August 16, 2018 11:10:31 AM
Typically, coaches like to stress a team's final ranking is more important than its preseason positioning.
The numbers are frequently the same for the East Mississippi Community College football team.
For the fifth time in seven seasons, EMCC earned the No. 1 ranking from the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). The preseason ranking, which was released Wednesday, includes 17 regional directors from around the nation.
EMCC, the reigning national champion, earned 11 of 17 first-place votes and held a seven-point lead over Iowa Western College in the poll. Iowa Western received the other six first-place votes.
"It speaks volumes about the brand we have created at EMCC," said EMCC coach Buddy Stephens, who begins his 11th season. "To be recognized in the preseason is an honor. Now, you have to go out there and back that ranking."
Last season. Arizona Western College was preseason No. 1 and EMCC was No. 2. EMCC reclaimed the top spot before a Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division loss at Northwest Mississippi C.C.
The Lions fell to seventh but moved back top of the rankings prior to two wins in the MACJC playoffs. The season ended with a 31-28 victory against Arizona Western in the Mississippi Bowl. The win gave EMCC its fourth national championship.
This season, EMCC begins the year with top spot thanks to six retuning starters on offense and defense.
"There is no easy way to stay No. 1," Stephens said. "However, when you start No. 1, you have an advantage. For the most part, you control your destiny throughout the season."
Other MACJC teams in the initial ranking include No. 6 Northwest, No. 9 Jones County Junior College, No. 13 Hinds C.C., and No. 16 Itawamba C.C.
EMCC will open the season against Hinds on Thursday, Aug. 30, in Scooba. EMCC will play at ICC and Northwest. It won't face JCJC in the regular season.
"The players come here to uphold that championship standard," Stephens said. "The expectation is to play for championships."
A potential fifth national championship would place EMCC third on the all-time list. EMCC is trying to go back-to-back for the second time this century. Only Butler C.C. (2007-08) has accomplished that feat.
Butler and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M own six national championships.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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