The Lions of East Mississippi Community College continue to be a mainstay among the nation’s premier junior college football programs, as head coach Buddy Stephens’ 2013 EMCC squad has earned a No. 8 national ranking in the NJCAA Preseason Top 20 football poll released Tuesday.
This season marks the fifth consecutive year that Stephens’ EMCC Lions have been ranked in the NJCAA’s preseason poll dating back to the 2009 preseason. A year ago coming off their first-ever NJCAA national championship season, the 2012 Lions were the nation’s top-ranked preseason team. EMCC continued to stand among the nation’s Top 10 in the NJCAA poll through the month of October until successive one-point losses to Itawamba and in the playoffs to eventual MACJC state champion Copiah-Lincoln snapped the school’s 20-game winning streak and knocked the reigning national champs to 15th in the final NJCAA poll.
Topping this year’s NJCAA Preseason Top 20 poll is Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, followed by Snow College, Navarro College, reigning NJCAA national champion Iowa Western Community College and Butler Community College. Hutchinson Community College and Kilgore College sit sixth and seventh, respectively, while No. 9 Co-Lin and 10th-ranked ASA College round out the NJCAA’s Preseason Top 10.
The Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) is also represented in this year’s preseason NJCAA poll with Hinds Community College and Itawamba Community College starting off the campaign ranked 15th and 16th, respectively.
With the sixth-most composite football victories among the NJCAA ranks spanning back to the 2008 campaign, the EMCC Lions, 44-10 under Stephens’ guidance, enter the upcoming season sporting an ongoing string of 22 consecutive weeks ranked in the NJCAA’s regular-season poll. During the team’s 2011 national championship season and overlapping into last year, East Mississippi spent 20 straight weeks in the NJCAA’s Top 10, including 17 successive weeks among the Top 5.
All total in Stephens’ five years at the EMCC football helm, the Lions have been ranked in the NJCAA Top 20 during 42 of the combined 55 weekly polls, including a collective total of 31 weeks in the Top 10, dating back to the start of the 2008 season. In addition to this year’s fifth consecutive preseason NJCAA ranking, East Mississippi has also earned season-ending rankings in the final NJCAA poll four times in the past five years.
In previous NJCAA preseason rankings, EMCC stood 16th nationally two years ago prior to running the table with 12 straight victories to claim the 2011 NJCAA national championship with a 55-47 road win over then-No. 1 Arizona Western College in the El Toro Bowl/NJCAA National Championship Game played in Yuma, Ariz. Prior to that under Stephens’ direction, the Lions held preseason NJCAA rankings of sixth and seventh in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Ranked sixth nationally this preseason by JCGridiron.com in its annual Dirty 30 national junior college football rankings, the EMCC Lions are slated to kick off the 2013 campaign at Pearl River Community College on Thursday, Aug. 29. Game time is set for 7 p.m. in Poplarville. Following consecutive non-division home contests against East Central Community College (Sept. 5) and Southwest Mississippi Community College (Sept. 12), East Mississippi will begin defense of its back-to-back MACJC North Division regular-season titles by taking on Mississippi Delta Community College on Thursday, Sept. 19, in Moorhead.