East Mississippi Community College football coach Buddy Stephens, center, and the members of his 2017 coaching staff show off the rings they received in April for winning the 2017 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national title. Photo by: East Mississippi Community College Athletic Media Relations
August 21, 2018 10:16:47 AM
As the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) gets set to kick off its 2018 football season, the East Mississippi Community College football team is in a familiar spot in the first national rankings.
EMCC, the reigning National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national champion, is the preseason pick to make it back-to-back titles and four championships in six seasons.
EMCC garnered 11 of 17 first-place votes and held a seven-point lead in the overall rankings over No. 2 Iowa Western College. IWC received the other six first-place votes.
The poll is conducted by a vote of 17 regional directors. This ranking carries a lot of significance because it basically sets the field of national title contenders.
After roughly one-third of the season, the rankings will shift and become two-thirds computer formula and one-third human vote.
EMCC won the NJCAA national championships in 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2017. The first three championship teams finished 12-0. Last season's squad finished 11-1 and had to battle from the No. 7 spot in the rankings in the final five games.
A year ago, EMCC benefited from the fact that as many as seven Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) teams earned a national ranking throughout the season.
After falling 61-38 at Northwest Mississippi C.C., EMCC won its final five games. The final four opponents were ranked in the top 10.
This season, four other MACJC teams -- No. 6 Northwest Mississippi C.C., No. 9 Jones County Junior College, No. 13 Hinds C.C., and No. 16 Itawamba C.C. -- are in the preseason rankings.
EMCC will face Northwest Mississippi and ICC on the road. It will play host to Hinds C.C. It won't face JCJC in the regular season.
This means the Lions have a little margin of error built into the schedule if they lose a game. If EMCC loses, it will need both opponents in the MACJC playoffs to be nationally ranked.
In 2015, EMCC was in a position to play for a third-straight title, but a regular-season ending brawl against Mississippi Delta C.C. barred the team from the playoffs. In 2016, a short-handed EMCC (due to suspensions) dropped its season opener at JCJC.
The overall weakness of the MACJC that season kept EMCC from moving past second on its climb up from No. 12 after the loss.
The No. 1 preseason ranking is EMCC's fifth in program history.
In the MACJC North Division, the three best opponents (Northwest Mississippi C.C., ICC, and Northeast Mississippi) will be on the road. EMCC has only four home games. In addition to Hinds C.C., the other two South Division foes are Pearl River C.C. and East Central C.C. (both on the road).
EMCC has been nationally ranked 93-straight weeks dating back to the 2011 season. In 73 of the last 78 regular-season polls, EMCC has been in the top 10. On 59 occasions, it has been inside the top five. EMCC has been ranked 98 times as Buddy Stephens begins his 11th season as head coach.
No. 3 Arizona Western College, No. 4 Snow College (Utah), and No. 5 Independence Community College (Kansas) round out the top five.
Independence was the site of last season's "Last Chance U" documentary on Netflix. The show will return to Independence for a fourth season this fall.
In the 2017 Mississippi Bowl, EMCC defeated Arizona Western College 31-28 to win the national championship. EMCC also beat AWC to win the 2011 national championship in Yuma, Arizona.
The quest for a fifth title will begin with EMCC on top. It's a sign all is right with the world.
Scott Walters is a writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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