We’re a month away from the Friday Night Lights that the Sequatchie Valley craves so much, and with that, it’s time for our way too early Power Rankings.
The offseason has been kind to Valley only replacing two head coaches and leaving a lot on the table for the 2016 season. And as teams still get used to their new Region realignments, the competition thickens across the Chattanooga and Upper Cumberland areas.
And we’ll be there every step along the way as the season progresses and teams find their niche on the Road to a State Championship.
1. Marion County
2015 Finish: 13-2 (6-1) [State Runner-Up]
2015 Valley Record: 3-0
Tale of the Tape: The Warriors have a new head coach, but Joey Mathis has been on the coaching staff for two years as the offensive coordinator. Even with loss of Ricky Ross, Marion County has a elements to go on another State Championship-caliber run this season. The Warriors should rely on the same offensive system as last year, pounding the rock at will. They’ll have to replace some key play makers in Josh Henderson, Bryce Massengale, and Logan Walter, but as they did with head coach Joey Mathis, Marion County doesn’t rebuild, they reload.
2. Sequatchie County
2015 Finish: 7-4 (4-2) [First Round]
2015 Valley Record: 4-0
Tale of the Tape: The Indians lost gunslinger Houston Mainord, running back Brandon Rudd, and several others to graduation in 2015, but second year head coach Adam Caine will have his hands full trying to keep up with the ever-changing Region 4-3A. The Indians are a run-heavy team, and will look to establish that even more this season as the quarterback battle is not settled yet, but junior Ethan Barker stepped up in several backup situations last season. The region crown is there for the taking, and for the Indians, their best shot at a run for Cookeville is finishing first among the Upper Cumberland elite.
3. South Pittsburg
2015 Finish: 9-4 (5-0) [Quarterfinals]
2015 Valley Record: 3-2
Tale of the Tape: With the return of Vic Grider in 2015, the Pirates should be poised for a State Title run. Grider pushed South Pittsburg from a .500 record to 9-4 in 2016, after starting out 1-2. As the Orange and Black continued their growth through the season, a loss against Columbia Academy in the quarterfinals was well above the bar for a team slated to sub-.500 yet again. The Pirates only lost three seniors in Ethan Moss, Chase Blevins, and Samuel Atkins as they return now-senior quarterback Hogan Holland and running back/defensive back Joseph Lilly who put together a more dominant rushing attack as the season went on. With some downed football out toward Middle Tennessee, South Pittsburg could be on the verge of another ring.
4. Bledsoe County
2015 Finish: 5-6 (4-3) [First Round]
2o15 Valley Record: 1-3
Tale of the Tape: The Warriors are in an extremely difficult region with the likes of Marion County, Boyd-Buchanan, and Tyner. That being said, the Warriors finished fourth in the region and played a solid game against a surprise Forrest team in the first round of the playoffs. The Warriors fought all season including a 13-point comeback against Meigs County where they held the Tigers scoreless in the second half. Bledsoe County may have lost some playmakers, but you can bet that the Warriors will still be underrated coming into 2016.
5. Grundy County
2015 Finish: 1-9 (1-5) [Missed Playoffs]
2015 Valley Record: 0-4
Tale of the Tape: The Yellow Jackets are a unique case. Sure there was a drop under first year head coach Casey Tate, but sometimes you have to strip a program down to get success. And after several years of first round bliss, Grundy County was ready to try a new direction. It may take a while to reach the top, but young talent will be the key to Tate’s success out on the Mountain. If the past is any indicator, it’s dangerous to have Grundy County late in the season, even for an elite program, so valley-dwellers beware.
2015 Finish: 6-6 (4-1) [Second Round]
2015 Valley Record: 1-3
Tale of the Tape: The Tigers are always a wild card, and their placement at the bottom of the list is not representative of what we know but of what we don’t know. The numbers game is always something to consider with small sidelines defining the past few seasons. First year head coach Tracy Malone, formerly at East Ridge, will have his hands full with a season that could make or break the Tigers’ future. With big success for a 1A program in the past two years under R.C. Helton, the Tigers have been known for being very physical with a run-heavy mindset. Losing four seniors and their former head coach, a lot is up in the air for a program that hopes to be at the top of their region come Week 11.