And now, the fun begins.
Everything to this point in high school football has been a prelude, though one that gives a pretty good indication of which area squads might participate in the postseason when the eight classes of playoffs begin the weekend of Oct. 29.
As Week 6 games approach, 35 of 38 area football programs still have a shot at the postseason. The odds for some are astronomical, but the potential is there for each of those that win out in the final four weeks.
From our view, around 20 area schools will make the cut.
Here's how it seems:
Unbeatens Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman, Mahomet-Seymour, Salt Fork and Tri-County are in for sure. The only question is how many of these 5-0 teams will be unbeaten heading into the playoffs?
Because G-RF/C and Salt Fork are in the same conference, obviously one of those teams can do no better than 8-1. They play each other in eight days in Catlin.
From the limb I'm sitting on, Tri-County has the best chance to wind up 9-0, but I believe M-S — which has the area's first 1,000-yard rusher in Chase Diedrich — will, too, as will the Salt Fork/G-RF/C winner.
There are four other playoff locks.
Danville (4-1), Tuscola (4-1) and Unity (4-1) will be back in the playoffs. Each could lose once more but will wind up no worse than 7-2.
Watseka (4-1), one of the area's most improved teams (after already doubling its win total from 2010), should become playoff eligible this week against Tremont and will wind up with the six wins needed to be an automatic qualifier.
In good shape
I'll put six programs in this category.
Bismarck-Henning (4-1) and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (4-1) are the closest to becoming playoff eligible, but both face three successive weeks of games that could be described as "tossups." These schools will wind up with at least five wins — and more than likely six — but there could be some tense moments on Selection Saturday for 5-4 squads as they await their fate.
The 3-2 teams with the best shot to finish with at least six wins — and know for certain they'll be in the postseason — are Arcola, Fisher, LeRoy and Westville.
The Bunnies benefit greatly from their two early one-point wins. Westville will be the favorite each of the next three weeks, which will provide the Tigers plenty of momentum heading into the annual Coal Bucket season-ender against the Buffaloes.
LeRoy is in position to run the table, which would mean a six-game winning streak after Week 9. Arcola, under second-year coach Gerald Temples, has lost to teams with a combined 8-2 record and takes on four successive squads currently under .500.
If you're keeping count, that's 14 area schools I'm saying for sure will have at least one playoff game this fall.
On the bubble
A large percentage of our area schools still control their playoff destiny but have at least one game that will determine how soon their season ends. My list includes seven schools on the bubble.
Hoopeston Area, Monticello and St. Joseph-Ogden all stand at 3-2.
The key game for the Sages is Week 8 at Shelbyville. Win that and the playoffs will become a reality.
SJ-O's injury-riddled team faces its must-win contest in little more than 24 hours, playing at St. Thomas More. With Watseka and Flanagan/Cornell (a combined 9-1 now) on the schedule in upcoming weeks, success this week is critical in order for the team not to need a late-season upset to keep its 20-year playoff streak intact.
Hoopeston Area's 3-2 record is an interesting one. The only losses are to schools off to 5-0 starts, and another 5-0 team (Salt Fork) is next on the schedule this week, at home. After that, the following two opponents are ones (Bismarck-Henning and Westville) fighting for their postseason lives, so reaching five wins — which last happened in 1993 — is not guaranteed.
In reality, all 2-3 teams are bubble teams, but it seems four have the most reason for optimism.
Champaign Central and Urbana have one regular season game left where they will be decided underdogs. For Urbana, that's Week 7 at Normal West; and for Central, that's Week 8 against Danville. Not saying the other games are locks, but they are winnable. Central can't stumble this week at Decatur MacArthur, and Urbana must be able to handle Centennial to create hope for the playoffs.
The Urbana-Centennial showdown, with the winner receiving the second annual Twin City Championship Trophy, features two of the area's elite junior passers, the Tigers' Cameron Mammen and the Chargers' Taylen Alexander.
St. Thomas More, like its Friday foe (SJ-O), is in a must-win scenario. The Sabers (2-3) close with unbeaten Deer Creek-Mackinaw in Week 9, so any regular season loss prior to then will be detrimental to extending the season.
Villa Grove (2-3) also faces a pressure-packed game this week. A home win against Arcola almost certainly would cement a playoff berth. A loss likely will seal the opposite fate.
Not likely, but ...
As we know, anything can happen.
Six 2-3 teams and one 1-4 team have legitimate aspirations, but maybe only Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon can get to the five wins needed to be considered for inclusion. The Broncos will be underdogs this week (at home against state-ranked Tri-County), before following with three straight tossups.
Milford/Cissna Park takes a three-game losing streak into Friday's road game at Georgetown but could regroup and be in position to clinch a winning season in its finale against neighboring rival Hoopeston.
Prairie Central plays three of its final four at home. The Hawks will need to win a game where they're not favored to reach five wins.
Argenta-Oreana's remaining schedule shows a date against the top-ranked Class 2A team (Maroa-Forsyth) as well as the former top-ranked Class 1A team (Tuscola). Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac has suffered losses to a pair of 5-0 teams and has another (Salt Fork) coming up. Before that are back-to-back games for the Comets against Vermilion Valley heavyweights Bismarck-Henning and Westville.
Paxton-Buckley-Loda is also 2-3, but even with three of its last four games at home, the lowest-scoring team in the Sangamon Valley Conference will have a difficult time reaching five wins.
The 1-4 team in the "not likely" category is Centennial. None of its upcoming opponents have won more than two games thus far, but if the Chargers are able to hit their peak, a winning streak could carry them to a 10th game. However, to be fair, it should be noted that Centennial's only win in the first five weeks is against an 0-5 team.
Seven 1-4 teams are mathematically still contenders for playoff bids, but it won't happen this year.
Expected to be on the outside looking in: Clinton, Iroquois West, Rantoul, Ridgeview, Schlarman, South Piatt and Sullivan/Okaw Valley.
Also building for next year are Blue Ridge and two other 0-5 teams that play one another Friday in Arthur, Arthur-Lovington and East Central.
Now that the guesswork has joined the groundwork laid by the area teams, let the drive for the postseason continue.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette's prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.