Predictions: Week 1

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 26, 2005

Call it a Catch-22, call it darned-if-you-do-darned-if-you-don’t (or something slightly more profane), call it six in one and a half dozen in the other…whatever you call it, this prediction stuff is a tricky business.

Why? Well, the sports column listing all the football games that weekend and a prediction from the columnist for each has been a sports page staple for as long as…well, pretty much since there’s been sports pages at all. It’s fun. It makes for good reading. The columnist gets to show off how much he knows about the teams on his beat…or, in this particular column’s case, how far behind he really is.

There’s a problem for a community paper like ours when it comes to predictions, though. Namely, the ruffling of feathers at schools who we’ve picked to lose, and sometimes lose decisively. Larger papers covering larger schools can get away with it, because the school can’t really do anything to hurt the paper’s coverage anyway. If the Birmingham News prints a five-page analysis of why, say, Mountain Brook High School is the worst 6A team in the state, the Mountain Brook coach is still going to have to talk to a Birmingham News reporter after the game.

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Not so down here, where scores and stats often need to be called in, where a coach who has a bone to pick can basically stonewall any coverage of his team outside of the game itself. At the Demopolis Times, we have to have working relationships with our schools or there’s going to be a lot more bad jokes for me and a lot less interesting stories from our football teams. And no one wants that.

But a newspaper also has the obligation to its readers to analyze and comment truthfully on the sports in our area. The prediction column gives our readers a chance to know exactly what’s going on that week, some things to watch for, and how at least one alleged–very, very alleged–“knowledgeable observer” believes things will go.

So here we go. Remember, I’m just calling ’em the way I see ’em. And if I pick against your team, know that I don’t like having to do so, and look on the bright side: Haven’t I just provided them some motivation?

Demopolis at Sumter County

I like Wildcat head coach’s Stacey Watters’s energy. I like that they have a senior quarterback, Cordarrin Wilson, who’s been through this before. I like the athleticism I saw from their receiving corps and I like that they’ll be at home.

But when the defending state 4A champs take on a 3A team that went 2-8 the previous year, there can really only be one outcome. It also doesn’t help SCHS that their receivers will have their every move watched by the dominant DHS secondary, probably the Tigers’ strongest unit on either side of the ball during the jamboree against Thomasville.

The pick: Demopolis, by a bundle

Thomasville at Sweet Water

Yet another reason to dislike Thomasville: Sweet Water puts together potentially their best team in who-knows-how-long (it’s a rhetorical question…I’m sure somebody does, but it ain’t me) and they get to face, whaddya know, the best Thomasville team in years. If the Tigers were even an average-to-decent 4A team, the Bulldogs would be able to plow right through them, especially playing at home.

But Thomasville is a very, very good 4A team and their big fullback Shamus Hudson is (this is the scientific term) an absolute hoss. Landrum, Williams and Co. have too much talent for Thomasville to pull away, but come the fourth quarter their advantage in depth will be too much even for Sweet Water. It hurts me to say it, but…

The pick: Thomasville, by not more than 10

John Essex at Marengo

Probably the toughest game to call on this week’s schedule. (Of course, given that it’s the start of the season and all I’m going on is last season, a glimpse of practice, and a handful of jamboree games, they’re all tough.) The Hornets drubbed the Panthers 38-6 last season on their way to winning a playoff game last year, while Marengo went 2-8. But Essex will be without starting QB/CB Keionte Phillips, and an offensive line that has had to replace four starters from last year’s squad looked very much a work-in-progress at times during the Hornets’ scrimmage against Linden.

The Panthers won’t have the size along the defensive front Linden did, but they are quick and there’s experience in the offensive backfield. Perhaps most importantly, this will be new coach Travis Carswell’s first game as head coach since taking over for retired Marengo legend Bear Campbell, and his players will be bound-and-determined to make his debut a victory. Add in what’s sure to be an electric home atmosphere, and the guess here is that Marengo capitalizes on Phillips’s absence to record a narrow upset.

The pick: Marengo, by a point

MMI at Southern Academy

Southern Academy opens its state title defense at home against an MMI squad that should be much improved over the 2004 version, with proven coach Lamar Frith at the helm, plenty of experience on offense, and newfound depth thanks to the largest group of freshman football players at MMI in many years.

But it’s not likely to matter against a team like Southern, who is too talented, too well-coached, and most of all too deep to be seriously challenged by a rebuilding program like the Tigers. Southern fans will be interested to see which of the new Cougar RBs looks most likely to fill the shoes of the departed Eric Montz.

The pick: Southern, by a wide margin

Keith at A.L. Johnson

Keith went 1-9 last season in 2A Region 4, uses “Bears” for their nickname, and is located in Orrville. That’s about all I can tell you about them. When it comes to Johnson, though, I can tell you that their offense has some bulldozers up front (senior guard Santana Ruffin, junior tackle Aymar Johnson) and that RBs James Robinson and Keyon Fritts are more than capable of taking advantage of some bear-sized holes in the Bear defensive line.

The pick: A.L. Johnson, by Not Even Close

Linden at Woodland

This week’s Greyhound Bus Lines Team of the Week is the Linden Patriots, who will travel 225 miles to play Woodland, a 2A powerhouse that defeated Linden 44-0 last season on their way to the state 2A championship game. Linden should be better than they were at this time last season–DE Marcus Catlin was a monster against John Essex in their jamboree game–but 44 points is a lot of ground to make up in one year.

The pick: Woodland, by less than 44

Sunshine at Francis Marion

In what should be a hard-fought close game–Marion won 26-18 over the Tigers last season in Hale County–the deciding factor could be Sunshine freshman QB Marcus Lee. Lee’s natural ability to make the big play is what has earned him the starting nod despite his inexperience, and if he lives up to that potential the Tigers could steal a victory in Marion. But the Rams have a decided edge in experience at QB position thanks to seasoned senior Xavier Murphy, and with 9 other seniors on the Marion roster and home field advantage, the Rams should give coach Carlos Harvest a win in his coaching debut.

The pick: Rams, by a touchdown or less

Clarke County at Greene County

There’s little question the Greene County Tigers have the tallest set of defensive ends in the area: 6-9 Curtis Nickson and 6-4 Kelvin Johnson mean that if Clarke wants to pass, well, they’d better do it over the middle. But do the Tigers have enough else going for them to overturn a 28-0 loss to Clarke County in last year’s opener? There’s the pull to win for new coach William Morgan, and the home field, and talented runner Quentin McElroy. But the Bulldogs are one of 3A’s better teams (8-3 in 2004) and Morgan may need a bit more time to pull everything together.

The pick: Clarke County, by the skin of their nose

Sumter Academy at Cornerstone

Other than that they’re from Columbiana and other tidbits from the AISA’s ,2004-2005 directory, I honestly don’t know one thing about the Cornerstone Chargers. But I do know new Sumter head coach Bob Taylor faced them last year while coaching WAP and that the Eagles are hungry after getting the program after a late start this season. If frosh QB Tanner Armstrong can keep his head, why not an Eagles win?

The pick: Sumter Academy, by a field goal

Livingston at Highland Home

The Cougars head to Crenshaw County to take on one of the state’ coolest nicknames: the Highland home Flying Squadron. But the nickname didn’t do much for 2A Highland Home on the field, as they struggled to a 4-7 record. With only one starter lost from either side of the ball from coach Scottie Jones’s 2004 squad, Livingston should have too much experience for the…let’s say it again…Flying Squadron.

The pick: Livingston, by one or two scores

Holy Spirit at Akron

New Akron head coach Vernon Perry and his coaching staff are going to get Akron turned around, and the Rams have some terrific athletes to work with. But they also have no seniors on the team, and moving up in class (Holy Spirit went 4-3 in 2A in 2004) might prove to be too tough a task in an opening game for a team that went 1-9 in 2004. Then again, the Rams will be at home…

The pick: Holy Spirit, by no more than six

R.C. Hatch at Hillcrest-Evergreen

The Hatch Bobcats will be better this season, but it’s a long road back from 0-10, and visiting a mid-level 4A school that defeated them 46-0 last season is going to make it a little longer.

The pick: Hillcrest, but not by shutout