Monday, September 25, 2023

IL football state championship predictions, 5A–8A


We were four for four in predicting the winners of the state final football games today, but the games were quite lopsided on paper, making our job somewhat easier. We do not expect the same blowouts in Classes 5A through 8A.

In Class 5A, we predict Nazareth Acad. will defeat Lincoln-Way West

In terms of control of the line of scrimmage, Nazareth has rushed for more than twice as many yards per attempt (7.96) as they have given up on defense (3.88). The picture for Lincoln-Way West is different. Against their 13 opponents, they have gained, on average 5.99 yards per rushing attempt, which is not only lower on offense than Nazareth’s average but also not much higher than the average LWW allowed on defense, an average of 4.2 yards per carry.

It is our assessment, then, that although Lincoln-Way West has won several games this season, the team has not dominated at the line of scrimmage, which is how championships are won. The inspiration of being in a state final could boost their performance, but their opponent will have the same motivation to defend their title from last year.

Nazareth Academy simply has a deeper history at the state tournament, and head coach Tim Racki, who came to the LaGrange Park school in 2005 right out of Catholic rival and now closed Driscoll High School in Addison, won four consecutive state championships there in 2001 through 2004. He has turned Nazareth’s program around.

LWW, on the other hand, is a new school, both in terms of state finals and in terms of simple existence. It was first open in the 2009-10 school year, and head coach Dave Ernst took the reins in 2012. Having less experience is a possible impediment to victory at the highest level of Class 5A here.

However, one factor that could play a wild-card role in this game is that both teams have somewhat permeable defenses. All playoff-round games were comfortable victories for both teams, but both teams lost 2 games this season. Neither team turned in a regular season of what I would call blow-out shutouts. If either offense is able to take advantage of that defensive permeability, the game here could be thrown wide open.

We don’t predict that to happen, though, since as we found yesterday, most teams bring their best stuff to the state title games.

In Class 6A, we predict Crete-Monee will defeat Montini

Up until this year, Montini in Lombard has played in Class 5A and advanced to the state final every year since 2009, losing in 2013 and 2014 to Sacred-Heart Griffin, which almost took out Crete-Monee in the quarterfinal round this year. Playing up in 6A is a slight disadvantage for Montini, and since Crete-Monee gained slightly more ground, on average, on offensive rushing attempts (7.93 yards, compared to 7.19 yards for Montini), we call for Crete-Monee to return a state championship trophy, as they did in 2012 under a different coach.

Defensive stats aren’t available for Crete-Monee, so our prediction here is less solid than others, but other indicators as well predict a close game with Crete-Monee reaching the end as the victor. Both teams are coming off of tough semifinal games, but Crete-Monee was also significantly challenged in the quarterfinal round against Sacred-Heart Griffin, winning by only 3 points. Close games in the playoffs toughen teams, and we think that edge, along with a slight advantage on the offensive line, will be enough.

Montini’s only other close game this season came against Maine South in the first week, and regular-season games are nowhere near as predictive of championship success as playoff-round games are. Montini has certainly dominated at the line of scrimmage, giving up about half the yards per carry as they gained throughout the course of the season. But facing opponents that are no match could breed complacency, although coaching can overcome those issues.

But in the end, we think Crete-Monee has a slight advantage on paper and also brings an advantage in terms of intangibles, this being their first title game under coach John Konecki. He’s been head coach since 2013 and lost in Round 1 of the playoffs in 2013 and 2014.

We were wrong about this one, mainly because we can’t predict big plays, like those Montini pulled off, including an interception and a long rush for a touchdown. The game was a dead heat at halftime, with Montini leading 18-15. But Montini came back after stopping Crete-Monee on their first possession of the second half. They never let go again, showing some experienced coaching in the locker room at halftime.

In Class 7A, we can’t predict Glenbard West vs. Libertyville

Rushing attempts on offense and rushing attempts on defense are unavailable for Glenbard West (13-0), so Voxitatis will not make a prediction in the state final Class 7A game. Libertyville is also undefeated and has certainly dominated the line of scrimmage this season. They have gained, on average, more than twice as many yards on rushing attempts (7.9) as they have given up (3.7), but these stats aren’t available for their opponent here.

Both teams bring strong head coaches and strong playoff histories to the game, as well as their current undefeated seasons.

Libertyville’s one close game this year came just last week against Bradley-Bourbonnais, but the team had an easier season than their opponent here, facing opponents with 74 combined wins, compared to 84 combined victories for opponents of Glenbard West. And Glenbard West had a close game in the playoffs, too, in Round 2 against Mt Carmel of Chicago.

In summary, missing data means any prediction would depend entirely on intangibles, which defeats our purpose of using mathematics to predict state final games. Also, to get to this level, both teams have demonstrated that they’re just fine when it comes to intangibles.

In Class 8A, we predict Loyola Academy will defeat Marist

Two Catholic schools come to the state final in Class 8A: Loyola in Wilmette (13-0) and Marist in Chicago (9-4), which came into the playoffs with a lower seed and has thus battled much tougher opponents in the playoff rounds than Loyola has. Also, Marist’s average of 5.79 yards per carry this season demonstrates slightly stronger control of the line of scrimmage than Loyola’s 5.38 average yards per carry.

The statistical difference between these two teams is small, though, and defensive stats aren’t available for Marist in terms of yards allowed on the average rushing play. Still, there is a difference we can detect, but we believe the intangibles in the game—coach John Holocek’s collegiate and NFL career, for one thing—give Loyola an edge in this game.

This game, more than any here, has a strong contribution from intangibles. If Marist keeps the game close, they have shown they can pull it out. But against tough opponents this season, like Mt Carmel, they haven’t kept it close enough, and Loyola has run the table against most of theirs. If Loyola doesn’t run away with the game, Marist has a slight statistical advantage. But if the game is won and lost in the first half, control of the line of scrimmage for the rest of the game means nothing.

Furthermore, both teams experienced similarly tough seasons (88 combined wins for Loyola’s opponents, 91 for Marist’s). Both teams faced Mt Carmel of Chicago, Marist losing in Week 1 and Loyola winning in Week 9. In the playoff rounds, though, Loyola had a close call against Palatine in the semifinal round, but Marist has been battling against closely matched opponents—and winning, often coming back at the end—since Round 1. That competitiveness, we believe, combined with a small advantage in terms of control of the line of scrimmage, would ordinarily result in us calling the game for Marist. Not this time.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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