(1) They are really, really good; and
(2) I was really, really -- really -- wrong about them this year.
I hadn't seen Mount Carmel play in 2012 (except on TV against Loyola, recorded because I was at the Bolingbrook - Lincoln-Way East game instead) because I didn't think any of their games were worthy of my attendance.
I began the season in error, by recalling the Caravan's fade in 2011. (By the way, look for a post soon on what I learned this year about myself as a fan.)
I first saw Mount Carmel last year on the losing end of a 12-7 score at Loyola in Week Five. (Actually, that's not completely true; I did see the fourth quarter of their first game of the season, a 31-0 trouncing of Morgan Park, at Soldier Field.) But after that game at Loyola (in which they outplayed the Ramblers, if I want to be totally honest), I saw the Caravan lose to St. Rita, 17-7, in Week Seven, which was followed in Week Eight by a 24-18 loss to Providence. I then watched the squad from Woodlawn lose to the eventual 8A champions, Bolingbrook, 21-7, in the second round of the playoffs.
I came away from that last game thinking that maybe Coach Frank Lenti had seen his best days at Carmel and that the talent he was attracting, in particular quarterback Don Butkus (above), just wasn't that great anymore.
Boy, was I wrong! (About a lot of things.)
First of all, let me just say that Butkus is as good a quarterback as any I've seen this year. He may not be as exciting a runner as Tom Fuessel of Lincoln-Way East, or have as good an arm as John Peltz or Clayton Thorson of Wheaton North, but he directs what is probably the most potent offense in the state right now. (Butkus has always been a good runner; when did he become such a good passer?)
So I came into 2012 bashing the Caravan for their easy schedule this year -- only four of their opponents had winning records last season. (This alludes to a defect in my thinking which I'll get to in that post I mentioned above.)
I then went on to write:
As for the Chicago papers, what is this fascination they have for Mount Carmel? (MaxPreps has them at No. 19.) The Caravan have a "favorable" schedule this year, playing only four teams that had winning records in 2011. So far, they beat two 1-1 teams, St. Patrick (3-6 last year) and Morgan Park (4-6). And they play a deceptively weak 2-0 team this weekend, De La Salle (4-5 last year).
I saw Mount Carmel play four times last year, against Morgan Park, Loyola, St. Rita and Bolingbrook. (They seemed to get worse as the season went on.) And -- I'm telling you -- this is not your father's (or even your older brother's) Caravan. Prove me wrong, Coach Lenti.
Wait; it gets worse. On September 16, I wrote:
Finally, there's St. Rita (and Mount Carmel). Why do I keep linking the two? I hope to make that clear in a moment.
The Mustangs are currently 2-2, with victories over downstate Danville and Fenwick, and losses to Marist and Brother Rice. But the South Siders still have to play Providence (3-1), Mount Carmel (4-0) and Loyola (3-1). If they lose to those three and still beat Hales Franciscan (3-1) and Bishop McNamara (2-2), St. Rita will end up the regular season at 4-5 and watch the playoffs from the bleachers! How could that possibly happen? (The Mustangs haven't had a losing season since Moses was a little boy.)
It could happen because of Rita's crushing schedule. And this is where Mount Carmel comes in. St. Rita's crosstown rival is currently 4-0, with victories over St. Patrick (2-2), Morgan Park (1-3), De La Salle (3-1) and St. Joseph (0-4). Is it really that hard to imagine St. Rita at 4-0, too, if they'd played such a schedule?
So while the Mustangs could sit out the postseason this year, the Caravan could lose all four games against future opponents Brother Rice, Loyola, St. Rita and Providence, and still enter the playoffs with a 5-4 record, assuming they beat St. Laurence. Does that seem right to you?
If there's any justice in the universe, teams should be rewarded for playing tough schedules and punished for playing easy ones.
And that's why I'll be rooting for St. Rita to defeat Mount Carmel at Gately on October 12.
P. S. Maine South, are you listening?
Although I do think I was right about Maine South.
The next day, I wrote:
...go see Ty Isaac, arguably the best running back in the state (if he's healthy) play at Marist, the best Catholic school in Illinois. (Sorry, Caravan fans, but you've got to beat somebody to get respect.) Marist beat St. Rita, Brother Rice, Nazareth, and -- okay -- St. Patrick (MaxPreps has the Shamrocks at No. 49). Mount Carmel beat -- again -- St. Patrick, Morgan Park, De La Salle and St. Joseph. (Not exactly a Murderers' Row.)
But the Mount Carmel - Brother Rice game should reveal which team is the Real Deal. (Maybe both; who knows?) What do I think? The Caravan will defeat the Crusaders on the road. Why? Because everyone at Brother Rice has been taught since they were two years old that Mount Carmel is the better team.
On the 22nd, I let a little light shine in with this one word response to Carmel's 56-7 victory over Brother Rice: Wow.
Before the Loyola game in Week Five, I wrote:
This year, I'll pick the Ramblers to win, 21-17. I think the Wilmette squad is underrated, while the South Siders are a little overrated.
Got one right!
After watching that game on TV, I let a little more light shine in:
My takeaways from the Loyola - Mount Carmel game? First of all, the Caravan are better than I thought. (Mea culpa.)
I also took note of the Caravan's stingy defense at around this point; and their prolific offense. And on October 14, I wrote:
And that reminds me, so who is good this year? Who are the teams to beat in the playoffs? Well, Loyola and Mount Carmel in 8A, certainly.
I was coming around.
But then I got stubborn (a family trait) on October 18:
And this is unfortunate, because as I mentioned at the beginning of the season (and later here) St. Rita had one of the toughest schedules around. Now, granted, they seem to be having an off-year anyway, losing to Marist, 35-25, Brother Rice, 23-21, Providence, 14-0, and Mount Carmel, 27-0. But I can't help feeling like Rita is being punished for playing good teams. And I'm wondering if Coach Todd Kuska, above, is going to say to himself in the off-season, "Why don't I just schedule a bunch of cupcakes, like Mount Carmel and Maine South do? You'd never see them go 4-5 with the most playoff points. Why don't I get St. Joseph (0-8) or St. Laurence (1-7) on the schedule? Or Niles North (3-5) or Waukegan (2-6)? Why not just take the easy way out?"
But as we saw last year, both Mount Carmel and Maine South went down in the second round of the playoffs. So maybe it pays to play good teams during the regular season. We'll see.
So why did I rank the Caravan at No. 3 after Week Seven? Did I suspect the truth? After all, I did pick them to go to the semifinals.
But then last week I predicted that Lyons Township would upset
So, I'm sorry Coach Lenti. I'm sorry Don Butkus. I'm sorry Mount Carmel fans. I've been wrong about the Caravan all year. I'll try to make up for it in 2013 (by being more objective).
As for next week, if Butkus is healthy (and he seemed to sustain a pretty serious ankle injury last night) the Caravan should defeat Glenbard North in the finals. The Panthers are just too similar to Neuqua. But if Butkus doesn't play, I'd expect GBN to prevail. Either way, it should be a good game!
But really, I shouldn't have been so surprised by the outcome. After all, everyone knows the DVC is the best conference in the state!