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1A Notebook 9/13 - Who are the Contenders?

Voice of Reason

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We are approaching the midpoint in the season. The teams have been tested by tough competition. Have we seen enough to have this pretty well figured out? In years past it was often pretty clear who the top 3 or 4 teams were in 1A. This class has not been deep in contenders. However, coming into this season, it looked more wide open than ever. Some of the usual contenders lost a lot of key players and that made it look like as many as 8 or 9 teams may be title contenders. Now with 4 weeks under our belts, let's take a look at our rankings and see what we have.


1. Russellville - The Panthers were definitely one of the teams everyone had their eye on pre-season. They returned a number of talented players and looked to be perhaps in better position than they have been in years to finally get over the hump and get back to a title game. They have not disappointed. They sit here now undefeated with only one game that was contested. They are clearly in the top 5 in 1A, but how good are they? Their strength of schedule is middle of the pack in 1A and it will likely be in the middle of the pack at the end of the season. Butler County gave them a tough game and scored 42 points on them. They play Murray in two weeks but Murray is struggling at 1-3. We may not have a read on how good Russellville is till the last game of the year when they play Franklin-Simpson. Till then, Russellville will almost surely stay at number one ... but with a question mark because of their weak schedule..


2. Beechwood - It may seem odd to say it is a bit of a surprise to see the Tigers undefeated and ranked number two, but it is a little surprising. Beechwood lost almost every starter from last season and came into this season relying on more sophomores and unproven starters than perhaps any time in the last 25 years. Yet there the Tigers sit, undefeated despite playing the toughest schedule to date in 1A. A win this week against Cov Cath would be even more surprising, but the Tigers have proven they are certainly right where they always seem to be - a serious contender for another state title.


3. Paintsville - The eastern Kentucky Tigers were a bit of a mystery coming into the season. You can't replace Mr. Football. With other roster changes, it was hard to figure out this team pre-season. Paintsville showed us all though when they upset #1 and defending state champion Pikeville 40-28 in week 3. That game caused some to think perhaps Paintsville deserved to be #1. All in due time. If they keep playing the way they are, they will get there. Put Paintsville clearly in the title contender category.


4. Raceland - It is hard to believe Raceland could run under the radar but that is what has happened. The Rams somewhat quietly are putting together their best season in several years. They have played a tough schedule and are 4-0, including a win over upper class rival Ashland. With Beechwood facing a tough game this week, the Rams have a chance to creep up another notch in the rankings. Regardless of what ranking they are, this Rams team is looking like the strongest title threat from Raceland in quite a while.


5. Pikeville - Outside of that Paintsville game, Pikeville has done just what you would expect a defending state champion team to do. All three of their other games were impressive, lopsided victories. Like Beechwood, this week's opponent will almost surely be too much as 3A #1 Belfry comes a calling. Regardless of the outcome of that game, it is very clear that Pikevlle is very capable of defending their title and becoming a repeat champion in 2016.


6. Nicholas County - Despite the undefeated record, I think it is safe to say there is a gap between the top 5 teams and the rest of 1A. The Bluejackets can prove that perception wrong this week if they can get a win against West Carter. Raceland defeated West Carter 28-13 in game one. If Nicholas County wants to show they belong in that true title contender group of the top 5, they must get a win this week.


7. Hazard - Pre-season the hopes were high in Hazard that the 2016 Bulldogs were primed and ready for another title run. Injuries had been plentiful the last couple years and made it difficult for Hazard. Three straight wins to open the season against solid competition fueled the belief that the Bulldogs were back. Last week, top 15 2A opponent Somerset threw some water on those hopes with a 33-15 defeat of the Bulldogs. Considering Beechwood had handled Somerset rather easily the week before, the questioning flags quickly went up on Hazard. Whether Hazard should be added to the list of contenders is in doubt. A big win over Prestonsburg will go a long way to getting the Bulldogs back into the title contender consideration.


8. Fairview - The Eagles are looking like another one of the fringe teams - good but just not quite a true title contender. With a 2-2 record and the two losses to Hazard and Pikeville, Fairview is going to need to get better fast if they want to be a true title contender. After this week versus East Carter, Fairview has three tough games in a row including their district foes Paintsville and Raceland. This is the week to get everything tuned up for Fairview and then make that end of the season run to the playoffs.


9. Kentucky Country Day - The 3-1 record looks good but none of those wins are against even an average team. The loss was lopsided against a solid, but not great, 2A Lexington Christian. This week is an important one for KCD as they take on 1A rival Bethlehem. A win will solidify their top 10 ranking and build winning momentum. It is tough now to say how good KCD is. They don't look like a title threat right now but the season is still young.


10. Holy Cross (Louisville) - Holy Cross' season looks a lot like Kentucky Country Day's. Their wins are over teams that are struggling and when they have faced the solid teams, they haven't been competitive. This week's opponent should be a good measuring stick for Holy Cross. Western is right in the middle between the good and the bad teams Holy Cross has faced so far. Holy Cross needs a win this week versus Western if they want to climb into the title hunt.


The Rest


There is a large group of teams in the next 10 or so in the rankings that look to all be on about the same level. Those teams include Bethlehem, Williamsburg, Frankfort, Brossart, Paris, Bracken County, Harlan, Pineville, Lynn Camp, Ludlow and Campbellsville. It is hard to see any of these teams being a serious threat to win the title, but you never know. Injuries can happen. Teams can get injured players back. Teams can obviously get better. It is football. Anything can happen on a given Friday night. One of the top teams can have a bad night of turnovers and suddenly there is an upset.


Games of the Week


#2 Beechwood at 5A #3 Covington Catholic - This is a big rivalry game. Both of these teams are exceeding expectations so far this year. On paper, this looks like big trouble for Beechwood but in rivalry games strange things sometimes happen.


#5 Pikeville vs. 3A #1 Belfry - The 2016 Belfry team stands out even for a program as good as Belfry. With Belfry featuring several D1 level talents, incredible size and Coach Haywood at the helm, Pikeville will need to be at their best just to stay competitive in this game.


#6 Nicholas County vs. 3A West Carter - This will be the toughest test on Nicholas County's schedule. If Nicholas County can get a win in this game, an undefeated season very probably will happen.




With just a couple more out of district games to go, the picture in 1A is clearing up. Our top 5 are going to be tough for the other 1A teams to beat. The rest of 1A needs to get better fast if they are going to get into the title contender group. It is hard to believe but mid season is just around the corner. The time is now for all teams to start polishing off their best and get ready for district play and seeding for the playoffs.

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