August 8, 2017 8:46:31 PM
Well, we have finally arrived at game week, sort of.
Whether you call them jamborees, practice games or scrimmages, the lights will burn Friday and Saturday as members schools in both the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) and Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) get their respective seasons underway.
As we count down to the start of the regular season, there are still a few more questions left to be answered.
Today, we look at five questions for this weekend's New Hope Jamboree, which will be held Friday and Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium on the Mississippi State campus.
1. Will the Columbus defense be improved?
Columbus had one of the Class 6A's best offenses a year ago. However, the Falcons finished 6-6, thanks in large part to a lot of big plays allowed by the defense.
Columbus will face Shannon at 4 p.m. Friday. In this contest, we will see glimpse of how many defensive flaws got fixed. The Falcons return four starters on that side of the ball and will be counting on some sophomores at critical spots.
The line does return some experience. In large part, the Columbus run defense was good a year ago. However, the Columbus pass defense was not.
Devon King in the secondary and Josh Gray on the line give Columbus a great starting point. However, the newness will be obvious in several other spots.
To have any hope this year, the defense must get better.
2. Will Starkville really throw the ball that much?
Starkville returns to the jamboree after a one-year absence. It will face Louisville at 4 p.m. Saturday in one of the more intriguing matchups of the event.
Coach Chris Jones will be working with a talented, yet young, group of wide receivers. Mississippi State commitment Cameron Gardner said as many as 10 different players may catch a ball in a single game.
In two seasons under Ricky Woods, Starkville preferred to the run the ball. Again this year, the offensive line is huge if running the ball is the way to go.
However, Jones and several players have said to look for the ball in the air more in the year ahead. It will be interesting to see how many of Starkville's tricks we see in a practice game.
In this region, the superior passing games have fared well late in the season.
3. What will we see in West Point's two-quarterback offense?
Coach Chris Chambless had indicated Mississippi State commitment Marcus Murphy will move back to quarterback this season. Murphy started there his sophomore year and got a handful of snaps last season.
The other quarterback is Chambless' son Jake, who is a junior.
Coach Chambless said both will see a lot of reps behind center. Most likely this team will resemble the 2015 team where Murphy was the running quarterback in a two-quarterback setup.
Over the years, West Point has had a ton of success with the best athlete playing quarterback.
West Point will face Tupelo at 8 p.m. Saturday. The two teams combined to win 26 games last season. The Green Wave won the MHSAA Class 5A state championship.
4. What kind of growth has taken place with Noxubee County's Maliek Stallings?
Noxubee County begins the season with Callaway at 6 p.m. Saturday. It should be an intense matchup between two nice-sized lines.
Noxubee County has junior Maliek Stallings returning at quarterback. Stallings follows in the footsteps of Timorrius Conner and is a two-way threat for the Tigers, able to beat you with his feet and arm.
Class 4A usually has a hybrid of passing games - a few elite ones, several average ones and some non-existent ones. A year ago, Stallings threw for 2,442 yards and 22 touchdowns.
During the off-season his points of emphasis have included being quicker on his feet and making better decisions. A year ago, Stallings threw 12 interceptions and turnovers were a problem in general for the team.
To reach state championship status again, Stallings will have to ignite the team through the air. We start seeing that Saturday.
5. What is the identity of New Hope?
A lot of questions remain about New Hope as Kris Pickle gets set for his fourth season. The Trojans face Amory at 8 p.m. Friday.
The year already begins with some things being different. New Hope will go from being one of the smallest Class 5A teams in the state to one of the larger Class 4A programs. Region 4 will be tough with Louisville and Noxubee County standing in the way of a region title.
Kyree Fields is expected to lead the team from the quarterback position. Memphis commitment Jeremy Tate is a great start for a talented group of receivers.
We all know New Hope likes to throw the football.
The biggest challenge will be on the defensive side of the ball. The Trojans showed flashes there a year ago but will need more consistency to get to the top of their new classification.
Scott Walters is a sports reporter for the Commercial Dispatch. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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