Could it be that Fort Smith Northside misses out on a playoff berth for the second time in three seasons?
History says "no." Fayetteville and Russellville are both going to have to say "yes" for the Grizzlies to miss out on the postseason for the second time in three tries. The coaches of the conference seem to believe that Fayetteville and Russellville will have their way.
But let's look at history first.
Since 1981, no three teams have dominated a conference like the triumvirate of Fort Smith Northside, Fort Smith Southside and Springdale. They are titans more threatening than Germany, Italy and Japan were during WWII.
In 22 seasons, Northside has made the playoffs 20 times; Springdale 18 and Southside 15.
Now think about those numbers. Add them up and we've got three teams that have taken up 53 of a possible 76 playoff spots available to the AAAAA-West over a 22-year period.
That means that 23 other teams have had an opening and that works out to just more than one available playoff spot per season.
In the words of Fran Tarkenton, "That's Incredible."
Northside also seemed to make an excellent coaching move two years ago when Darrell Henry moved over from Southside to take the Grizzlies' helm. Had it not been for playing in a conference with two state finalists, Henry could have been named the league's Coach of the Year. Heck, minus Southside and Springdale, Henry and the Bears would have won the league and possibly a state title.
In 2003, it's another uphill battle for Northside. The offense has only two returning starters and the schedule is interesting with a home date versus Fayetteville on Oct. 17 followed by a road trip to Russellville on Oct. 24. Northside must win one of those games – preferably beating the Russellville-Fayetteville loser – to be in a position to make the playoffs.
Fayetteville and Russellville will get the conference season off to a fast start. Russellville has beaten Fayetteville three consecutive seasons, rolling up 123 points in those three games and denying the Bulldogs a playoff berth each time.
Springdale and Southside are head and shoulders above the rest of the league, but neither is going to get a free trip through the conference. Both teams should be in the playoffs, though, raising the number of playoff appearances by Northside, Southside and Springdale to at least 55 over a 23-year period.
Here's how RPS sees the AAAAA-West race stacking up:
1. Springdale 6-1
2. FS Southside 6-1
3. Russellville 4-3
4. Fayetteville 4-3
5. FS Northside 4-3
6. Bentonville 2-5
7. Rogers 1-6
8. Van Buren 1-6