When asked about his team's role as favorite in the Class 7A playoff football bracket, Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet steered the answer inward.
"I feel good about the way we're playing," he said. "To me that's the most important thing going into the playoffs regardless of who we're playing."
That'll be the key for all 17 of the football teams from DuPage County that qualified for the playoffs. The IHSA announced the pairings Saturday night.
The Hilltoppers enter the postseason 9-0 as the top seed in the 16-team lower bracket of Class 7A, separating them from upper-bracket powerhouse Lincoln-Way East and two-time defending Class 7A champion Wheaton Warrenville South.
Glenbard West, ranked No. 1 in the state in The Associated Press 7A poll, is nearly at full strength after quarterback Justice Odom returned Friday from a knee injury that kept him out for two games. With all hands on deck the Hilltoppers, who face Prospect (5-4) Saturday in Glen Ellyn, are primed for a run at their first state title since 1983.
"We're getting everybody back, and I'm happy about that," Hetlet said. "It's as good a shot as we've had, but we also realize we have to take it a game at a time."
Two-time defending Class 5A state champion Montini (7-2) is also healthy after getting quarterback John Rhode back from injury. Paired with Nebraska-bound receiver Jordan Westerkamp, the Broncos' offense will help them be favored to three-peat despite being a sixth seed in the lower bracket of 5A.
Montini plays Woodstock North (7-2) in the first round with a possible rematch against Marian Central (9-0) which beat Montini 21-20 in Week 4 looming in the quarterfinals.
Suburban Christian Conference rival St. Francis (7-2), which played Montini in the first round the last two years, wouldn't meet the Broncos until the 5A semifinals. The No. 8 Spartans open at home against Burlington Central (7-2).
Fellow SCC competitor Immaculate Conception (6-3) is back in 3A and travels to Winnebago (7-2) as a sixth seed.
"Anytime you've got to win five games it's difficult, so that's always a challenge and it's a grind," said Montini coach Chris Andriano. "I don't think it's any easier or more difficult just because you won it."
While most teams with 5-4 records qualified, Lake Park and Hinsdale South were among the 25 five-win teams that didn't make the 256-team field.
Naperville North (5-4), which lost to Glenbard North Saturday, was among the five-win qualifiers in 8A. The 14th-seeded Huskies travel to play No. 3 Downers Grove (8-1) in the first round the seventh time they've faced each other in the opening round of the playoffs.
"We're excited that we're still alive," said Naperville North coach Sean Drendel. "The greatest thing about the playoffs is everyone's equal now."
Downers South's Friday loss to Addison Trail allowed Waubonsie Valley (8-1) to earn the top seed in the upper bracket of 8A, where the Warriors will play No. 16 Belleville East (5-4), a 7A semifinalist last season.
"We thought we'd be the No. 1 seed unless they did something crazy with the bracket," said Waubonsie Valley coach Paul Murphy. "Everything kind of fell into place with Downers Grove South losing (Friday) night."
Should the Warriors win they may draw a second-round rematch against Naperville Central (6-3), which lost to Waubonsie Valley 21-7 in Week 1. The Redhawks travel to Minooka (6-3) in the first round.
Neuqua Valley, a five-win qualifier after Friday's double-overtime loss to Lake Park, faces No. 2 Bolingbrook (8-1) as a No. 15 seed in 8A. Also in the upper bracket, Hinsdale Central (6-3) travels to Mt. Carmel (6-3).
Eleventh-seeded Glenbard North (6-3), which clinched its playoff berth with Saturday's win over Naperville North, faces No. 6 Barrington (7-2) in the lower bracket of 8A. York (6-3) travels to Stevenson (7-2).
"After losing three weeks in a row, this is huge for us in terms of momentum," Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens said of Saturday's win. "More than anything else it just builds the confidence with our kids."
Ninth-seeded WW South (6-3), co-champions in the DuPage Valley Conference, eyes a stiff opening-round home game in 7A against perennial power Providence (6-3). The winner of that game likely will meet unbeaten Lincoln-Way East (9-0), top seeded in the upper bracket, in the second round.
Addison Trail (8-1), a 6A qualifier last year, finds itself in 7A after claiming its first West Suburban Gold title since 2006. The Blazers, seeded sixth in the lower bracket, play at home against Carmel (6-3).
"I thought it was going to be close between 6A and 7A," said Blazers coach Paul Parpet. "Some things had to happen for us to go 6A and they didn't happen."
Wheaton North (7-2), co-champion in the DVC after Friday's loss to WW South, regroups as the seventh seed in the lower bracket of 7A. The Falcons play at home against No. 10 Jacobs (7-2) in the first round.
"We're frustrated because we didn't feel like we played our best football on Friday," said Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski. "The one good thing is that it was a playoff type of game, so I think we're already in that playoff mindset."
In Class 6A Metro Suburban Conference champion Glenbard South (6-3) returns to the playoffs as a 10th seed after winning its fifth straight game Saturday. The Raiders hit the road to play Foreman (7-2) in the opening round. Ninth-seeded Fenton (7-2) plays at Lake Forest (7-2).
"We've played well the last few weeks," said Raiders coach Jeremy Cordell. "Hopefully, we can keep it going."
Dave Oberhelman contributed