MURFREESBORO – High school football practice is less than a month away. And Wednesday marks 50 days before the opening kickoff involving Rutherford County teams.
Here are 50 questions for Rutherford County football teams with 50 days left before Siegel opens the football season at Ravenwood Aug. 20:
1. Which will be the top Rutherford County team in Class 6A in 2015?
The early favorites (in order) are Riverdale, Oakland and Blackman. Please note. No Rutherford County team has won back-to-back league titles since the TSSAA went to six classes.
2. How will bumping down to Class 5A help La Vergne and Stewarts Creek?
Stewarts Creek’s three wins in school history have come against teams that will be in 5A or lower in 2015. That bodes well for the third-year school, which should be beginning to build depth.
La Vergne is not only a playoff contender in 5A, but could make a serious postseason run with what it returns from last year’s 6A playoff team.
3. Who will be the leading rusher in Rutherford County in 2015?
Siegel senior Greedy Howse is the preseason favorite after rushing for 980 yards in just nine games in 2014. He is the leading returning rusher in the county.
4. Who has the toughest schedule for 2015?
It’s probably a coin flip between Blackman and Oakland. Blackman’s non-region schedule includes Clay-Chalkville (Alabama), McCallie and Tucker (Georgia). Oakland’s non-region slate includes Hoover (Alabama), Pulaski Academy (Arkansas) and Hillsboro.
5. Why did the TSSAA do away with Week 0?
Simple. It was too confusing for folks. Sure, that was the case for years, but the high school association finally decided it was time to drop the zero and just go Week 1 through Week 11.
6. Best Friday night game to attend in Week 1?
They may not be in the same district/region any more, but Smyrna’s game at La Vergne to kick off the season is likely the top Friday game of the week. La Vergne has only beaten Smyrna one time in school history.
However, John Overton’s game at Stewarts Creek is also an intriguing game.
7. Who will replace Charlie Davidson at running back for Blackman.
Taeler Dowdy will take over the duties. He rushed for 380 yards with six touchdowns in 2014 and had a TD against Hoover.
8. Who will be Oakland’s starting quarterback?
Cody Miller should open fall camp as the No. 1. Independence transfer Brendan Matthews will push Miller for the starting job in what could be one of the best position battles in the county. Both could play during the season.
9. Speaking of quarterbacks, who is the best one in the county returning?
Rutherford County graduated some talented ones in Mr. Football Jauan Jennings, MTCS’ Justin Winn and Riverdale’s Cortland Owens. Siegel senior Jordan Middleton is the top QB returning with 1,382 yards passing. Smyrna’s John Turner (1,333 passing yards) also returns
10. Who will have the best defense in 2015?
It may be too early to tell. Despite graduation hits, Oakland will be athletic and physical on defense. But there will be unproven players filling holes. Ditto for Blackman, which was hit hard in the secondary due to graduation. Riverdale’s secondary will be solid, but the Warriors’ starting linebackers were depleted by graduation.
Oakland is the preseason defensive favorite.
11. Will Siegel’s offense return to being a high-scoring squad?
Look for point production to increase in 2015. New offensive coordinator Daniel Childs will adjust well to the Stars’ hurry-up offense and should help in Middleton’s progression at quarterback. Middleton and Howse are the top returners at their position. They must develop receivers who can make big plays.
12. How will the graduation loss of Justin Winn hurt MTCS’ offense?
Joseph Peck is the likely replacement to Winn at quarterback for MTCS coach Fred Shambaugh’s offense. He is more of a runner than thrower. MTCS, though, has plenty of offensive support surrounding him.
13. Will Rutherford County produce any Mr. Football finalists in 2015?
History says yes. Who? It’s hard to say with the talent that graduated this past season. Siegel’s Greedy Howse, Oakland’s JaCoby Stevens and Smyrna’s Ikenna Okeke may be early preseason candidates though.
14. Will there be a TSSAA public-private split?
Obviously any decision made by the TSSAA’s Legislative Council on July 16 will not effect the 2015 or 2016 football seasons. Personal observations show this will be a close vote, perhaps 5-4 or 6-3. Who has the early edge? Probably those in favor of a split.
15. Why won’t the Middle Tennessee Football Classic presented by Venture Express be televised?
A couple of reasons. First, a network like ESPN was likely never interested in the event like it was the Blackman-Oakland game last year. Blackman and Oakland do not have as many top college prospects as they did in 2014. More important, TV games can affect attendance, and bringing in two teams from out of state and playing at MTSU isn’t cheap.
16. How will Coffee County, Cookeville and Warren County compete in the new Region 2-6A with Blackman, Oakland, Riverdale, Siegel and Smyrna?
The good thing for all eight is that they are guaranteed to be playoff teams. Cookeville should be fine competition-wise with the Rutherford County folks. Recent history shows that Coffee County and Warren County will likely struggle against the Rutherford County teams.
17. Why would La Vergne opt out of Class 6A where it is guaranteed a playoff berth?
La Vergne should be a playoff team in Class 5A with what it returns. More important, the Wolverines could be a team to go to the quarterfinals and beyond if they stay healthy.
18. Can Eagleville keep its streak of postseason appearances going?
Coach Steve Carson’s squad has reached the playoffs in each of the past six seasons. He returns starting quarterback A.J. Garza, but someone will have to emerge at running back. However, the biggest question may be up on the line. If assistant Tom Fiveash can develop that, the Eagles will be in fine shape.
19. Who replaces Cortland Owens at quarterback for Riverdale?
Marqwell Odom and Preston Barge backed up Owens in 2014, and Odom was the starter as a freshman in 2013. However, both may be better served as receivers or defensive backs.
Rising sophomore Christian Souffront will get a considerable amount of attention at the position as well.
20. Will the Wing-T work at Oakland?
Well, this isn’t the traditional Wing-T. It will be one of the many adaptations to it. Plus, expect Oakland coach Kevin Creasy to give some other formation looks. With the athleticism on Oakland’s roster, the offense should work just fine.
21. Is Smyrna ready to get back to its 2010 form?
The 2010 team that lost to Maryville in the 6A championship game was a deeply talented team. The good thing for Bulldog fans is that eighth-year coach Matt Williams picked up two good assistants in quarterbacks coach Alex Robins and defensive coach Scot Keasler.
But this team doesn’t have the same talent as the 2010 squad.
22. Is Chris Dye ready to take over the full-time starting job at quarterback for Stewarts Creek?
Yes. Dye has played at times over the past two seasons with Mason Hall. Dye has had a good offseason at various camps and is likely the strongest quarterback in the county.
23. How does the new playoff system work?
In Class 6A, all 32 teams make the playoffs and are in four regions. Teams from Region 1-6A face 2-6A. Teams from Region 3-6A play 4-6A.
In Classes 1A-5A, it’s like the old 5A system where the top four teams in each region make the playoffs.
24. How many teams make the playoffs from Rutherford County?
Obviously, all five teams in Class 6A are guaranteed playoff berths. Throw in La Vergne in 5A, and Eagleville can make it if things fall into place.
25. Will a team from Rutherford County go undefeated in the regular season?
26. Can Blackman or Oakland beat either of the two Alabama teams they face?
It’s not likely. Both Murfreesboro teams will be considerable underdogs for their season openers. Both Murfreesboro schools are opening the season with new coaches.
27. Who will be the most fun offensive player to watch in 2015?
I’ll give you two. Running back Greedy Howse at Siegel and receiver JaCoby Stevens at Oakland.
28. Who are your preseason players of the year?
With everyone that graduated from a year ago there is no clear favorite. The two names listed in the previous question would be good candidates. Ikenna Okeke will be one to consider on defense. And Oakland’s Ty Nix should get consideration as lineman.
29. Is this the year a team from Rutherford County beats Maryville?
No. The past three teams to play Maryville have been three of the best to come out of Rutherford County since the TSSAA went to six classes. And all three lost to the Rebels.
30. Should Maryville have been allowed to move up to Class 6A?
Yes. The TSSAA has allowed that for years. Plus, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the standard for high school football. And right now that’s Maryville.
31. Who has more overall wins in the regular season — Oakland or Riverdale?
Give me Riverdale with eight and Oakland with seven.
32. Who is ready for a breakout season?
I think this is Maleik Gray’s year to dominate. The La Vergne junior has been all-district the past two years and started since his freshman year. But this is the year he takes over on the football field and shows why SEC coaches want him.
33. Is Miller Armstrong ready to be Blackman’s starting quarterback?
He and Connor Mitchell will both see time for the Blaze at quarterback. Armstrong saw time last year as a backup to Jauan Jennings. Armstrong is a smart quarterback and should fit in to what first-year coach David Watson wants to do on offense.
34. Can Riverdale’s Marquise Cantrell lead the county in receiving again in 2015?
Yes. But it won’t be easy. Cantrell had 48 catches for 815 yards in 2014. However, quarterback Cortland Owens has now graduated.
35. Who is the best player that no one ever mentions?
Cynterius Lyons. The Stewarts Creek athlete did a little bit of everything in 2014. He caught passes on offense, snagged interceptions and made plays on special teams. People should read a lot about him this season.
36. Who is the best punter/kicker in the county?
Siegel’s Jacob Smith. He averaged nearly 43 yards a punt in 2014 and has good range on field goals. Blackman sophomore Thomas Burks will also be one of the top kickers.
37. What is the best stadium to watch a game?
Riverdale’s Tomahawk Stadium. There is just a lot of character there. The teepee is on the sideline with smoke coming out. The horse still comes out for big games.
38. Why did Blackman, Riverdale and Oakland have such a hard time finding a 2015 schedule?
Opposing coaches don’t want to schedule Rutherford County teams even with the TSSAA’s postseason changes where all 6A teams make the playoffs and other classes have their playoffs set by region finish. But Rutherford County teams tend to veer away from scheduling the Midstate’s Division II schools.
39. Which new assistant will make the biggest impact for their high school football team?
Alex Robins at Smyrna High. Robins, who has also coached at MTSU, Blackman, MTCS and Lancaster Christian, is one of the top quarterback coaches in the state. Quarterback John Turner will benefit with his addition to the staff.
40. Who wins this year’s Battle of the ‘Boro?
Oakland has won the past two rivalry games with Riverdale. History says a third straight win would be a stretch. Give Riverdale a slight edge to win on the road on Oct. 16.
41. Will Maryville win its third straight Class 6A state title?
Yes. Don’t ever bet against Maryville coach George Quarles.
42. After the graduation of Roshea Grays, who will be La Vergne’s leading running back this year?
Grays had 1,767 rushing yards this past season for the Wolverines. His numbers are likely impossible to duplicate. Maliek Gray will get some touches in the backfield, but he will be used primarily at linebacker. Keytavies Bradley may be the leading candidate going into the season.
43. Who are the receivers to watch at Blackman after graduating its top three receivers?
Ronnie Killings (Navy), Quen Hardy (Navy) and Lorel Morton (Cumberland) all signed with colleges leaving a big hole for the Blaze receivers.
Remember these two names: Amauri Burks and Master Teague.
44. Is Rutherford County still the SEC of Tennessee high school football?
Given the SEC’s success in the championship games the past two years, sure. In all seriousness, the county still produces a physical brand of football that includes well-coached teams. This may be a bit of a rebuilding year for some teams, but it’s still overall the tops in the state.
45. How will David Watson adjust to being a head coach again?
The first-year Blaze coach held so many different roles at Blackman over the past few years the transition back to head coach should be a smooth one. Now, having a schedule that begins with Clay-Chalkville, Alabama; McCallie; Riverdale; Tucker, Georgia; and Oakland isn’t how most coaches want to start their first season.
46. How will Kevin Creasy adjust to being a head coach at a 6A school after previously being at the 2A level at Trousdale County?
Football is football no matter the class. The Oakland first-year coach will have a larger roster than he’s used to having in Hartsville. He’ll have more athleticism than he had before. But the key for him has been surrounding himself with good assistants.
47. Can Smyrna advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2010?
Yes. The past two years Smyrna has had to play a Rutherford County rival in the first round. That won’t happen this year. The Bulldogs should be in good position this season to get past round one.
48. Which team has the most to replace on offense entering the season?
Blackman. The Blaze graduated 10 of 11 starters and the starter returning has moved from tight end to the offensive line.
49. Which team has the most to replace on defense entering the season?
Oakland graduated eight starters that were named to The Daily News Journal’s All-Area first team. Something tells me they have folks to fill those holes.
50. Which school has the best offensive line in Rutherford County?
Sorry, that’s just way too early to tell.
Contact Tom Kreager at 615-278-5168 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Kreager.