Surprise, surprise.

Carthage, the defending Class 4A Division I state champion, will begin the season as our top-ranked 4A team at large. We think the program has a very real chance to repeat.

Eleven starters are back from the championship team, including Texas running back commitment Keaontay Ingram. The Longhorns' prized recruit is regarded as the state's best senior running back prospect on the heels of 2,224 rushing yards, another 492 receiving yards and 32 total touchdowns through a 15-game junior campaign.

But if it was only Ingram, the Bulldogs would only be considered a good team.

Name a position group at Carthage with exception to quarterback, there's an established playmaker back to mentor fresher faces.

Receiver Dewaylon Ingram, defensive lineman Darrian Ingram, linebacker Mykel Gates and cornerback Mehki Colbert all have at least one college football scholarship opportunity ahead of their senior seasons. Offensive lineman Jesse Pierce proved his value last season in helping Keaontay Ingram hit his gaudy numbers.

Throw in linebacker Jose DeJulian, defensive lineman Montario Wilson and offensive tackle Austin Gray for good measure.

And that quarterback issue?

Most recent signal-caller Kason Davis finally proved it doesn't take a multi-year starter to win a state championship at Carthage, which won its fifth title under head coach Scott Surratt last season.

The Bulldogs have a loaded schedule all the way around to prepare for their next playoff push. Six of its 10 regular season opponents also begin the season ranked in our polls.

Carthage's season begins with No. 10 Gladewater. No. 4 Liberty-Eylau follows in Week 2. Whitehouse, ranked in our Class 6A/5A poll, comes in Week 3. No. 2 Gilmer appears Week 4.

District 9-4A Division I won't be a joke for the Bulldogs either. Henderson is the poll's fourth-ranked team and Kilgore is ranked third.

There are plenty of opportunities for Carthage to prove us right.

ETSN.fm Class 4A Preseason Poll