By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
Fresh off its first national championships, East Mississippi Community College opened the season with its first preseason No. 1 NJCAA ranking.
Three games — and three convincing wins — later, the Lions have lost that top spot. In this week's NJCAA rankings, the first to include computer rankings that were just added this season, EMCC fell from No. 1 to No. 4. The Lions acumulated 175 points in the rankings that are based 67 percent on the nine human voters and 33 percent on the computer rankings.
“It's not that big of a deal,” EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. “It's early in the season and if we keep winning, it'll work itself out.”
EMCC received eight of the nine first-place votes for the second straight week. The other first-place vote went to Butler (Kan.) Community College, which is ranked No. 3 with 182 points. Mississippi Gulf Coast has taken over the top ranking with 187.5 points, fresh off its dominant win against previously sixth-ranked Hinds, while Iowa Western is second with 185 points.
“The one at the end of the year counts a lot more than the one halfway through the year,” Gulf Coast coach Steve Campbell told The Mississippi Press. “It's good to be recognized. We've been ranked No.1 before, but the deal is, you've got to take care of business. We've got a very good Jones team this week, and this just makes the target on your back that much bigger.”
Gulf Coast was No. 4 last week with Iowa Western fifth. Butler was second and Arizona Western, which lost in last season's national championship game in the El Toro Bowl, dropped from third to fifth.
“The human element has us No. 1 and when the computers are added in, we're No. 4,” Stephens said. “But we can't even begin to worry about that. We just have to try and get better each and every week and let the chops fall where they may.”
The computer rankings are based on three critera: 50 percent on the team's winning percentage, 25 percent on opponents' winning percentage and the remaining 25 percent on the opponents' opponents' winning percentage. So while the Lions are 3-0, EMCC was hurt by Pearl River's 1-2 start and East Central being 0-3 and Southwest Mississippi starting 0-2. This week the Lions host 0-3 Mississippi Delta.
“We all voted for computers to have a say in it and you have to take the good with the bad,” Stephens said. “But we felt like this would help everybody out and take some of the bias out of the rankings. This was something we all pushed for.”
Added Campbell: “That was something that as president of the coaches association that I pushed for, to get the computer rankings included. We worked hard at it, East Mississippi did, really our whole league thought it was important. Nationwide as coaches, we wanted the computers to be involved in it.”
Those computer rankings could help the MACJC — and if they continue winning, the Lions. In addition to Gulf Coast and EMCC, there are three other state teams ranked this week, which will provide a boost in the rankings for the victors. The Lions still have games looming against No. 6 Northwest Mississippi and No. 12 Itawamba, both unbeaten. There also potentially could be MACJC state playoff games against Gulf Coast and Hinds, which fell to No. 16.