2018 Preseason All-Gridiron Team Released

Carolina Gridiron is pleased to announce the 2018 preseason All-Gridiron team. Congratulations to each of the players chosen and best wishes for a successful 2018 season.

Check Out The Weekly Top 15 This Season

CarolinaGridiron.com releases Top 15 Rankings every week. Be sure to check back each Thursday duing the season to see where your favorite team is ranked.

College Football in North Carolina

Carolina Gridiron is expanding coverage of Division I, II and III college football teams in the state of North Carolina every season. See how your favorite college team is doing on the gridiron this season.

Scrimmages and Jamborees

With your help, we are able to yearly put together the most comprehensive statewide high school football jamboree/scrimmage list in North Carolina. We are beginning the 2018 list now. Be sure to check back for more scrimmages and jamborees.

Carolina Gridiron FAIR Rankings

Check out the Carolina Gridiron FAIR Rankings archives to see where your team has stacked up during past seasons. The 2018 rankings will be released once all teams have played at least one game against an NCHSAA opponent.

Championship Central

Look back at how the 2017 state championships unfolded for all eight North Carolina classifications.

Five Questions for the 2018 High School Football Season

The 2018 football season kicks off next week and fans across the state are excited to cheer on their teams each Friday night for the next three or four months. Coaches and players have been together over the last two weeks in training camp and will hit the gridiron with championship dreams in their sights.
Last year's season opener between Scotland and Mallard Creek

With this new season kicking off comes several questions from around the state that will be answered as the season progresses. Here is a look at some of the top questions we have for the 2018 season:

Is Hough the most talented team in the state?

Most coaches are happy to have at least one elite college prospect on their roster. Hough head coach Matt Jenkins has multiple prospects on each side of the ball. Nine of the Top 100 class of 2019 players (h/t 247Sports – each player's rank in the Top 100 is listed) in North Carolina will suit up for the Huskies this season, led by Tennessee recruit Tyus Fields (#6) at cornerback. Joining Field in the defensive backfield will be Jalen Frazier (#37, NC State) and Bryson Whitehead (#86, Kent State). Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks will be the job of DL Gio Paez (#40, Wisconsin) and OLB Kevon Hilliard (#95, Charleston Southern). Wake Forest-bound wide receiver Nolan Groulx (#13) hopes to be on the receiving end of a lot of passes from future Temple Owl Kennique Bonner-Steward (#79) along with Austin Robinson (#59), a Miami (OH) recruit. The embarrassment of riches even extends to the special teams where Camden Lewis (#100), a Minnesota commit, will handle placekicking duties for Jenkins and his crew. The Huskies reached the state semifinals last year and hope this year's squad will get over the hump and to the title game for the first time in school history.

What impact will consolidated schools have on athletics?

Many high school football fans are used to seeing new schools popping up every few years as North Carolina's population skyrocketed in the 1990s and early 2000s. After the recession of the late 2000s, counties and school systems began looking at ways to save costs as funding for education began to decline. One solution was to consolidate existing schools to reduce facility and staffing costs. It's definitely an adjustment for the young student-athletes involved. Once bitter rivals become classmates and teammates as new mascots, colors, and uniforms are introduced. Two counties are consolidating schools in time for the 2018 season and at least one has announced its intention to do so in 2019. Along the Virginia border, the newly branded Vance County High School include students from the former Northern and Southern Vance High Schools. The Vipers will play in the Northern Carolina 2A conference. Washington County High School will combine Creswell and recent football power Plymouth. The Panthers will assume Plymouth's old spot in the 1A Albemarle Athletic Conference. For 2019, the brand-new Montgomery Central High School will open and replace East and West Montgomery.

Will the Smoky Mountain Conference win another state championship?

One thing that has been for certain through prep football history in North Carolina has been the strength of the Smoky Mountain Conference. Teams from this conference have won over thirty state football titles over the last fifty years and ten title game appearance over the last decade. While traditional football powers such as Robbinsville, Murphy, and Swain have routinely been title contenders each season, in 2017 a new school sought to join the championship crowd. When Kent Briggs took over at Cherokee in 2014, the Braves were coming off of a 0-11 season and a roster of barely thirty players. The rebuilding process was slow, but it eventually paid off for the Cherokee faithful. Over the next few seasons, the Braves improved their record, even posting a winning record for the first time in eight years in 2016. When the 2017 season started, Briggs knew that senior leadership from four-year starters Tye Mintz and Byron Locust could be the determining factor in making a deep playoff run. Four months later, the Braves were celebrating a 21-13 win in the state championship game. With plenty of talent returning this season, the Smoky Mountain Conference race will be one of the closest in Western North Carolina.

What impact will increased skill development have on teams this fall?

One change that the NCHSAA made at their winter meeting last year was altering the guidelines regarding skill development for football. Teams may now have an unlimited number of players at skill development sessions instead of a fixed number as in the past. While these up to ninety-minute sessions are voluntary, coaches are only able to supervise and not "coach up" technique. Contact is not allowed nor is scrimmaging another team. While some coaches see this as a step in the right direction, others would like to see it take further and allow them to get inexperienced players more reps or use the time to install new offensive and defensive schemes. An athletic trainer or EMT has to be on site if the players are wearing pads and helmets. For coaches hoping this will give their players a leg up on the football season, 2018 will be the litmus test on how effective the new change will be.

Can Duplin County repeat its magical 2017 season?

Duplin County has four high schools. In 2017, three of the schools appeared in state title games with Wallace-Rose Hill winning the 2A title, its fourth in a row and sixth in the last decade. North Duplin played for the 1A crown and East Duplin lost by only two points in the 2AA game. Traditional football power James Kenan was the only school to not make a title game last year. While East Duplin graduated over 3000 yards worth of rushing from this past season, look for new faces in the backfield like Laquan Brown to put up monster numbers in the East Central Conference in 2018. Wallace-Rose Hill's Kevin Motsinger will look to offensive returners Michael Basden and Kameron Donaldson to try and match last year's 44 points per game average. Hugh Martin's North Duplin Rebels should be the favorites to repeat in the 1A Carolina Conference with the biggest test probably coming from Lakewood on October 15th.

Reach out on Twitter or Facebook to chat about these top questions and others high school and college football topics in North Carolina.

A Way Too Early Look at College Football Bowl Games

College football teams reported to training camp this week which means it's not too early to start talking about bowl games. As with the case over the last four seasons, the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings will advance to two semifinal bowl games with the winners advancing to the national championship game the following week. The 2018 semifinals will be held at the Orange Bowl (Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Fl.) and the Cotton Bowl (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Tx.) with the winners meeting at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Photo Credit: Ted Gangi (CollegePressBox)
North Carolina teams competed in four different bowls, winning all four. Sun Belt co-champion Appalachian State shut out the MAC's Toledo 34-0 in the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Duke also defeated a MAC opponent, Northern Illinois, in Detroit's Quick Lane Bowl by a score of 36-14. The Belk Bowl was a shootout between Wake Forest and Texas A&M with the Demon Deacons prevailing 5-52. The NC State Wolfpack wrapped up bowl action for NC teams with a 52-31 win over Arizona State in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
Photo Credit: Ted Gangi (CollegePressBox)
Each conference has specific bowl tie-ins. Teams from North Carolina compete in four different conferences, the ACC, American, Conference USA, and the Sun Belt. The highest-ranked Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) team in the College Football Playoff rankings will automatically be placed in one of the New Year's Six Bowls. Bowl matchups will be released on Selection Sunday in December. Teams gain eligibility if they finish their season with a non-losing record. If not enough teams qualify, the following criteria are used.

1. Teams finishing 6-6 with one win against an FCS team
2. 6-6 teams with two wins over FCS schools
3. Teams that finish 6-7 a loss in their conference championship game
4. 6-7 teams that normally play a 13-team schedule
5. FCS teams who are in the final year of the two-year FBS transition process
6. 5-7 teams that have in order of their Academic Progress Rate (APR) score

2018 College Football Bowl Schedule

DateBowlConference Partners
Sat, Dec 15Gildan New Mexico BowlMountain West/Conference USA
AutoNation Cure BowlAmerican/Sun Belt
Las Vegas BowlMountain West/Pac-12
Raycom Media Camellia BowlMAC/Sun Belt
R+L Carriers New Orleans BowlSun Belt/Conference USA
Tue, Dec 18Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton BowlAmerican/Conference USA
Wed, Dec 19Frisco BowlAmerican/At-Large
Thu, Dec 20Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla BowlAmerican/ACC or Conference USA
Fri, Dec 21Bahamas BowlMAC/Conference USA
Famous Idaho Potato BowlMountain West/MAC
Sat, Dec 22Birmingham BowlSEC/American
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces BowlBig 12/American
Dollar General BowlMAC/Sun Belt
Hawai'I BowlMountain West/Conference USA
Wed, Dec 26Heart of Dallas BowlBig Ten/Conference USA
Quick Lane BowlACC or Notre Dame/Big Ten
Cactus BowlBig 12/Pac-12
Thu, Dec 27Walk-On's Independence BowlACC or Notre Dame/SEC
New Era Pinstripe BowlACC or Notre Dame/Big Ten
Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas BowlBig 12/SEC
Fri, Dec 28Franklin American Mortgage Music City BowlACC or Big Ten/SEC
Camping World BowlACC or Notre Dame/Big 12
NOVA Home Loans Arizona BowlMountain West/Sun Belt
Valero Alamo BowlBig 12/Pac-12
Sat, Dec 29Chick-fil-A Peach BowlAt-Large/At-Large [New Year's Six]
Belk BowlACC or Notre Dame/SEC
Capital One Orange BowlCFP Semifinal [New Year's Six]
Goodyear Cotton BowlCFP Semifinal [New Year's Six]
Mon, Dec 31Military Bowl Presented by Northwest GrummanACC or Notre Dame/American
San Francisco BowlPac-12/Big 10
Hyundai Sun BowlACC or Notre Dame/Pac-12
AutoZone Liberty BowlBig 12/SEC
SDCCU Holiday BowlBig Ten/Pac-12
TaxSlayer Gator BowlACC or Big Ten or Notre Dame/SEC
Tue, Jan 1Outback BowlBig Ten/SEC
Citrus BowlBig Ten/SEC
PlayStation Fiesta BowlAt-Large/At-Large [New Year's Six]
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwest MutualBig Ten/Pac-12 [New Year's Six]
Allstate Sugar BowlBig 12/SEC [New Year's Six]
Mon, Jan 7CFP National Championship Presented by AT&TSemifinal Winners

Wingate Picked to Finish Second in SAC, Land 10 Preseason All-Conference Spots

ROCK HILL, SC - The defending South Atlantic Conference champion Wingate University Bulldogs have been picked to finish second in the league's preseason poll, voted on by the conference's head coaches. The SAC preseason poll was released Wednesday morning, with the Bulldogs finishing three points behind first-place Carson-Newman.

The Eagles are the preseason favorites, collecting 52 points and four first-place votes, followed closely by Wingate with 49 points and three first-place votes. Catawba and Newberry follow, with Tusculum checking in at number five and receiving one first-place vote. Lenoir-Rhyne is sixth, with Limestone and Mars Hill tying for seventh with 20 votes.

Wingate is coming off a historic 2017 season, finishing 9-2 overall with a 6-1 record in league play. The Bulldogs got off to their best start in program history, winning their first nine games of the year. Wingate was ranked as high as 12th in the AFCA top 25, the highest ranking in program history, while also checking in at number one in the official NCAA Division II region rankings for the first time in program history. The Bulldogs start the 2018 season ranked 24th in the College Football America preseason top 30.

Wingate earned its second NCAA Division II playoff bid in program history in 2017, while also hosting a playoff game for the second time ever and first since 2010. The Bulldogs fell to West Florida in the opener, who went on to play in the national championship game. Wingate finished the season ranked 24th in the AFCA top 25.

The Bulldogs return plenty of firepower from last year's championship team, including 10 players who earned preseason All-SAC honors when the teams were announced Thursday morning, with five players earning first-team accolades. Junior All-American BJ Muckelvene leads the way, earning first-team honors as a wide receiver and a return specialist. Offensive lineman Connor Baroniunas also earns first-team honors on the offensive side, with defensive lineman Auntrell Mack, linebacker Robbie Wallace and punter Christopher Birozes earning first-team accolades on the defensive side. Wide receiver JT Stokes earns second-team preseason All-SAC honors, along with offensive lineman Austin May and long snapper Tucker Mullis. Defensive lineman Cardell Rawlings earns second-team honors on the defensive side, along with defensive back Kam Johnson.

Muckelvene earned second-team All-American honors from the AFCA during his sophomore season in 2017. He led the SAC in punt returns (23.7 yards per return) and punt return touchdowns (three). On the NCAA charts, Muckelvene finished second in punt return touchdowns. He had punt returns for scores against Johnson C. Smith (73 yards), Carson-Newman (63) and Newberry (85). Muckelvene also had 14 kick-off returns for 287 yards. Muckelvene caught 23 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns while rushing 16 times for 232 yards and one score.

Baroniunas earned second-team All-SAC accolades during 2017. He helped the Bulldogs finish second in the conference in rushing yards, averaging 212.8 yards per contest. Wingate finished fourth in total yards per game. Baroniunas started all 11 games at right guard for the SAC champion Bulldogs in 2017.

Mack earned first team all-conference accolades in 2017. He piled up 46 tackles on the season, with 5.5 tackles for loss and one sack. He added four quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery, while also forcing two fumbles. Mack collected 13 tackles and forced two fumbles in the victory over Carson-Newman.

Wallace led the conference with 9.5 tackles per game and was the only player in the league with over 100 tackles, notching 104 on the season to earn second-team All-SAC and All-Region accolades. Wallace added 6.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks with four QB hurries and two forced fumbles. He also had seven passes defended, six breakups and an interception. Wallace collected double-digit tackles in seven of 11 contests, highlighted by a 15-tackle effort in the UNC Pembroke victory including a pair of tackles for loss.

Birozes earned Academic All-America honors for the second time in 2017, after earning recognition in 2015. Birozes averaged 39 yards per punt on 43 punts last season. He placed 15 punts inside the 20 while notching four punts of at least 50 yards including a season-best 61 yarder in the NCAA playoff game against West Florida.

Stokes earns preseason all-conference accolades for the first time in his career. He finished second on the team with 24 catches, while also finishing second on the squad with 316 receiving yards. Stokes also had seven rushes for 59 yards and a touchdown. He had a season-long 67-yard reception in the Newberry win while notching back-to-back four-reception games against Limestone and Tusculum.

May earns second-team preseason all-conference honors. The senior started all 11 games at left tackles for the SAC champion Bulldogs last season. He has started every game during his Bulldog career. In addition to helping Wingate finish second in the SAC in rushing yards last season, May and the offensive line allowed just 15 sacks in 10 regular season contests.

Rawlings ranked third on the team with 54 tackles last season. He ranked second on the squad with 8.0 tackles for loss with a team-best 4.5 sacks on the year. Rawlings ranked in the top 10 in the league in both categories while also piling up a team-best 13 quarterback hurries to go along with two forced fumbles. Rawlings had 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in the Newberry victory.

Johnson ranked fourth on the team with 47 tackles in 2017, earning second-team All-SAC honors. He collected 5.0 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Johnson added four passes defended, two break-ups and a pair of interceptions. He had seven tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception in the Mars Hill win, while collecting a tackle for loss and interception in the following game against Newberry.

Mullis appeared in every game as the long snapper as a true freshman in 2017. He did not have a bad snap in 11 games, while the 'Dogs also did not allow a blocked punt all season. A SAC Commissioner's Honor Roll student, Mullis is also a member of the Wingate track & field team. 

Wingate will open the 2018 season with back-to-back home games under the lights at Irwin Belk Stadium. The Bulldogs kick things off Thursday night, Aug. 30, hosting Johnson C. Smith at 7 p.m. on ESPN3. Wingate hosts Fayetteville State the following Saturday, Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. on ESPN3. The Bulldogs open league play the following weekend, traveling to Carson-Newman to face the Eagles at 7 p.m. The SAC home opener is the following weekend, Sept. 22 when the 'Dogs host Lenoir-Rhyne on Family Weekend at 6 p.m.

Carolina Gridiron Preseason Top 15 Announced

Carolina Gridiron ranks the top fifteen teams in each classification weekly during the football season. During the season, teams are ranked based on a number of factors including strength of schedule, wins, and quality losses. With a roster that includes four Top-100 recruits, defending 4AA runner-up Mallard Creek takes the top spot in 4A while 3A #1 Charlotte Catholic is looking for its third title in four years. Hibriten, coming off its first state title, is looking to repeat in 2A. Defending 1AA Tarboro holds the top spot in the 1A classification. Interact with us on Twitter (@NCGridiron and @NCGridironNews) and let us know your thoughts using the hashtag #CGTop15.