The Bulldogs experienced a learning curve season last year and still finished the year with a minority share of the District 9-4A Division I title and an appearance in the area round.

With 15 starters back, expectations are back to normal in Carthage. Scott Surratt's team checks in at No. 5 in the Class 4A Preseason Poll, ahead of league opponents No. 6 Chapel Hill and No. 9 Henderson.

There's a lot to like about this team.

Quarterback Jarod Blissett, a senior, is back for a second season under center and will be just one of eight critical players from last season's offense back for more in 2015. He'll have plenty of weapons at his disposal, headlined by senior receiver Jakeldric Jackson and senior tight end Marquise Guinn.

Ravodney Hardy, another senior, will be a key at running back and is someone a set of up-and-coming runners can look up to as they continue to get seasoning.

Senior offensive tackle Cagan Baldree ought to be a big asset on a typically strong Carthage offensive line. Brandon Carlson adds a punch within the interior of the line at guard.

Losing linebacker James Marshall to graduation and a career at Texas A&M-Commerce hurts, but the Bulldogs defense is in almost equally good preseason standing with seven returning starters.

Defensive line should be a particular strength with end Jarod McLin in the fold. He will begin his senior season with offers from Louisiana-Lafayette and UTSA.

The secondary has a slew of athletic defensive backs to throw at opponents while an overhauled linebackers rotation will sharpen its teeth through a rough all-encompassing schedule.

Carthage's non-district slate is no joke. It opens with a larger Hallsville school and will continue a Class 5A competition circuit of Lindale and Nacogdoches before dropping back down for dangerous meetings against Gladewater and Gilmer in consecutive weeks.

Carthage, Kilgore, and Palestine make up the remainder of the district slate alongside Chapel Hill and Henderson. There's a long way to go, but the Bulldogs' schedule should have it ready to go for another playoff run.

2015 Carthage Bulldogs Football Schedule

Aug. 28HallsvilleL 39-38 (OT)
Sept. 4at LindaleW 24-20
Sept. 11at NacogdochesW 28-25
Sept. 18GladewaterW 29-28
Sept. 26vs. Gilmer (at Lobo Stadium, Longview)L 18-15
Oct. 2OPEN
Oct. 9*at HendersonW 35-15
Oct. 16*at KilgoreL 31-28
Oct. 23*BrownsboroW 42-14
Oct. 30*at PalestineW 48-14
Nov. 6*Chapel HillW 34-14
Nov. 14(BI-DISTRICT): vs. Bridge CityW 44-20
Nov. 20(AREA): vs. StaffordW 34-0
Nov. 27(REGIONAL): vs. NavasotaW 55-48
Dec. 4(QUARTERFINAL): vs. SilsbeeW 56-40
Dec. 11(SEMIFINAL) vs. Waco La VegaL 39-3 Class 4A Preseason Poll