Rison was one of four teams in Class AA to go 10-0 last year and one of only six to win 12 games by the end of the 2002 campaign. Despite a tough non-conference schedule, the Wildcats are primed to win at least eight – if not more – games again in 2003.
Why the confidence in Rison?
Take a look at the 8AA Conference, a league that could not have been designed for stacking of victories any better. Until last year, when four teams from the league had to go to the playoffs, only one team other than Rison had played a postseason game. That was Altheimer, which made a 2000 playoff appearance and then returned again last season.
The 8AA is a mix of small-school clubs that have not had much football success. Ignore Rison's annual playoff visits and only Strong has advanced to the third round of postseason play since 1991.
An influx of shrinking schools from the 8AAA Conference might have made the league a little better. Eudora sunk immediately to the second division, however, and Dermott finished with a losing record.
Rison will remain the pacesetter. The Wildcats are the last public school to win a state title, taking down Shiloh Christian in a 30-29 overtime thriller in 2000. Although they will have the second least experienced defense when thy open at Fordyce, there is a lot of cushion between the Wildcats and their nearest competitor.
That competitor this year is Gillett, once a traditional football power itself.
The Wolves have 10 starters returning to both sides of the football from a team that went 6-4. While Gillett was one of only three teams to win six games from the 8AA, the team was still left out of the playoff picture. The last playoff appearance was in 1995 and the Wolves last playoff victory came way back in 1990.
Dermott reached the postseason for the first time since 1994, but also suffered its eighth consecutive losing season. Altheimer, which takes three weeks off before opening its season and league play on Sept. 26, finished 5-2 in the conference and 5-3 overall. The Red Devils may have the right idea for all the teams in this league.
Except for Rison.
Here's how RPS sees the 8AA race stacking up: