When measuring the strength of the 8AAA Conference, let's not spend too much time on the teams that ought to be in the 2003 playoffs. To see the true strength of the 8AAA Conference, check out the caliber of the programs that are not playoff bound in 2003.
In Fordyce, Hamburg and McGehee, the 8AAA Conference provides us with three schools that have been around the playoff block many times before.
For starters, Fordyce had been to the playoffs eight consecutive times and 11 of the last 12 seasons before last year's 4-6 finish. Jimmy "Red" Parker, who led Fordyce to back-to-back 12-0 seasons in 1958 and 1959 has returned to recapture that Redbugs magic just one more time.
McGehee has won seven state titles, more than any other team in Class AAA, and was 17-2 during a four-year period from 1997-2000 in postseason action. The Owls have also fallen on hard times, suffering their second losing season in a row with a 4-6 campaign. Happy Grayson, a former coach at rival Star City, takes over at the Owls' helm.
And Hamburg is no slouch. The Lions had made seven playoff showings of their own from 1995-2001 and, as a member of Class AAAA, Hamburg battled Alma for the 1997 state championship before bowing, 12-7.
Teams from his conference have won 16 state titles during the playoff era – 15 of those since 1984 when McGehee ended a 15-year drought. Throw in Warren's recent success and Dollarway's five state titles – three of them at a higher classification – and you have a conference that is responsible for 42 percent (16 of 38) of the state's championships won by this current group of Class AAA teams.
Between Fordyce, Hamburg and McGehee, the three teams combined are predicted to win only six conference games this year. The top of the league is still too far out of reach with Warren and Dollarway leading the way.
Warren, however, will be hampered by the loss of 14 starters. Only Hamburg lost more.
Dollarway relied on defense to win last year. The Cardinals averaged 15.9 points per game and were shut out three times last year. Eight players back on offense, including junior quarterback Jonathan Moore, should keep Dollarway in the playoff picture.
Star City also has holes to fill, but only Hamburg is as used to filling those holes as the Bulldogs. Dumas, the least productive of the 8AAA teams in the playoffs, returns all but five starters and an ambidextrous senior quarterback, Jimmy Curry.
Here's how RPS sees the 8AAA race stacking up:
5-2 Star City
0-7 Lake Village