We have less than 100 days to kickoff, and the month of May has taken some turns. We thought we would be ready for the season by now, with coaches in place. With openings at EPC and Aquin both filled by Jared McNutt and Broc Kundert respectively, this left Warren open as McNutt vacated his position to head to EPC. Earlier this week we learned that Forreston HC Denny Diduch will not be back, leaving the Cards to head to Guilford. Later that same day Warren approved Shawn Teske to take over the Warriors for his 2nd stint as HC, however it was the logical choice considering it is only for the 2018 season. With May coming to a close we are still looking to see what Forreston will do to replace Diduch.
Just yesterday we received some information regarding 2018 enrollments. As has been the case for quite a while, the usual suspects will remain in Class 2A in 2018. Amboy will be the lowest enrolled 2A school in the NUIC with 335 kids, followed by EPC at 337, and West Carroll at 340. We will have a 3A school this year, as Du-Pec has jumped up to 428 kids, solidifying them in the 3A field if they make the playoffs.
As for the cutoffs, since 2007 the 1A cutoff average has been at 309. Last year the 1A cutoff was at 313, with Tuscola being the last team in the 1A field. Currently how it sits, Tuscola will drop down in enrollment to 298. With that said, if you take all 32 1A playoff teams last year, the highest enrolled school in 2018 will be Tuscola at 298. In Class 2A, the cutoff was at 392, as Aurora Christian was the last school in the 2A field. With Aurora Christian losing their 1st round game to Sterling Newman last season, it marked 4 consecutive years that Aurora Christian has not won a playoff game, therefore they will be placed on the waiver in 2018 and drop into the 1A field until they win another playoff game. The same will take place with Chicago Leo, and they will also fall into the 1A field should they qualify.
There will be a few NUIC teams starting the season you can expect to see ranked, or at least receiving votes to kickoff the season. Those teams will be Lena-Winslow (will most likely be in the top 3 coming off last year's state title), Dakota, Forreston, and EPC. I would not be surprised if we saw Milledgeville or Stockton sneak into the receiving votes column, based on their finishes last season. The clear pre-season favorite in the Northwest will be Le-Win. In the Upstate it will be a little closer, as you can expect to see Stockton or Milledgeville as pre-season favorites. A lot of the Upstate coaches will tell you Stockton will be the favorite until someone knocks them off. The Blackhawks will enter 2018 having won the conference title 7 times over the past 8 seasons.
Looking at the early playoff outlook, I expect to see the 1A cutoff lower this season. My reasoning for this is based off the enrollment numbers of last year's qualifying school's, plus the addition of Chicago Leo and Aurora Christian in the 1A field should they qualify. A solid look at the bubble currently has it sitting around 303, where last year's 1A semifinalist Athens sits. However, you can expect to see some different teams qualifying for the playoffs.
On the flip side, I can see the 2A cutoff being higher this year. Where it will currently sit to start the season, Maroa-Forsyth and Marshall will be the highest enrolled school's at 391. Maroa-Forsyth has been the Class 2A state runner-up each of the last 2 season's, while Marshall has been in the 3A field the past 4 seasons. Looking at the 2A bubble, I see it sitting around the 399 mark where you will have 2A playoff school's Auburn and Mercer County and 3A playoff school's Pana and Nashville all sitting between that 393 and 399 number.
Some teams to watch this season around the state in the 1A field will be the following: Tuscola, Aurora Christian, Red Hill, Princeville, Camp Point Central, Ottawa Marquette, Morrison, Fisher, Chicago Leo, Concord Triopia, Athens, and Argenta-Oreana. In the 2A field, it will feature a lot of usuals: GCMS, Newman, Chicago Hope, Maroa-Forsyth, Orion, Bismarck-Henning, Tri-Valley, Rockridge, Fieldcrest, Chicago Christian, West Hancock, Carlyle, and Deer Creek-Mackinaw.
This will be another great season in the NUIC, as we can expect to see 8 teams qualify for the playoffs for sure yet again. The only question is, who will they be. You can expect to see Le-Win, Dakota, Forreston, and EPC from the Northwest. On the Upstate side, you can expect Stockton, Milledgeville, and Orangeville. Some teams to watch on this side for that 4th spot will be River Ridge and Aquin.