Editor's Mailbag: Dark Horses, SEC and Hattiesburg
The Editor's Mailbag is published weekly during the football season and monthly during the offseason by SES Mississippi Editor-In-Chief John Macon Gillespie.
Welcome to the third summer installment of the Editor's Mailbag where I answer questions posed by you, the fans and acquaintances of Mississippi high school football, on Twitter. Surely you're all familiar with the format by now, and this installment is pretty lengthy, so let's dive right in.
Why are the MHSAA State Championships in Hattiesburg? (@CalBrownSES)
The real answer is because Southern Miss wanted in on the publicity and recruiting presence brought on by the high school football state championships that Ole Miss and Mississippi State were able to enjoy. It also provides an advantage for the South half teams that make it to state whereas North half schools are seemingly benefited when games are played at Ole Miss and State (I have no numbers to back this up, but geography would suggest that this is the case).
The answer that I'm a fan of is because the MHSAA secretly hates me and wants me to have to drive 4+ hours to cover state championship games. Fortunately after this year, however, we're returning to a normal rotation between the three universities. Southern Miss was allowed to host back-to-back years to get them caught up with Ole Miss and State in the number of times each school has hosted.
How excited are you for Horn Lake vs. West Point to start the season? Could it be the biggest game of the year? (@SESWalkerBailey)
This could be one of the biggest season openers we've seen in a long time. I don't expect Horn Lake to repeat as 6A champs this season, but they're still very talented, and getting to see the reigning 6A and 5A champs do battle will be a treat. Whether or not this turns into the "biggest game of the year" or not remains to be seen, but we should know a good bit about both of these teams when the clock hits zero in week one.
I'm all for having this 5A Champ vs. 6A Champ be an annual thing to kick off each season, kind of like how the NFL is prone to open the season with a game featuring the reigning Super Bowl champions. Better yet, play the game on a Thursday each season as a kind of "MHSAA Grand Kickoff" event.
I have very little marketing experience, but y'all hit up the MHSAA's line and tell them of my great idea, and maybe they'll do it (probably not).
What are your expectations for Ole Miss during football season? (@jawOleMiss)
Vegas has the over/under set at five for Ole Miss' 2019 win total, which I think is entirely fair. Ole Miss has a lot of question marks coming into the season but a lot of potential, as well. Losing wide receivers like A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge is never easy, but I actually think the Rebels will be okay in the receiver department. Maybe not as elite, but they'll do fine.
We will know so much about where Ole Miss' season is headed after just two weeks of play. The Rebels travel to Memphis in week one before returning home to host Arkansas the following week. Presumably, if Ole Miss wants to reach its first bowl game since the 2015 season, they'll need both of these games as well as the next two in Southeastern Louisiana and Cal. Are all of these games winnable for Ole Miss? Absolutely, especially if Rich Rodriguez's and Mike MacIntyre's new systems take hold early. Is it hard to picture a young Ole Miss team starting the season 4-0? Possibly, but it's not out of the question.
At the end of the day, Ole Miss' ceiling is probably 7-5. A 7-5 mark would presumably feature a 4-0 start, a win over Vanderbilt at home, New Mexico State and the Egg Bowl. To reach 8-4, you've probably got to pull off a big upset of someone like Texas A&M, Missouri or LSU. Or maybe take down the Auburn Tigers, because who knows what they'll look like in October.
There are entirely possible scenarios where Ole Miss reaches a bowl game this season or where this thing gets off the rails in September before the season has even reached full steam. All of it lies in the laps of the new coordinators and how quickly their young talent can execute in their systems.
Biggest dark horse teams this year? (High school and college) (@SawyerByars)
Who are dark horse state title contenders in each classification? (@SESWalkerBailey)
I decided to combine these two questions since they're basically the same thing, and I've put together some semi-detailed responses.
Everyone knows I'm high on the Chargers this year, and while I don't expect them to win a state title, I do think a deep playoff run is in the realm of possibility, and once we reach November, who knows what will happen?
5A: Wayne County
I know the War Eagles are just a few years removed from a state title of their own, but they went 7-6 last season with a win over eventual-South Half Champ West Jones. Wayne County also returns quarterback Zhakerreun Wesley who rushed for more than 1,500 yards last season and running back Shadamien Williamson who broke 700 yards on the ground. Keep your eye on WCHS this season.
Like Wayne County, Corinth returns a lot of offensive production from a season ago, including not one, but two 1,000-yard rushers. The Warriors are good, and they deserve your attention this year.
Last season, Winona had a very weird and confusing jump to 3A (which you can read about here), but instead of falling apart under the pressure, rattled off a 13-1 (!!!) mark where their only loss came in the postseason to eventual-state champion Water Valley.
I volleyed back and forth between Philly and Calhoun City for this one, but settled on Philadelphia since they're further separated from a state title appearance than Calhoun City. Lideatrick Griffin is a phenomenal athlete, and if the cards fall right, I think Philly could make a run.
The Seminoles are always a threat in the 1A playoff picture, and although I like Nanih Waiya to repeat as champs this season, Smithville poses a threat to them in that division and in the North Half as a whole. As a matter of fact, Region 2-1A is absolutely stacked from top to bottom with six of its nine teams having made the playoffs last season in Nanih Waiya, Noxapater, French Camp, Smithville, TCPS and Okolona. While I singled out Smithville as a "dark horse" this year, just keep your eye on this region as a whole.
Will Utah make the college football playoff this year? Probably not, but you didn't ask for a national dark horse, and I can write whatever I want. The PAC-12 is a mess from a marketing and on-field talent perspective, and Utah is returning some experienced talent this season, including a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard passers. If the #PAC12AfterDark goes off the rails this year, keep an eye on Utah to maybe swoop in and win the thing.
Philly or Calhoun City: who is having the better season?
I don't get paid to sit on the fence on issues like this, so here we go.
My gut tells me Philadelphia. Calhoun City lost some talent off of last year's roster and is bringing in a new head coach (although he's served as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator the last number of seasons). Philly also has Lideatrick Griffin which is always a positive thing.
History, however, tells me Calhoun City. The Wildcats never rebuild; they reload, and Philadelphia has had no luck against Calhoun City the last two years, losing to the Cats three times, two of which came in the playoffs.
At the end of the day, I think that these two will have very similar seasons and could even meet in the postseason again. I believe Philadelphia has the edge as far as talent we know about on paper, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything since Calhoun City is, well, Calhoun City and likes to win an awful lot, and, as stated before, the Wildcats are always relevant in the 2A State Title picture.
The year is 2024. Rank all the QBs currently (2019) starting in the NFC East and SEC. (@ngabler4)
This question took a ton of brain power, so here we go. Here's where I think six of these quarterbacks will be ranked come 2024. The rest I don't know enough about yet (since, well, they're super young) or I don't see transitioning well into the NFL.
1. Carson Wentz (barring injuries)
2. Tua Tagovaiola (barring injuries)
3. Dak Prescott (Dak is a tank and doesn't get hurt)
4. Dwayne Haskins
5. Jake Fromm
6. Daniel Jones
Your go-to dance move? (@SawyerByars)
I can't dance at all, but I'm a fan of the Milly Rock.
Which SEC football player has a chance to have a breakout year? (JamesNLott)
I think Kylin Hill (if Joe Moorhead utilizes him properly, which is entirely up in the air) and Jerrion Ealy are poised to be special this year. I've long said that Kylin Hill can be the best back in the SEC if he gets enough touches, but we'll see if that happens in 2019.
Which high school football team rocks red and blue colors the best? (@RowdySES)
In no particular order:
Baldwyn (especially since adding reflective helmet decals)
Which high school football team rocks maroon and white the best? (@CalBrownSES)
All really solid sets.
Best song of the 2000s? (@SawyerByars)
"If You're Gone" by Matchbox Twenty. End of discussion.