Hutchinson Community College football No. 1 in NJCAA preseason rankings

Charles Chaney
Butler County Times Gazette

After barely missing out at a shot to win a national championship last season, the Hutchinson Blue Dragons enter the 2021 season with high expectations as the No. 1 team in the nation, according to the NJCAA.

The Blue Dragons are led by Drew Dallas, the first year head coach after Rion Rhoades left for a Division I coaching job. It appears the Blue Dragons are not expecting to miss a beat with the coaching transition.

Dallas was the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach for an offense that was one third nationally in scoring. The defense wasn't to be scoffed at as they were seventh in points allowed per game. 

The Hutchinson Community College Blue Dragons get their first ever preseason No. 1 ranking in the 2021 spring season.

Where NJCAA teams finished last season, where they are now

The Blue Dragons had a five-week run as the No. 1 team last season until Highland send the upset bug to Hutch. They would climb back to No. 3 in the final poll but would be bettered by a pair of unbeaten schools in Mississippi Gulf Coast, who won the title, and Lackawanna.

Iowa Western is second in the first poll. The Reivers are the consensus favorite to get into the national championship. They face a significantly easier schedule than in year's past. Though, they have not shied away from competition as they will still play tenth-ranked Snow College and NEO A&M (OK). They will also get to play Iowa Central twice. 

Lackawanna College, the national runner-up is third and will face a tougher schedule than in previous seasons. There are no prep schools in their roster but they will play new NJCAA program, Sussex County, twice. They'll play Snow and ASA Miami. With only six games, the Falcons could be on the outside looking in if a team from Kansas doesn't eliminate each other.

More:Hutchinson Blue Dragons set for season opener against Coffeyville

Kilgore finished last season 8-2 and sixth in the final poll. They are fourth in this year's preseason poll. The Southwest Junior College Football Conference is always tough and to come out of that with an opportunity for a national title would set up a tough team to beat.

Garden City is fifth after tying with Hutchinson in the KJCCC Coach's preseason predictions. In their second year of Tom Minnick, the Broncbusters are once again a force to be reckoned with as they have been for the better part of the last decade. They will once again rely on an influx of Division I transfers to put themselves in position to fight for a national title. 

The Broncbusters were on the front step of a national title appearance last season when Butler stunned them in the regular season finale, knocking them out of their national title aspirations and league title hopes. 

An April 17 game in Hutchinson against the Blue Dragons could be classed as a playoff match up, eliminating someone from their chance at winning one. 

The Tritons of Iowa Central enter as the No. 6 team in the preseason poll. They are still figuring out how to turn things around under third-year head coach Jesse Montalto. He spent his previous seasons at Ellsworth College before taking over a downtrodden Iowa Central team. They went from a 1-win team who had a 25-game losing streak, to eight wins and a top 15 finish in 2018. 

Two games vs. Iowa Central and a home game vs. Snow College will put the Tritons to the test. 

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The Butler Grizzlies enter as No. 7 in the preseason poll. Head Coach Tim Schaffner has kept the Grizzlies in the top echelon of JUCO football for his tenure, this season will be no different. While the Grizzlies were picked third in the conference, it's a league where anyone in the top four have a legitimate shot at winning the league.

Butler returns a stout defense and a fast paced offense that cause trouble for opposing defenses. 

The Grizzlies waste no time finding out where they'll be in the grand scheme of things as they will travel to ninth-ranked Independence on Friday, March 26 and then host top-ranked Hutchinson on Saturday, April 3.

Navarro is eighth after finishing 17th as a 6-5 team last season. 

The reigning KJCCC Champions, the Independence Pirates are ninth. They will go through their third coach in three playing seasons after previous head coach Kiyoshi Harris accepted a job at Boise State. The Pirates were picked fourth in the coach's preseason picks in the league but 1-4 is very close within the league. Once again, the toughest league in the NJCAA has the most teams ranked.

Snow College rounds out the preseason top 10. The Badgers are always a tough competitor and they are the furthest west competitor in the NJCAA. After the folding of the Arizona league, leaving Snow as an independent, they've taken on all competitors, despite going 5-3 last year. They'll play three top 10 opponents, all on the road, in eight-game schedule. 

NJCAA Preseason Top 10 (2019 record)

  1. Hutchinson Community College (10-2)
  2. Iowa Western Community College (9-3)
  3. Lackawanna College (10-1)
  4. Kilgore College (8-2)
  5. Garden City Community College (8-3)
  6. Iowa Central Community College (7-6)
  7. Butler Community College (10-3)
  8. Navarro College (6-5)
  9. Independence Community College (8-2)
  10. Snow College (5-3)

Receiving votes (2019 records): New Mexico Military (6-5), ASA Miami (7-3), Trinity Valley (7-4), Coffeyville (4-7).

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.