and touchdowns with the ball in Kapri Bibbs' hands makes the Tigers a tough match up for anyone. They can be slowed down, and Minooka proved that by defeating them in overtime.
Road for defending state champions
Of all the defending state champions, Wheaton Warrenville South is the lone one considered to be a favorite to repeat. The Tigers have been unstoppable this season. They faced five ranked teams and defeated them all easily. Wheaton Warrenville South’s offense averaged 43.1 points, and its defense gave up 7.3 points a game. Reilly O’Toole is the marquee name in the group, but there’s talent all over the field. Wide receiver Titus Davis has especially made a name for himself.
Carmel and St. Rita are making their 11th consecutive playoff appearances. Lincoln-Way East and Simeon are making their 10th. DuQuoin holds the current streak with 27 and is followed by Mount Carmel’s 25.
Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch: “We need to maintain a good balance between offense, defense and special team performance. We need to keep injury free and get some back that are recovering. They are all good teams from here on out. It always comes down to one or two key plays.”
Elk Grove coach Brian Doll: “This is the second straight year we have made it to the playoffs, but it will be the first time since 2004 that we have a home playoff game in EG NATION. The Elk Grove students and community are very excited to host a first round game. This first round game should be one of the best first round matchups in the 7A field.”
Minooka coach Bert Kooi: “From Day 1, Wheaton Warrenville South was projected to be one of the best teams in the entire state regardless of class. Simeon with all its D-I prospects drops from 8A to 7A adding even more interest to a stacked class. St. Rita proved a year ago with their talented running back they can challenge anyone. Carmel has shown us all this season that they have one of those teams, as they do every couple of years, that can challenge for a state championship. Obviously, the whole East St. Louis thing has added drama to this class. Plus, there are a ton of very, very good 8-1 football teams that at any given weekend may just knock off one of the top dogs. Will be interesting each and every week!”
State championship prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South defeats St. Rita