In the wake of the eight state championship games conducted in the Illinois playoff last weekend at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, here is everything you need to know about the state of football in the Chicago area and beyond:
* It wasn't a great year for individual talent in Illinois--the class of 2012s shapes up as a better and deeper crop--but there were a lot of teams that performed well and a lot of small running backs who made reputations for themselves, including St. Rita's Jahwon Akui, Plainfield North's Kapri Bibbs, Carmel's Jordan Kos and Michael Panico, Schaumburg's Shepard Little, Lake Zurich's Jacob Brinlee and the smallest of all, Maine South's 5-4, 161-pound Paul Preston.
* Walther Lutheran's Sean Cotton, who was ranked as one of the top 10 seniors in Illinois by one scouting service, has been dropped by Northwestern because he scored only 20 on his ACT. Cotton, who was recruited as a defensive back and had originally committed to coach Pat Fitzgerald, now is looking at other schools that previously offered him, including Purdue, Minnesota and Oregon.
* Notre Dame has lost four blue-chippers to previously had committed. But Irish fans shouldn't panic. Coach Dennis Kelly still has a good corps group of recruits and has a chance to finish in the top 10. He is in the mix for 15 blue-chip prospects, including running back Savon Huggins of New Jersey, linebacker Christian French of Iowa, defensive back Wayne Lyons of Florida, tackle Jay Whitmiere of Virginia, tight end Troy Nicholas of Los Angeles, defensive end Ray Drew of Georgia, defensive end Izach Williams of New York and quarterback Everett Golson of South Carolina.
* Illinois has spent a lot of recruiting time in Chicago this year, taking a cue from Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber. Coach Ron Zook hasn't landed commitments from any big-name players but he has accumulated a good assortment of solid players from the Chicago area. The biggest name is quarterback Reilly O'Toole of Wheaton Warrenville South, who had a sensational senior season.
* Benet offensive lineman Pat Flavin is waiting for an offer from Notre Dame or he will likely commit to California.
* Over the years, recruiting in Chicago has been Notre Dame's Achilles heel. They have demonstrated a lack of foresight and let a lot of big-time players go to other schools. For example, coach Tyrone Willingham refused to offer Walter Mendenhall, so he and his more celebrated brother Rashard went to Illinois.
Notre Dame also rejected Marian Central's Bryan Bulaga (Iowa, NFL), Glenbard North's Ryan Diem (Northern Illinois, NFL), Brother Rice's David Diehl (Illinois, NFL), Providence's Eric Steinbach (Iowa, NFL), Lemont's Graham Pocic (Illinois) and Providence's Pat Ward (Northwestern). This year, the Irish ignored Glenbard West's Jordan Walsh, who committed to Iowa, and Fremd's Brian Bobek, who chose Ohio State.
The last three or four staffs at Notre Dame seem to have had a blind spot when evaluating offensive linemen in the Chicago area. The city and suburbs have a great track record with offensive linemen going to the NFL. And Notre Dame has had trouble blocking for the last 10 years.
* A sleeper in the Chicago area is defensive back Clayton Fejedelem of Lemont, who has 4.5 speed and has gained 30 pounds since his junior year. He wasn't recommended last December because he weighed only 155 pounds. But he has the best hands I've seen in the Chicago area this year and has explosive moves as a safety and kick returner. I believe he can play in the MAC for sure but he has no offers. He is a better prospect than many committed players I have seen.
* The best young prospect in the Chicago area is 6-6, 290-pound sophomore offensive tackle Ethan Pocic of Lemont. He is the best lineman I saw this year, better than his brother Graham, starting center at Illinois. I was impressed with how he gets to the second and third levels and blocks defensive backs. He isn't a lumbering big guy but a smooth running big guy, which is unusual. As a senior, he will have a shot at being the most recruited offensive lineman in the nation.
* The best player I have seen this season is 6-6, 240-pound defensive end Jadaveon Clowney of Rock Hill, S.C. He could be the No. 1 player in the nation, a high school version of Richard Dent. He is uncommitted but likely will choose South Carolina over Alabama.
* The best juniors in the nation are offensive lineman in the country is 6-9, 320-pound Zach Banner of Lakewood Lakes, Wash., and 6-6, 200-pound wide receiver Dorial Green of Springfield, Mo. Banner is the son of Lincoln Kennedy, who played with the Seattle Seahawks. Green is the best high school receiver I have seen since Randy Moss 16 years ago, a 6-6 leaper with 4.5 speed.
* I will announce my junior All-America team on my CBS College Sports television show on Dec. 2. The 38-man squad will include four Chicago area products--Simeon's Robert Gregory, Glenbard West's Tommy Schutt, Montini's Jordan Westerkamp and Barrington's Dan Voltz.