June 28, 2014 5:59:59 PM
SCOOBA -- East Mississippi Community College will bring the 2014 football season in familiar territory.
In the first junior and community college rankings released nationally, The Sports News Football Preview ranks EMCC No. 2 nationally in its preseason rankings.
Beginning its seventh season under coach Buddy Stephens, EMCC will be attempting to win its third national championship in four seasons. On the unbalanced landscape of junior college football, preseason rankings are of vital importance. It is much easier to play for a national championship if you earn a high poll spot in the preseason.
A year ago, EMCC began the season ranked eighth by the National Junior College Athletic Association preseason rankings. The Lions would eventually win all 12 games they played, including a 52-32 victory over Georgia Military College in the Mississippi Bowl to garner the school's second-ever national championship. EMCC entered the title game ranked second in the nation.
It is the same pattern followed during the 2011 national championship run. That season, EMCC began No. 16 before winning 12 straight games again. The Lions were ranked second nationally before knocking off Arizona Western College 55-47 in the El Toro Bowl in Yuma, Ariz., to grab the top spot in the final rankings.
The NJCAA rankings are based in large part by votes from regional officials and small part on a computer system, which considers margin of victory, strength of schedule and quality wins. The NJCAA rankings determine the December bowl matchups. The preseason NJCAA rankings will be released sometime after August 1. The Mississippi Association of Community and Junior College state champion will again receive an automatic invite to the Mississippi Bowl in Biloxi.
Veteran junior college sports writer Tony Jimenez liked the latest installment of the Lions to give them a nod of second nationally, trailing only non-NJCAA member Butte College of California. The Sporting News considered all of the nation's 138 two-year playing football schools, including the 68 NJCAA members.
A year ago Butte and EMCC were the lone junior college programs to finish undefeated and shared top honors in the final JCGridiron.com rankings for the season. That preseason ranking should come out in late July.
The Sporting News Top Five also includes No. 3 Trinity Valley (Texas), No. 4 Iowa Western and No. 5 Butler (Kansas). The magazine also released a preseason list of 25 "Super Sophomores." That listing included EMCC offensive lineman Jamal Danley and EMCC defensive lineman D.J. Jones.
EMCC returns 25 players from last season's squad, including 14 letter winners on defense. A year ago, the Lions led the NJCAA in scoring by averaging 62.2 points and also set a new NJCAA record with 7,327 yards of total offense. Defensively, the Lions finished second nationally by allowing 9.8 points per game. The EMCC defense also recorded a school-record five shutouts.
EMCC will kick off the 2014 season on Aug. 28 at Southwest Mississippi Community College.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter