Football season will not have as many changes as the next one when Joplin enters the Central Ozark Conference Large Division, the Big 8 Conference expands to 14 teams and two divisions, and the fall sports season begins a week later.

Football season will not have as many changes as the next one when Joplin enters the Central Ozark Conference Large Division, the Big 8 Conference expands to 14 teams and two divisions, and the fall sports season begins a week later.
However, four new head coaches at their respective schools — Leon Miller at Neosho, Curtis Horton at Diamond, Kellen Hoover at McDonald County, and Broc Wolfe at East Newton — lends itself to enough change and intrigue to hold us over.
Neosho — coming off a 6-5 season and back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2008-09 — opens August 18 on the road against Branson. The Wildcats get two of their longest road trips right out of the way in the first two weeks, traveling the next week to Ozark.
Diamond — fresh off the first Spring River Valley Conference football title in school history — opens up defense of its conference title on the road against Pierce City.
McDonald County makes the longest trip of any of the teams on opening night, driving approximately 3 1/2 hours to Salem for Hoover’s first game as head coach.
East Newton will also venture away from home, opening against Lighthouse Christian.
Seneca, under second-year head coach Ryan McFarland, opens at home against Nevada. The Indians have the only home game in our coverage area.
Here’s some of the other games of interest during the regular season:
• Nixa at Neosho, Sept. 15 — The last three games between Neosho and Nixa have been epic contests decided in the final minute.
Two seasons ago, Neosho earned a 35-28 win over then state-ranked Nixa on Homecoming at Bob Anderson. This was unarguably the signature win of the Dustin Baldwin Era at Neosho and the one that that season’s group of seniors repeatedly named as their favorite moment.
Last season, the shoe was on the other foot — twice — as Nixa defeated Neosho 31-28 on the Eagles’ Homecoming in September and then defeated the Wildcats 38-31 in two overtimes in the district playoffs, ending Neosho’s season.
• East Newton at Seneca, Sept. 15 — Last season, East Newton ended lengthy conference and overall losing streaks with a 14-0 Homecoming win over the Indians on a muddy Don Johnston Field.
Revenge might be on the mind of the Indians when they host the Patriots at Tom Hodge Field at Earl Campbell Stadium.
Generally, teams do better in the second season of a head coach after establishing and learning systems in the first season.
That will be seen with the Indians and McFarland.
Additionally, two key returning Indian players participated in all-star related festivities: Gavin Dunnam represented Team USA in an Under-18 national game against Team Canada back in late January and Cole Hatfield competed at the Blue-Grey Super Combine at AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys) in late June.
• Lockwood at Diamond, Sept. 15 — The Wildcats earned a big 47-22 win last season over Lockwood, one of the perennial powers in the Spring River Valley Conference.
Granted, Diamond lost the next week to Sarcoxie and the SRVC became more convoluted. By the final week of the regular season, Diamond had already finished conference play with a single loss … then, Jasper defeated Lockwood 21-19 and Pierce City defeated Sarcoxie 42-28 to deliver the Wildcats their historic conference title.
Diamond and Lockwood will undoubtedly go a long way to determining this season’s SRVC champ.
September 15 looks to be an epic Friday night, with three games making this list.
• Neosho at Republic, Sept. 22 — The Wildcats meet up with their former head coach Dustin Baldwin for the first time since he took over the head coaching job at Republic.
Neosho beat up twice on a bruised and battered Republic team last season, both wins at Bob Anderson Stadium. The Wildcats have earned three wins in a row against the Tigers, including a 36-15 win in Republic late in the 2015 season.
Both teams will undoubtedly feature radically different offensive and defensive schemes from the previous season.
• Webb City at Neosho, Oct. 6 — The Wildcats came as close to the perennial conference and Class 4 power Cardinals as they have in several years last season, but fell 33-28 to Webb City in a game filled with turnovers. (Neosho lost 28-21 to Webb City in 2009.)
Webb City pulled away from Neosho in the second half two seasons ago, scoring 21 points in a brief span of the third quarter.
One has to go back to the 1999 season and the last win by Neosho over Webb City — 28-13 Neosho in the penultimate week of the regular season.
• East Newton at McDonald County, Oct. 6 — East Newton’s win over Seneca last season gave the Mustangs the distinction of having the longest losing streak in the Daily News coverage area.
Now, that streak stands at 16 games entering the season … McDonald County’s last win was 41-6 over East Newton in Week 4 of the 2015 season.
Last season’s game in Granby featured 90 points and over 900 yards of total offense with East Newton rushing for 551 yards during a 56-34 win.
• Neosho at Carthage, Oct. 13 — The Wildcats close out the regular season with their first-ever trip to the Tigers’ brand new stadium, the multi-million dollar facility closer to campus taking the place of historic K.E. Baker Stadium. The new stadium’s named David Haffner Stadium.
Last season, Carthage wrapped up its first COC Large title with a 35-21 win over the Wildcats in the regular season finale at Bob Anderson.
The Tigers also enter the season as the defending district champions.