The Cassville Wildcats received four first place votes while getting the nod from rival coaches as the favorite in the Big 8 Conference football race. Sponsored by 99.1 ESPN Radio's "The Ticket," the preseason coaches'' poll was predictable at the top but held some surprises further down the list.
After two state championships and a semifinal appearance in the last three years, the Cassville Wildcats received most, but not all, of the first place votes in the poll and accumulated a total of 46 points. David Large's club has won 39 games in the past three seasons and has lost only once in the regular season since winning that first state championship in 2008.
The Wildcats, hit hard by graduation, still have a nucleus of skill players and linemen. The difference in this year's team will be depth, particularly in the line. Expect even more of Cassville's signature ball control running game this season with senior Ricky Nichols directing a still dangerous offense.
The Lamar Tigers received two first place votes and 43 total poll points to earn the second spot. Scott Bailey is working to develop a program at Lamar, and the Tigers are right on track. Last year's squad featured a mammoth line and good depth. Key injuries in the backfield thwarted Lamar's conference hopes in midseason, but the foundation has been laid.
Lamar is hungry for another deep run in the Class 2 playoffs. Three playoff wins in 2010 vaulted the Tigers into the championship game where they fell to Maplewood-Richmond Heights, 33-19.
Aurora broke from the gate last year with a 5-1 record, losing only to eventual conference champ Cassville, 34-6, in week four. But after beating Monett by a 28-20 score, the Houns slid to a 1-3 finish of a 6-4 season. Wins over Lamar and Monett showed the steady improvement of the Aurora program under Coach Rick Sholten.
Mt. Vernon was great at home but terrible on the road in 2010. Joy Mayberry's team did not lose at Mountaineer Stadium in four tries but notched only one road victory in a 5-6 season. The Mountaineers played arguably the toughest regular season schedule of any Big 8 team last year, losing to Logan-Rogersville, Seneca, Cassville, and Springfield Catholic. Mt. Vernon's season ended with a 19-16 loss to Rogersville in the first round of the Class 3 playoffs.
The Mountaineers are a dangerous team, and are rightly picked fourth in the top tier of the Big 8.
The Seneca Indians slip to the number five spot in the poll. Rob Townsend has stepped down as the head coach at Seneca after driving the Indians back into contention. Dan Scheible takes over a program that has replaced Monett in recent years as Cassville's main contender for the conference crown.
Seneca has also graduated a number of key players. Kyler Ng is expected to take over the leadership for the Indians' offense this year.
The Monett Cubs were relegated to the sixth position in the coaches poll. This will be Chad Depee's second year at the helm for Monett, and his players should be more comfortable with the scheme. Monett is hurting for size, and the Cubs may have to alter their game plan to buy some holes and protection.
Carl Junction, the lone Class 4 team in the conference, stumbled to a 1-9 season in Jesse Wall's first year as head coach. The Bulldogs have nowhere to go but up, but the cellar steps present a challenging climb against the quality teams of the Big 8.
East Newton also went 1-9 in 2010, after posting an identical record in 2009. Bobby Bishop takes over for Tom Ellis in Granby this year. The Patriots have some good young talent coming up but are still a season or two away from a break even season.