July 11, 2014 10:13:26 AM
With a new computerized ranking system, scheduling in junior college football is more important.
East Mississippi Community College unveiled its path to a potential repeat national championship Thursday when it released its 2014 football schedule.
EMCC will put its two-season 12-game winning streak on the line Aug. 28 when it plays at Southwest Mississippi C.C.
"So much is predetermined," EMCC seventh-year coach Buddy Stephens said. "The schedule is important. Preseason rankings are important. You can certainly start with the upper hand. However, it is all about winning games on the field."
The Lions have done a lot of that under Stephens. EMCC won its second national championship in three seasons thanks to a 52-32 victory against Georgia Military College on Dec. 8, 2013, in the Mississippi Bowl in Biloxi. The 2011 and 2013 EMCC squads finished 12-0.
Both of those squads weren't national title contenders when the season started. In 2011, EMCC was ranked 16th in the preseason by the National Junior College Athletic Association rankings. In 2013, EMCC was No. 8.
Last season, the NJCAA shifted to a computer model to help determine the nation championship game participants. While a vote of regional representatives still carries most weight, the computer rankings also are a component, which considers opponents' records and margin of victory.
A year ago, EMCC didn't play a ranked opponent in the regular season. That changed with Mississippi Association of Community and Junior College playoff opponents Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. and Jones Junior College. EMCC entered the Mississippi Bowl ranked No. 2 -- just like it did in 2011 when it upset No. 1 Arizona Western College at the El Toro Bowl in Yuma, Arizona.
This season, EMCC's schedule will get a huge lift this season based on the opponents from the South Division. A year ago, the Lions played the bottom three teams in that division. East Central C.C., Pearl River C.C., and Southwest Mississippi C.C. combined for seven wins.
This season's trio of South opponents -- Copiah-Lincoln C.C., Jones J.C., and Southwest -- combined for 18 wins. Co-Lin and Jones finished last season ranked.
A year ago, EMCC beat Jones 61-24 to win its third MACJC state championship in five seasons. The teams will play Oct. 4 on Homecoming at Sullivan-Windham Field in Scooba.
"Our league has always had so much competitive balance," Stephens said. "You have to be ready to play each week because each team has that superstar player who can beat you. The biggest character trait of the 2013 team was they were always in the moment. Regardless of the opponent or the score, they were always totally focused on the task at hand."
EMCC is No. 1 in the JCGridiron.com rankings. The Sporting News rated the Lions No. 2 in its preseason magazine. MGCCC, which isn't on EMCC's regular season schedule, is the only team in the top 10 of either ranking.
The NJCAA preseason rankings will come out in early August.
EMCC will play five of its nine games at home for the second-straight season. The MACJC state playoffs begin Nov. 1. The South Division regular-season champion will play host to the state championship game Nov. 8.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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