They start the high school football season in hot, muggy August – a full two weeks before the NFL and one week before college games – for a reason.LSJ Logo incert

The Michigan High School Athletic Association gets a jump on the nine-week regular season so there’s time for a five-week postseason playoff that culminates Sport Clips 2016 football adwith the state finals on Thanksgiving weekend.

Unlike the old days, when local conference championships and rivalries were primary focuses, most modern high school teams are laser-focused on getting six wins to qualify for the playoffs.

Heading into Week 6 of the prep season, the playoff picture is starting to sort itself out for a lot of local teams.

Two of our three state-ranked squads – Muskegon Catholic (ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 8) and Montague – are undefeated and can nail down playoff berths with victories this week. Muskegon Catholic hosts one-win Muskegon Heights, and Montague hosts one-win North Muskegon.

Muskegon (4-1), ranked No. 1 in the state in Division 3 despite a close loss to a powerful Illinois team, should handle winless Grand Rapids Union on Friday. That would leave the Big Reds one victory shy of the playoffs with three games to go, which shouldn’t be a problem.

Three other 4-1 teams – Whitehall, Oakridge and Ludington – are also in pretty good shape, needing two more wins in their last four games to seal up playoff berths.

Ludington may very well get it done in the next two weeks against Orchard View and Baldwin, two teams that have yet to win this season.

Oakridge will have its hands full this week against Whitehall and in Week 8 against Montague, but will be favored against Mason County Central and Orchard View – although that OV game is a fierce neighborhood rivalry, so you never know.

Whitehall will have to play its best, because it faces very good Oakridge and Ravenna teams the next two weeks, and closes the season against Harper Creek, which is unbeaten at the moment. The Vikings will play struggling Shelby in Week 8. That’s one likely win and three big question marks.

Some other teams are very much on the bubble, with crucial must-win games heading down the stretch.

Reeths-Puffer (3-2) has challenging games remaining with Jenison, Fruitport and Kenowa Hills, but will be a clear favorite against Thornapple Kellogg, which is winless so far this year. Three wins out of those four games will get the Rockets back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Hesperia (3-2) is a very good team that made the playoffs last year, but faces a challenging path to earn a return visit. The Panthers will face good Lakeview and Kent City squads the next two weeks, then will have to visit unbeaten Muskegon Catholic in Week 8. Their final game, against Shelby, will probably be a win.

Ravenna (3-2), which also made the playoffs last year, will be favored against Shelby this Friday, and probably Mason County Central in Week 8, but would still have to find that sixth win against powerful Whitehall in Week 7 or a decent Grant team in Week 9.

Mona Shores (2-3), which has made the playoffs three years in a row, and advanced to the state finals in 2014, has a very big challenge on its hands. The rebuilding Sailors will have to sweep their final four games to get back to the postseason.

Three of those remaining games, against Kenowa Hills, Grand Rapids Union and Fruitport, are certainly winnable, but the big question mark will come in Week 8, when the Sailors visit powerful Muskegon at Hackley Stadium. The Big Reds have not been kind to local opponents this year.

Mason County Central (2-3) needs to beat one-win Hart this week, but then would have to sweep Oakridge, Ravenna and Ludington. That would be an impressive run.

Grand Haven (2-3) would also need a four-game sweep. It’s not impossible. Caledonia, the Bucs’ opponent this week, is another two-win team, along with Week 7 opponent East Kentwood. Grand Haven finishes with Hudsonville, which is currently 3-2, and then winless Grand Rapids Union.

Fruitport (2-3) is in the same boat, and the Trojans still have to face Reeths-Puffer and Mona Shores at the end of the season, plus good Zeeland East and Jenison squads in the next two weeks.

Last week’s LSJ pick record: 10-6

Kenowa Hills (2-3) at MONA SHORES (2-3) – For any Mona Shores fans who are accustomed to the success of the past few years, and feel disappointed by this season so far – just be patient. This is a young, talented squad that’s getting better every week. The Sailors demonstrated that by handling Jenison with ease last Friday.

Whitehall (4-1) at OAKRIDGE (4-1) – The Eagles from the East (eastern Muskegon County, that is) have been soaring after a tough Week 1 loss to Muskegon Catholic. But this will be a big test against a talented Whitehall team that is angry after losing to rival Montague last week. Do not go to the concession stand or restroom during this game, because any play could be the deciding factor. We say the Eagles by a home feather.

Newaygo (1-4) at FREMONT (0-5) – Due to bad reporting (not by LSJ!) a lot of people missed the fact that Fremont scored a pair of TDs in its 22-15 loss to Central Montcalm last week. That’s significant because, in the first four weeks of the season, the Packers did not score a point. Yet a lot of media outlets – even the Michigan High School Athletic Association – had last week’s final score as 14-0. The way we look at it, if Fremont could score twice last week, it should be able to find the end zone three or four times this week. That might be enough to secure a win for the Packers.

Jenison (3-2) at REETHS-PUFFER (3-2) – We knew the Rockets would have a hard time against Muskegon last week, but the 66-0 outcome was a bit startling. Reeths-Puffer’s challenge is to mentally rebound and get back in the groove against a decent Jenison team. But Rocket fans, do not think this will be a walk in the park. It’s an important game for both teams and Puffer will have to earn the win.

Zeeland East (4-1) at FRUITPORT (2-3) – Trojan fans were given a 63-point Homecoming gift last week in a win over GR Union. That’s a lot of points for a team that scored a combined 54 in the first four weeks. We think it shows that Fruitport has some real weapons and could surprise some people down the stretch – starting with Zeeland East.

GRAND HAVEN (2-3) at Caledonia (2-3) – The Bucs are not happy after their 31-14 loss to Rockford last week. Expect Grand Haven pride to click in and make the difference. Coach Jason Tester and his All-Star cast of assistants will have the Bucs prepared to eek out a savory win.

Mason County Central (2-3) at HART (1-5) – The Pirates showed there is life in their program with an exciting 20-19 win over Shelby last week – their first ‘W’ since 2014. MCC, on the other hand, has lost three straight and only scored two TD’s in the process. We think Hart will turn a few heads on Friday.

Lakeview (3-2) at HESPERIA (3-2) – In the last two weeks the Panthers have exploded for 105 combined points. That sort of offense will be too much Lakeview. But this will be a hotly-contested battle.

White Cloud (1-4) at HOLTON (1-4) – White Cloud hasn’t scored a TD since Week 2 and Holton is hungry to snap its three-game losing streak. The Red Devils haven’t had the type of season they hoped for, but they won’t lose this one.

KENT CITY (3-2) at Morley Stanwood (4-1) – If Kent City wants to keep its playoff hopes healthy, avoiding a third loss by Week 6 is pretty crucial. We think the Eagles know that and will respond appropriately.

Orchard View (0-5) at LUDINGTON (4-1) – In the battle of the birds, high-flying Ludington will rule the roost. But it could turn out to be a fun game because OV is getting better every week.

North Muskegon (1-4) at MONTAGUE (5-0) – We all face some sort of mid-life crisis, no matter how good things might be going. Will Montague face a mid-season crisis? The Norse gave the Wildcats fits last year before losing at the end. North Muskegon is also fired up after winning its first game last week. But after the Wildcats’ domination of Whitehall, we’re pretty sure they are legit.

MUSKEGON (4-1) at Grand Rapids Union (0-4) – So the Big Reds beat Fruitport 63-7 in Week 3. Union lost to Fruitport 63-46 last week. The clock is already running, folks…

Muskegon Heights (1-4) at MUSKEGON CATHOLIC (5-0) – Muskegon Heights has an old tradition of giving Muskegon Catholic a run for its money every few years. And the Tigers will be extra motivated after losing the chance to play the Crusaders at home last season, because the game was cancelled hours before kickoff. But none of that will matter. MCC is a well-oiled machine and will roll on Homecoming night.

RAVENNA (3-2) at Shelby (0-5) – The Bulldogs don’t like losing to rival Oakridge, which they did last week. Struggling Shelby will absorb the brunt of their anger.

Coopersville (1-4) at SPRING LAKE (0-5) – Coopersville has lost four straight since beating Fruitport in Week 1, and the losses have been pretty ugly. Spring Lake hasn’t looked any better, but this is a good chance to break into the victory column and we think the Lakers will grab it.