1. IS TARBORO A LOCK FOR THE 1-AA STATE TITLE?
The assumption among people outside of the Vikings’ locker room is that Tarboro has an easy road to the state title.
The Vikings have reached five consecutive 2-A state titles (three wins, two losses), and their move down to the 1-A classification is widely seen as a demotion in competition.
Tarboro’s talent is overwhelmingly better than its Two Rivers Conference co-habitors, but the Vikings will challenge themselves during the nonconference portion of their schedule.
Coach Jeff Craddock’s squad opens the season tonight at Nash Central, and games against former rival SouthWest Edgecombe and Big East Conference title contender Southern Nash loom within the first six weeks of the season.
As far as the state playoffs are concerned, the Vikings might dominate the opening rounds if there is not a contender in the general vicinity of Tarboro. The 1-A classification will still use the pod system, which likely will pit Tarboro against teams with which it is familiar.
Outside of the area, past champions, SouthWest Onslow (2012), Albemarle (2011) and Wallace-Rose Hill (three-time state champions) are programs who have plenty of playoffs experience and the talent to compete with Tarboro should a late-round playoffs matchup occur.
2. SO LONG, POD SYSTEM
The now infamous pod system is gone for every level except 1-A, and that won’t cause any local coaches to shed any tears.
The system had good intentions in mind, pairing nearby teams in the early rounds of the playoffs in the interest of saving money, but what it created on the field was redundant. Conference foes often were matched up in the early rounds only weeks after playing in the regular season, and the pairings drew groans from fans and coaching staffs alike.
In 2011, SouthWest Edgecombe rallied to make the playoffs only to find itself matched up with conference champion Kinston, who already had blown out the Cougars and did do so again.
Wilson Hunt made another deep run in the playoffs last season, but not before being forced to beat Southern Nash twice in a month, once in the regular season and once in the first round.What the pod system really created were conference tournaments, not anything resembling a true playoffs.
The NCHSAA, to its credit, answered the call and gave football programs the postseason system they wanted.
True competition is on the way – but a long drive in the first round might be, too.
3. BIG EAST, BIG QUESTIONS
Wilson Hunt pretty clearly was the best team in the Big East Conference the past two seasons, and despite scares from Nash Central (2011) and Southern Nash (2012), the Warriors haven’t lost to a Big East opponent since October 2010.
Hunt has won the conference all four years in which it has been a member, and it was picked to win the league again in the coaches’ preseason poll.
This year is different. Coach Randy Raper made the move to Northern Nash.
Running back Josh Joyner and defensive end Lewis Neal graduated, and the gap between the Warriors and the rest of the conference has shrunk.
A deep, experienced Southern Nash team seems the most likely of the other five schools to unseat Hunt atop the conference, though Rocky Mount High could have something to say about that.
The remaining three – Northern Nash, Nash Central and Wilson Fike – all have rebuilding projects in one form or another.
With the conference’s parity, though, a run to the top half of the standings isn’t out of the realm of possibility of any of the three.
The final standings and therefore playoffs destinations almost certainly will be decided with close games in Week 11, and from a pure excitement standpoint, wouldn’t everybody rather have it that way?
4. NEW RULES TO FOLLOW
There are plenty of new rule changes that will come into effect this season in the NCHSAA. Some will have little to no impact on the result – all towels have to be one color – but some will.
Most notably, helmet-to-helmet contact on any player will result in a penalty. And if a player loses his helmet in the middle of play, he must stop immediately or be penalized. Oddly enough, if he doesn’t stop and another player makes contact with him, that player also will be penalized. Also, any player who loses his helmet will be forced to sit out one play.
Other rules include: Defensive pass interference no longer will result in an automatic first down, and offensive pass interference will not result in a loss of down. Referees, and likely some fans, will be forced to judge whether a receiver is carried out of bounds or pushed out after catching a pass. Being carried out still counts as a completion, but being pushed out will be ruled an incomplete pass.
The end of games could change as well. During an onside kick, a coverage player cannot initiate contact before the ball has traveled 10 yards, but a receiving player can.
5. START LATE, FINISH LATER
The season is starting a week late, but it still is going to end in the same place. Scattered across North Carolina, this year during the second weekend of December, the NCHSAA football championship will be decided.
The 3-A schools will decide their champion at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. 2-AA will play its championship game at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. And if Tarboro returns to another state title game, this time likely in 1-AA, it will return to Winston-Salem for another game at BB&T Field.
3-AA and 1-A also will be played in Winston-Salem.
Despite the late start, the scheduled hasn’t shortened. In fact, it has grown this season. All four Nash County public schools that play in the Big East Conference will play 11 games, as will SouthWest Edgecombe, Rocky Mount Prep and Tarboro. North Edgecombe will play just 10, and Rocky Mount Academy will play nine before beginning the NCISAA playoffs two weeks before the NCHSAA playoffs.
Expect to see most schools complete their full non-conference schedule before a bye week and their respective conference schedules. Some teams have bucked that trend, like Tarboro and Southern Nash, who will play during the week usually reserved for the Big East Conference bye week.
- Jessie H. Nunery, Justin Hite & Nick Piotrowicz