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The Road to Pittsburg: Top contenders for the national championship

PITTSBURG, Kan. – If the National Junior College Football Championship was held this week, five-time national champion, East Mississippi, would likely be taking on two-time national champion, Iowa Western. The NJCAA Football Championship is scheduled for Thursday, December 5, and “The Road to Pittsburg” has only just begun.

“They’re called preseason rankings for a reason,” said Chris Wilson, Communications Manager for the Crawford County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the host of the NJCAA Football Championship. “Publications have released their preseason rankings, the latest season of Netflix’s popular series ‘Last Chance U’ is out, practices are underway, and the NJCAA Coaches Poll was released this week (August 19). Once the season starts, we’re going to help publicize a weekly roundup of what’s going on with the top teams, but now is just a fun time to see who might be here December 5th.”

Only three schools made the top 10 preseason rankings in the NJCAA Coaches poll plus all four publications that monitor the NJCAA – College Football America Yearbook, GridironRR.com, JCGridiron.com, and Street & Smith (alphabetically):

East Mississippi: The Bulldogs are already familiar with the 592 mile trip from Scooba, Mississippi to Carnie Smith Stadium, so it should not be a surprise they were ranked #1 by coaches, and in the top 3 of the other expert publications. The five time national champions beat Garden City in Pittsburg last year. Like every junior college, the Bulldogs have a lot of turnover on their roster, and the pressure is on to three-peat. But Coach Buddy Stephens is known for keeping his players focused on the next opponent, as his 66-3 record over the past six years shows. Several Bulldogs have already verbally committed to playing at the NCAA Division I level, including linebacker Fred Hervey to Arkansas State and defensive lineman Davontae McCrae to Mississippi State.

Iowa Western: Ranked #2 by coaches, and #1 by three publications, the Reivers travel to Kansas four times this season to face Kansas Jayhawk Conference teams. If they survive their schedule, the 304 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa will be an easy trip. This two-time national champion is loaded with talent, and like East Mississippi, already has several players who’ve committed to playing NCAA D-I, including wide receiver Shaquan Anderson-Butts to Mississippi State, tight end Louis Dorsey to Memphis, offensive lineman Jacob Gamble to West Virginia, linebacker S.L. McCall to West Virginia, and defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey to Oklahoma.

Garden City: Ranked #3 by coaches, and as low as #8 by one publication, the Broncbusters didn’t exactly have a home game at least year’s national championship, even though they’re in the same state. Garden City is still 378 miles away. Former head coach Jeff Sims is now a lot closer, having taken the same position at Missouri Southern, but he got the Broncbusters program going the right direction, with a national championship in 2016, and last season’s runner-up. New head coach, Tom Minnick, led his previous school, Arizona Western, to 10 straight bowl games, and they were the national runner up on three occasions.

Five additional teams were ranked in the top 20 in the NJCAA Coaches Poll plus the four publications (alphabetically): Blinn of Brenham, Texas, which is 585 miles from Carnie Smith Stadium; Butler, of El Dorado Springs, Kansas, 147 miles; Hutchinson, which is 213 miles away; Jones County, based in Ellisville, Mississippi, 642 miles away; and, Northwest Mississippi of Senetobia, Mississippi, 411 miles away.

The NJCAA Coaches Poll was released August 19 and the complete listing is available at http://njcaa.org/sports/fball/polls. Further details about the NJCAA Football Championship will be made available at http://njcaafootballchampionship.com.

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