As we continue to embark on this barren landscape in sports that we simply call summer, we thought we might need the help of a certain guide or two who might be able to tell us more about the football programs than we thought possible. This is what we like to call our spirit teams. They may not resemble the physical and decorative attributes of their high school counterparts, but on a success and coaching standpoint, they will match most of the fibers stitched together in the program.
For this list, all college football teams in Division I, including FBS and FCS programs, are eligible, but ties to the SEC might dictate which schools are paired with which program, and therefore, this list could be slightly bias on the college side of things. Also, this is not meant to be a predictor of things to come or to be the absolute opinion of any Sequatchie Valley team. This is strictly for fun.
So let the games, err, guiding begin!
Bledsoe County Warriors
Spirit Team: Arkansas Razorbacks
LET THE GRIDIRON BE YOUR GUIDE: Although the two teams don’t share a common team color, the Razorbacks and the Warriors have experienced similar situations. Playing in conferences that have dominant teams is just the beginning of their troubles, as Arkansas tangos with Alabama and the legendary SEC west and Bledsoe County with Region 3-2A staring down the likes of Marion County, Boyd-Buchanan, and Tyner. The Razorbacks have had success in the past reaching No. 3 in the AP Poll a few years ago behind the Crimson Tide and LSU who were one and two. The Warriors had a great team back in 2011 when they played to a modern era best 10 wins and a second round appearance against powerhouse Alcoa. It’s hard to see either program winning it all in the near future, but both teams could be considered a long-shot dark horse coming into 2016.
Grundy County Yellow Jackets
Spirit Team: Kentucky Wildcats
LET THE GRIDIRON BE YOUR GUIDE: This one is probably the most complete comparison of the list with the Wildcats and Yellow Jackets being mirror images of each other. The Wildcats have been hard-pressed to find a successful season as of late, but the Blue-Blooded faithful have been rewarded with consistency on the edge of above average. Kentucky also leans more on its basketball program and has had more success on the hardwood than the gridiron. Both seem geographically isolated by mountains and between two culture zones as the Yellow Jackets ride the line between the Chattanooga and Nashville metropolitan areas while the Wildcats make up the South’s northern border. The Yellow Jackets relied on Women’s basketball, claiming a State Title with that sport. The football team recently acquired a new, unproven at the high school level coach with Casey Tate just as the Wildcats brought in Mark Stoops recently to take over the program. The names were known, but their talent as coaches may have been been highly criticized. Both teams are trying to break out in conferences that seem to have rivals near the top of their divisions (Sequatchie County for Grundy County and Tennessee for Kentucky).
Marion County Warriors
Spirit Team: Auburn Tigers
LET THE GRIDIRON BE YOUR GUIDE: The Warriors, much like the Tigers, have tangoed with recent and historical success. Marion County’s heyday was back in the 1990s when Ken Colquette was at the helm, winning four State Championships in the early and middle parts of the decade. Under Gus Malzahn, the Tigers have made a national title appearance but lost to a team of destiny (check: Peabody in 2014 vs. Marion County in Cookeville). Other than that, they’ve had successful years compared to schools outside of their conference. The Warriors were caught up in a scandal that made headlines but ultimately became forgettable just as the Tigers’ Scam Newton ordeal was quickly glossed over. South Pittsburg and Alabama make up the in-state/in-county rivals for both teams, which happen to be powerhouses right down the road from each other in both cases. The Warriors look to be on the upswing while the Tigers might have trouble gaining a fourth-seed in the West. That, along with the media and fan perception that puts both schools as more polished than their rivals down the street, just adds to the ongoing comparason.
Sequatchie County Indians
Spirit Team: Mississippi State Bulldogs
LET THE GRIDIRON BE YOUR GUIDE: For my opening statement, I would like to announce that this comparison has nothing to do with former Indian and Bulldog Dakota Hudson. Okay, maybe he made the indirect connection, but let’s leave it all in the bullpen. The Indians are a team that hasn’t had a good draw in the realignments, being placed in Region 4-3A currently and in District 7-AA in 2009. Similarly, the college football realignments saw Texas A&M make a name for themselves in the SEC, booting the Bulldogs down another spot on the chain. Both squads have had successful season full of hype, but they continue to fall short of those expectations due to the lack of talent available. Don’t get me wrong, both teams have some talented athletes, but there never seems to be the right mix at the right time. The main difference between these two squads in coaching where Mississippi State has been more consistent with Dan Mullen. Many expect that same consistency with 2nd-year coach Adam Caine. Only time will tell.
South Pittsburg Pirates
Spirit Team: Alabama Crimson Tide
LET THE GRIDIRON BE YOUR GUIDE: Prestigious. Feared. Dominant. History. Still Extremely Relevant. We could be talking about South Pittsburg or the Alabama Crimson Tide, but the chances are that you can’t tell the difference. Nestled along the Tennessee-Alabama border, the town of South Pittsburg has often been defined by rivalry. Although the high side of the story is probably more one-sided inside the city limits, the college football rivalry often divides fans who sit next to each other on Friday nights. Either way, the commonalities between the two teams is undeniable, especially when you look at the connection between the Alabama-Auburn and Marion County-South Pittsburg rivalries. Both squads have a current coach who is definitely hall of fame material with legendary coaches who have long been idols in their respective playing fields. And no one can deny the simplicity and tradition of both teams classic unis.
Spirit Team: Jacksonville State Gamecocks
LET THE GRIDIRON BE YOUR GUIDE: Before everyone in #TigerTown insinuates that this is because of the “lack of Valley success,” let me begin by saying this: have you seen the Gamecocks in action? This past season, Jacksonville State made it all the way to the FCS National Championship before falling to powerhouse program North Dakota State. On the same note, Whitwell has one main drawback: their 1A rival to the south. South Pittsburg is a hard cookie to crack, even during their down years. Ask former Whitwell coach R.C. Helton, who suffered a 29-28 loss in 2014 and a blowout 41-14 defeat in his second campaign. The Gamecocks don’t really have a team like that, but they do have NDSU, who is the only one keeping them from their ultimate goal. Cue South Pittsburg who many don’t realize as a thorn in the Tigers’ side. That being said this year, whoever takes over the region has a clear shot at state with the decline of Columbia Academy. Still both teams do struggle with bigger opponents, Whitwell with any team above 3A and the Gamecocks with most FBS teams, although their 2010 campaign featured a season-opening, overtime win versus Ole Miss. Whitwell has that potential with its grit and determination, but don’t for a second think they are inferior. Most of that comes from being stuck behind two State Powerhouses who just so happen to share the same jurisdiction. The Gamecocks are located in the great gridiron state of Alabama in case you were wondering. Need I say anymore?
Contact Chandler Morrison at TheSpearSportsBlog@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @RCS_Chandler.