The formation of the Lincoln Prairie Conference made perfect sense for the teams in it.

Made up of what was formerly the Little Okaw Valley Northeast and Southwest — minus Oblong, Palestine-Hutsonville and Martinsville; plus Farmer City Blue Ridge — the conference has 10 teams, all reasonably close together, all similar in size.

That's football utopia in Illinois. No more impossible conference matchups two hours away. No more need for long trips to play non-conference opponents that were usually either: Way bigger, or, so bad the win didn't do much for playoff eligibility.

But don't release the rainbows and butterflies yet. This first season ... it's weird. Contracts made previously as LOVC teams scrambled to find games have to be honored. While half of the teams have purely LPC schedules, the other half still have non-conference games.

In order to still have a conference season and, therefore, a conference representative in the playoffs, the LPC decided to only count the season's final seven games as conference games.

But here's the problem: The conference's clear-cut favorites — Argenta-Oreana and Arcola — play in Week 1. It's a non-conference game.

When the season is over and both teams are, most likely, 7-0 in conference, the first tiebreaker according to the IHSA is head-to-head matchup.

It may not be a conference game, but it will likely decide the conference title.

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That first Arcola/Argenta matchup may just be the warm-up act, though. Each has a squad with potential to make deep postseason runs in Class 1A.

It's hard to pick between the two as favorite. Arcola has its strongest senior class since its state title in 2015, with Hugo Garza and Beau Smothers leading the best line in the conference blocking for Austin Hopkins in the backfield, plus plenty of athletes and experience at every level.

But while Arcola has held the prodigious Argenta offense under 30 points in each of the teams' last three matchups, the Bombers have won all three. And though graduation hit hard last year, the Bombers still have their quarterback in Josh Williams — the best player in the conference — along with Makail Stanley, who is fastest player in the conference, moving from receiver to running back. They also have a formidable line, with Gavin Gloede, Jacob Brown, Mack Jones and Jacob Whicker anchoring.

The rest of the conference has a LOT of unknowns. Cumberland had been the best team in the LOVC Southeast. Numbers are down for the Pirates, but Wyatt Brant and Blayne Donsbach lead a strong running game that should be enough to propel the Pirates to the playoffs for a fourth straight year.

Villa Grove-Heritage is among the conference's most consistent programs, having made the playoffs 11 of the last 14 years despite five different coaches in that span.

It's after the top four where things get really muddled, especially with some bottom-of-the-conference teams taken out of the mix. Tri-County and Cerro Gordo-Bement should both be competitive, while Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond and Sangamon Valley have potential on their rosters.

LSA/Mount Pulaski, which has had at least five wins in each of the last four years, could be in for a rebuilding year, but has enough talent to be a sleeper. Farmer City Blue Ridge went 3-6 as an independent last year, but hasn't been to the playoffs since 2001.

Fortunately for the LPC, all the entangling alliances end next year and the conference can live in peace and harmony — until 2021. That's when all the work done to create the conference will go down the drain with the enacting of the district playoff system. There's a lot in the wind about that, though, and still time for some kind of Hail Mary that calls the whole thing off. I'm guessing the teams in the LPC would support that.

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Contact Justin Conn at (217) 421-7971. Follow him on Twitter: @jconnHR


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