Southwest Junior College Football Conference coaches and the media covering the league put a bull’s-eye on Kilgore College, but the Rangers will have to wait a little longer than usual to prove them right or wrong.

The league’s annual media day, set for Thursday, was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but polls released by the media and coaches on Thursday picked Kilgore as the team to beat in the conference.

The Rangers earned four first-place votes and a total of 51 points in the coaches poll, with Trinity Valley picked second.

In the media poll, the Rangers had 52 points and three first-place votes, with Navarro earning the second spot.

Typically, the Rangers would kick the season off in late August, but National Junior College Athletic Association guidelines released earlier this month pushed the season to the spring.

Instead of opening at home on Aug. 22 against rival Tyler Junior College, the Rangers will now be permitted to begin practice on March 1 and can play games starting on March 25.

“It’s a little scary,” said Willie Gooden, who led Kilgore to an 8-2 record in his first season as head coach in 2019. “Sometimes those rankings just make the target on you a little bigger.”

“Plus, there’s just so much uncertainty right now. So many things factor into this coming season.

“We just had a couple of kids this week ... one committed to Baylor and another to the University of Houston. If those kids can get out, they’ll be gone in December and won’t be a part o the 2020-21 Ranger team.”

In the poll released by coaches, Trinity Valley received no first-place votes, but the next three teams — Navarro, Northeastern Oklahoma and New Mexico Military Institute — all got one vote and they were separated by a total of eight points.

Blinn, Tyler and Cisco rounded out the poll.

The media gave Navarro two first-place votes, with Trinity Valley and Blinn both earning one first-place vote. A total of five points separated those teams.

Northeastern Oklahoma was picked fifth, with Tyler and NMMI tying for sixth and Cisco picked eighth again.

“We’ll just tell the kids to keep their nose to the grindstone,” Gooden said of the high preseason expectations. “We’ll talk about the importance of understanding what a preseason prediction is and how much harder we have to work to keep the respect we’ve earned. We’ll use it as fuel, pour a little gas on it and get to work.”

Gooden said scheduling for the upcoming season is still a work in progress.

Follow Jack Stallard on Twitter: @lnjsports

Sports editor

I've covered sports in East Texas since 1987, starting as a 21-year-old sports editor at the Kilgore News Herald before spending seven years at the Lufkin Daily News and the past 23 years at the Longview News-Journal.