Palestine went north, Rison went south and every small school in between became a part of the 6AA Conference last year.
The result was the start of a superconference like none that has ever been seen in Arkansas. Seven teams entered the league in 2002 coming off playoff appearances. The league includes the most prolific program Class AA has ever seen, Barton, and at least one semifinalist every year dating back to 1984.
The league enters 2003 with the defending state champion, Harding Academy, and two of the previous three state runners-up – Augusta in 2001 and Carlisle in 1999.
It is a joke, plain and simple, to think any league is more powerful than the 6AA. No argument stands up to reason.
- Harding Academy is the defending champion and is favored to win back-to-back crowns in spite of the fact that only one skill player returns.
- Barton overcame hard times and low numbers to finish second to Harding Academy in the league and lost in the second round of the playoffs to 7AA-West Conference champion Mineral Springs.
- Carlisle reached the playoffs for the 14th consecutive season and has won more games during that period than any school in the state not to win a state championship.
- And Des Arc emerged as a team to reckon with by finishing third in the conference to earn its seventh straight playoff berth.
With the four teams listed above to contend with, the rest of the league is left to run off a perfect 6-0 record just to have a winning season. Hazen and Augusta were both able to get over the .500 mark. Hazen did it by upsetting Des Arc, 20-7, and almost pulled out a playoff berth before falling to Carlisle, 28-22, in the season finale. Augusta blanked Hazen, 26-0, to finish the season at 5-4.
So in spite of the league's 13-6 non-conference record, there are still questions if this league is the strongest in Class AA. Again, it just might be the strongest league in the history of Class AA.
… Even if you look 10 teams deep.
Not even eliminating Marvell and McCrory, two schools that have gone 4-52 over the past three years, makes the 6AA the second-best league of its classification. Using Rich's Power System to calculate every team's final rating, the 6AA still comes out ahead of the 7AA-East Conference – a league some feel is on the verge of becoming the best in the state.
How is that possible? Just count the state championships and it's hard to stand on the 7AA-East's side. Since 1976, five different teams from the 6AA Conference have won 17 state titles. Teams from the 7AA-East have never won a state championship on the gridiron.
The league may fall off a little in 2003, but even that theory has a small hole in it. Barton, Carlisle, Des Arc, Elaine and Hazen all return fewer than 12 starters. Yet, Clarendon returns all of its offensive starters and the weak links, Marvell and McCrory, both return at least 15.
It may take until November to produce the final evidence, but for now you can take our word for it: No Class AA conference is better than the 6AA.
Here's how RPS sees the 6AA race stacking up:
9-0 Harding Academy
6-3 Des Arc