As of today, Thursday, there are 57 more days until the first night of Illinois High School Association football action.
The schools have finalized their schedules and the IHSA posted them in all their glory.
When I look at the schedules for the first time, I am more interested in what the non-conference portion looks like. And this year among area teams, there is plenty of intrigue. The first couple of weeks could feature some classic games and some blowouts.
And a nice wrinkle for a sports editor who wouldn’t mind taking a lot of photos of different teams the first weekend (I am planning that photo page already!) there are several games involving area teams the first Friday (Aug. 26) plus some action the next two days as well.
The big bash will be a Sunday, Aug. 28, collision between heated rivals Brother Rice and Marist at Soldier Field. That game is special on its own and usually even more special when it was hosted at one of the schools. Some of the intense, intimate atmosphere will be taken away by playing in a large NFL Stadium, but, hey, the game is being played in an NFL Stadium. Marist is coming off a stunning second-place finish in the state in Class 8A after going 5-4 in the regular season and Brother Rice has plenty of returning talent.
On Sept. 2, it doesn’t get much easier for either of these area squads as Marist hosts Chicago Public League power Simeon and Brother Rice hosts Crete-Monee, which finished second in the state to Montini in Class 6A last year.
Speaking of Crete, former C-M and Marian Catholic coach Jerry Verde opens his career at Evergreen Park visiting the Chicago Agriculture Science School at Stagg Stadium on Aug. 27 and hosting CICS/Longwood on Sept. 2.
Speaking of new coaches, the Scott Peters era starts in Sandburg and the Eagles host Naperville North (2-7 last year) on Aug. 26. The Eagles’ other non-conference game is Oct. 24 waaaaaaay down south. They visit the suburbs of St. Louis to take on Fort Zumwalt West in O’Fallon, Missouri. That will be the eighth week of the season and it might be an important game for the Eagles’ playoff chances.
The SouthWest Suburban lost Joliet West, Joliet Central (both to the Suburban Prairie Conference) and Lincoln-Way North (which closed). The conference used to be broken up into two divisions but now it will be a sort of super conference of 13 teams where not everyone will play everyone and some teams will play six conference games, some play seven and some eight. Confused? Get in line.
Stagg will play eight conference games in the new super conference and visits Rich Central Aug. 26 in the only non-conference battle.
On the other hand, there is St. Laurence, which plays just three conference games in the Chicago Catholic Conference League White.
The Vikings, who are eyeing a state title this season after making it to the Class 5A semifinal last year, are playing six non-conference games and will open the season at Benet on Aug. 26 and another juicy game on the schedule comes Sept. 16 when they visit St. Rita.
Richards hosts Lemont on Aug. 26 in a battle that last year saw Lemont take a 14-0 halftime lead only to have Richards roar back in the second half for a thrilling 28-24 victory.
Shepard, which qualified for the playoffs last year for the first time since 2013, opens the season hosting Thornton Fractional North on Aug. 26 and visiting Fenton on Sept. 2. Those two teams combined for a 6-12 record in 2015.
Oak Lawn will try to improve on a 1-9 mark and Nick Novak’s second year as coach of the Spartans opens at Lane Tech on Aug. 26 and they host Hillcrest on Sept. 2. Both teams finished 4-5 last year but the Spartans dropped a season opener to Lane, 28-6, in Oak Lawn and a 50-0 decision to Hillcrest in Country Club Hills in 2015.
Chicago Christian hopes to put last year’s 1-8 record behind it and second-year coach Nick Cook and the Knights open with a home game against Chicago Noble/Bulls, which was 7-2 last year but was not in a conference that qualified for the IHSA playoffs Aug. 26 and hosts Crossroads Academy out of Big Rock on Sept. 10. Crossroads was 0-6 last year including two forfeits. In the four games the team out of Big Rock actually played, it was beaten by a combined score of 184-46.
Just 57 more days…