With another intriguing football season on the horizon, it's time to take a look at the area's favorite teams and their chances of having a successful campaign.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the Bobby Petrino scandal, Arkansas enters the season with a lot of uncertainty. If the Razorbacks can beat Alabama in Week 3, they may just ride that wave to the SEC title game and beyond. If they lose to the Crimson Tide, the Hogs could fold and be lucky to beat Rutgers the next weekend.
I am going to take the middle of the road and predict a record of 9-3 and another berth in the Cotton Bowl, whose committee said they would not take another team coached by Petrino.
I am sure the Cotton Bowl will be more than happy to take jovial coach John L. Smith and this bunch of Razorbacks and their 40,000 fans, who once had national championship aspirations only to see them come crashing down when Petrino hit a ditch while riding a Razorback Harley-Davidson with his blonde mistress.
Next year, as I've stated before, expect Petrino to be riding along with the Tennessee Volunteers bandwagon, one with a newfound hope, as Razorback fans are left to wonder what could have been if Athletic Director Jeff Long would have simply suspended the coach with a pay cut and let him try to work his way back into good grace. Judging from last week's national TV appearance, it seems Petrino is taking the correct steps.
If Long doesn't make a statement with his new hire after the season, he may be wishing he would have taken the job offered at Stanford once the donations slow only a year into his athletic facilities expansion campaign, which was sparked tremendously by Petrino's success on the field.
Heber Springs Panthers
The 2-4A conference defending champions enter the season with a stout offensive line, two explosive playmakers and many more athletes capable of making strong contributions on both sides of the ball.
The Panthers, who averaged 49.3 points per game last season, will not have a problem scoring but may have to win some shootouts in order to match last season's success.
With an extremely talented team from Pine Bluff Dollarway entering the conference this season in place of Cave City, the already tough 2-4A has become a meat-grinder.
Stuttgart is always good fundamentally, Clinton has a strong sophomore class to blend with a few talented upperclassmen and Lonoke may be the most athletic and most overlooked team in the conference. Newport is still down a little and working to build its program back, while Southside Batesville has blossomed into a potential playoff contender or at least a spoiler. In its second season with a new coach and new system, the Southerners, who only have 12 wins in school history, including four last season, picked up two highly touted transfers from Batesville High School during the off-season.
Page 2 of 3 - Marianna-Lee always has some talent but can't seem to get it together for an entire season. They could be dangerous, especially at home, with their strict basketball coach taking over.
Heber should be able to handle all of its non-conference opponents, although, Pottsville could give the Panthers a run for their money in the opener Aug. 31 at Panther Stadium.
Similar to the Alabama game for Arkansas, Heber's conference opener at Lonoke could prove pivotal.
However, there are no guarantees in league play this season, therefore even with a loss at Lonoke, the Panthers could definitely bounce back and beat Stuttgart at home. Heber ends its season with two more crucial games at Clinton and home against Dollarway.
If the Panthers can win half of their games against Lonoke, Stuttgart, Clinton and Dollarway, I expect them to make the playoffs as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed.
If they win 3-of-4 against those teams, I would expect them to at least share another conference championship.
The line between winning and losing will be extremely thin for the Panthers and the rest of the 2-4A conference.
Following two consecutive trips to the Class 2A state playoffs under the guidance of fourth-year coach Fritz Heidenreich, the Bulldogs are hungry for more and have the senior leadership to make it possible.
The 5-2A conference certainly got tougher with Mt. Ida replacing down-trodden Hector but Quitman has the athletic ability to compete with most of the schools if they can find a couple linebackers to fill the 200-tackle void left by Jeremiah Johnson and Kevin Peterson.
I expect Magnet Cove to defend its league championship with the rest of the spots up for grabs. Bigelow and Mount Ida will likely take second and third, respectively, while Quitman, Conway Christian and Mountain Pine duel for the final two playoff spots. Poyen could play a role as a spoiler and Cutter Morning Star, which rejoins to the conference after competing in 4-2A the previous two seasons, returns 15 starters from a team that won one game.
Rose Bud Ramblers
The Ramblers enter the season with an optimistic outlook and rightfully so. They return 17 starters, including many juniors, which leads me to believe they will take a step forward this season and be a true contender next season.
Fifth-year coach Steve Rose is confident Rose Bud can make the playoffs this season, not as a fourth or fifth seed, but as one of the top seeds. Opening with 2-3A conference powers Harding Academy and Barton makes for a tough road but if the Ramblers can pull off an upset in at least one of those two…Look out!
If the Ramblers lose those first two league games, they still have the potential to regroup and have a successful season. After Harding, the other league spots are debatable with Bald Knob and Perryville coming in to replace Arkansas Baptist and Brinkley.
Page 3 of 3 - I pick Harding to win the league, Mayflower and Barton to battle for second and third, while Bald Knob, Rose Bud and Riverview duel for the final two playoff spots with Perryville and Episcopal finishing seventh and eighth.
Rose Bud will field its most talented team in school history this season, but will it be enough to make the playoffs in a tough league? It should be an interesting season in Rambler Country, starting with the season opener against rival Quitman on Aug. 31.
(Will Gilbert is sports editor for The Sun-Times. Send comments to email@example.com)