Class 6A playoff breakdown

Last season, Cary-Grove celebrated a Class 6A state championship. Scott Powers for ESPN.com

The Fox Valley took a major step as a conference last season when Cary-Grove won the Class 6A state championship. Although the Trojans are a long shot to repeat, another Fox Valley school is carrying the torch.

Crystal Lake South has put together its best season in school history. The Gators went undefeated in the regular season, which included knocking off rival Cary-Grove, and looks to add to that by winning their first state football championship.

Here’s a closer look at the Class 6A playoffs.

Best opening-round game

No. 11 Cary-Grove at No. 6 Hubbard: Cary-Grove, the defending 6A champs, will have its hands full in the first round with Hubbard. Cary-Grove has won six of its last seven games. Hubbard could gain a lot of respect for itself and the Public League with a win.

Top 10 Class 6A teams

1.Crystal Lake South (9-0) – First undefeated regular season in school history

2.Danville (9-0) – Fell in semifinals to state runner-up Providence last season

3.Morgan Park (8-1) – Mustangs have won in and out of the Public League

4.Lemont (9-0) – Indians lost to Danville in the playoffs last season

5.Marmion (8-1) – Only loss this season came to Montini

6.Boylan (9-0) – Has outscored opponents by 38.9 points

7.Richards (7-2) -- Playing well at the right time

8.Thornton Fractional South (8-1) – Played six playoff teams and defeated five of them

9.Prairie Ridge (8-1) – Allowed 5.4 points per game

10.Lake Forest (6-3) – Defeated Vernon Hills and pushed Lake Zurich to the brink

Top 5 players to watch

1.Mik’ail McCall, SR, RB, Thornridge: The Michigan State recruit doesn’t get as much attention as some players because of his team’s lack of success, but he’s as good as anyone in the state.

2.Jarrell Williams, SR, DB, Richards: The Northwestern recruit is one of the best lockdown defenders in the state. He also is a threat on offense and in returning kicks.

3. Dae’Shaun Hurley, JR, QB, Morgan Park: Hurley is one of the state’s best dual threat quarterbacks. His ability and unselfishness has made the Mustangs a contender this season.

4.Drew Ormseth, SR, QB, Crystal Lake South: Ormseth has been beating teams on the ground and in the air all season.

5.Clayton Fejedelem, SR, DB, Lemont: Fejedelem can affect a game in a number of ways. He’s one of the area’s top safeties and kick returners.

Sleeper team

Fenwick (5-4): The Friars have played one of the toughest schedules of any Class 6A team thanks to being in the Catholic League. While Loyola and Mount Carmel defeated them soundly, they showed they can play with the best when they hung with St. Rita in a 14-13 loss. Their defense has kept them in most games, allowing 14 points or less in six contests.

Road for defending Class 6A state champions

There was a real fear that Cary-Grove wouldn’t even qualify for the playoffs this season. After winning last year’s state championship with an experienced group, the Trojans brought only a few starters back and struggled in the opening weeks of this season. They began the year 0-2, but bounced back to win six out of their last seven games. As the No. 11 seed, Cary-Grove faces an uphill battle if it is going to repeat.

Fun fact

Only three teams in the Class 6A playoffs have won a state championship before. Richards has won two, and Cary-Grove and Normal Community have won one each.

Coaches’ thoughts

Cary-Grove coach Bruce Kay: “I think it’s great that the Fox Valley Conference has a number of teams in different classes and brackets for the most part. This way we are competing against other teams in the state rather than knocking each other out in the early rounds.”

Richards coach Tony Sheehan: “I thought the pairings were great and we are very happy where we were placed. To get a No. 7 seed at 7-2 is great. Our road is not easy with having to possibly play the No. 2 seed Rockford Boylan, but then again nothing great comes easy. I think this is going to be a great playoff season. The matchups that can happen are just exciting, and I can’t wait to see what happens.

State championship prediction: Crystal Lake South defeats Danville