Mineral Springs has won 33 consecutive 7AA-West Conference games and has gone unbeaten to win the last four league championships. Granted, the Hornets lost more starters and the most talent of anyone in the league last spring, but "reloading" is nothing new to Mineral Springs.
In fact, no school in the 7AA-West averages more lost starters than Mineral Springs. In the average season, the Hornets lose 13 players. This year, they have 15 starters they must replace.
And Mineral Springs' closest competitor, Gurdon, does not return fully loaded. The Go-Devils only have 11 starters back and are in no position to overwhelm the four-time defending champions.
The team most likely to surprise anyone in the 7AA-West Conference is Foreman, which returns all but three starters from a club that went 2-8 last year. Questions still loom for the Gators, however, with an unproven quarterback and an inability to stretch defenses with a deep passing game.
After Mineral Springs and Gurdon, the 7AA-West playoff race will be up for grabs between Dierks, Foreman and the newly consolidated creation of Lafayette County. The school, located in Stamps, brings together players from former archrivals Stamps and Lewisville.
The missing element from the 2003 quest for the playoffs is Murfreesboro, which after 11 consecutive playoff berths, may find itself on the outside looking in again. The Rattlers finished tied with Stamps in the standings last year, but lost out of the postseason via the tiebreaker when a three-way jam was created with Murfreesboro, Stamps and Horatio.
The top seven clubs in this league are all competitive and, with some good breaks, can win enough games to make the playoffs. The only team that does not appear to have what it takes is Spring Hill. Yet, the Bears, following a 1-9 finish, do have nine starters back on both the offensive and defensive sides of the pigskin.
Once the playoffs begin, only Mineral Springs has had any success in the new millennium. Teams from the 7AA-West, besides the Hornets, have lost 12 consecutive playoff games. Gurdon is the last quarterfinalist other than Mineral Springs and the Go-Devils last won two consecutive playoff games in 1998.
Here's how RPS sees the 7AA-West race stacking up:
7-0 Mineral Springs
3-4 Lafayette County
1-6 Spring Hill