The Meridian Star
Since returning from Yuma, Ariz., with JUCO’s biggest prize in 2011, the Lions of East Mississippi have brought back more than a national title to the sleepy town of Scooba. The national title has awoken new expectations in the East Mississippi community and exposed the realization that big things can happen — even in cozy, quaint Kemper County.
Those expectations will not change this year as the Lions enter the season ranked No. 8 in the nation by the National Junior College Athletic Association. With the 2013 campaign just two days away, it is never too early to look ahead at some of the obstacles the Lions might face on their road to a second national championship.
Last year, the NJCAA’s new ranking system — which is comprised by a coaches vote worth 67.7 percent and by a computer ranking worth 33.3 percent — provided some confusion, especially when No. 1 ranked EMCC fell from the top spot to No. 4 following a 59-6 win over Southwest on Sept. 13.
Nine coaches’ votes make up the first two thirds of the rankings — but that’s the easy part. The computer rankings, or FCR, will also have a lot to say about where teams are ranked.
The FCR is broken down into three different sections: winning percentage, making up 50 percent of the calculation; opponents winning percentage, making up 25 percent and opponent’s-opponents winning percentage which also makes up 25 percent.
EMCC’s biggest obstacle appears to be in the FCR, which does not take account for the the fact that the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges has five teams ranked in the preseason top 20 — more than any other conference.
Instead, the FCR will only see the team’s records — and since MACJC teams play only themselves, records often times are deceiving. For example, No. 15 Hinds will take on No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast and No. 9 ranked Copiah Lincoln in back-to-back weeks starting on Sept. 12. If the Eagles were to lose both games, the computers would not factor in the talent of their opponents, only that they received two losses to their record.
The system is even more flawed when considering the bottom teams in the MACJC, who offer more talent than lower-tier teams in other conferences, but whose record’s will surely be muddled by the MACJC elite. For EMCC, the system is even more detrimental, as the Lions miss out on the opportunity to play three of the other four MACJC teams in the top 20, leaving an Oct. 24 date against No. 16 Itawamba as the Lions’ only chance to prove themselves against a preseason top-20 team in the regular season. Worse for the Lions, the regular-season schedule pits them up against some of the lower-tier MACJC teams, whose records will not indicate their talent.
The Lions will almost certainly have to go undefeated this season and reach the conference championship game, where they would then hopefully face an undefeated Mississippi Gulf Coast or Copiah-Lincoln in order to pad their opponent’s winning percentage and fall into the top two teams in the final rankings.
Another way for the Lions to find a spot in the national championship game is for teams above them to lose. Obviously, a potential conference title bout against the No. 1 Bulldogs would take care of the top spot, but here is a look at some other key matchups to watch this season.
Starting with No. 2 Snow College, who recently took town No. 20 Glendale to start the season, a date to circle will be when the Badgers host No.11 Arizona Western on Oct. 19. Last season, the Badgers took down the Matadors, 40-26, at home.
Looking at No. 3 Navarro, a Sept. 21 meeting against No. 7 Kilgore should peak Lions’ fans interest, as at least one team currently ranked above EMCC is bound to fall.
Last season Navarro topped Kilgore, 42-14, in the Southwest Junior College playoffs. Five weeks later on Oct. 26, Navarro will host No. 14 ranked Northeast Oklahoma A&M in another game of interest for EMCC. Last season, Navarro beat NE Oklahoma A&M 62-24 in the SWJC conference championship game.
October will also be a crucial month in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference, as No. 5 Butler travels to No. 12 Coffeyville on Oct. 19 before hosting No. 6 Hutchinson the following week. Last season, Butler was a combined 3-0 against both teams, beating Coffeyville 45-13 on Oct. 20 before taking down Hutchinson, 40-7, the following week and then again, 26-16, in the conference championship game.
Lions fans can rack their brains from here until kickoff against Pearl River on Thursday at 7 p.m. trying to figure out the what-ifs and potential speed bumps this season, but EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens has a different solution –– just win big, and let the rankings take care of themselves.
After all, that theory has been working just fine in Scooba lately.