The Jacksonville State Gamecocks have been on a remarkable tear through the Ohio Valley Conference. The program has not lost a conference game dating back to the 2013 season, and it is the overwhelming favorite to win the league once again in 2017.
Although the Gamecocks no longer have star quarterback Eli Jenkins, there is plenty of reason for optimism with the overall talent on this roster.
2016 Jacksonville State Football Season In Review
Jacksonville State once again dominated its competition in conference last season. Only Southeast Missouri came within single digits of this team, as it blitzed the other squads in the OVC.
Jenkins was the heartbeat of the offense in 2016. The dual-threat quarterback accounted for 3,091 yards and 24 touchdowns between his arm and his legs. His ability to make things happen with his feet kept many drives alive for the Gamecocks.
The team relied heavily on the run game. Jenkins, Josh Clemons and Roc Thomas each carried the ball over 100 times, with all three averaging at least five yards per carry. Clemons and Thomas were reliable when it came to holding onto the ball, too, with only one fumble between them in 283 carries.
The defense was lights out as well. The Gamecocks gave up the fourth-fewest yards at the FCS level, allowing just 18.3 points per game.
However, seemingly everything went wrong for the team in its stunning loss to Youngstown State in the postseason. Jenkins was awful, going just 6-of-26 passing with two interceptions, and the secondary was beat for two 70-yard pass plays. It was an unfortunate end to the season for the team that entered the playoffs ranked third in the nation.
2017 Jacksonville State Football Season Preview
Jenkins is gone, and his skills as a runner will be difficult to replace. Either Bryant Horn or Ole Miss transfer Kendrick Doss will replace him and try to follow the tough act.
Fortunately, the running game returns one of its biggest pieces in Thomas. He should see plenty of action now that he is the primary ball carrier.
Additionally, the defense is going to be one of the best in the nation once again. Eight starters are returning to a unit that is elite, including Darius Jackson and Marlon Bridges.
Jackson is already getting buzz as a potential high NFL Draft pick next year after a season in which he earned All-American honors and was named the OVC’s Defensive Player of the Year. He registered 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss and is expected to dominate once again.
As for Bridges, he was great in his freshman season as a hard-hitting safety. He picked off four passes and forced five fumbles on his way to being named the conference’s Freshman of the Year.
2017 Jacksonville State Football Schedule
August 26: Jacksonville State vs. Chattanooga (In Montgomery)
September 9: Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech
September 23: Jacksonville State vs. Liberty
September 30: Jacksonville State at Tennessee Tech
October 7: Jacksonville State at Austin Peay
October 14: Jacksonville State vs. Eastern Kentucky
October 21: Jacksonville State at Eastern Illinois
October 28: Jacksonville State vs. Southeast Missouri
November 4: Jacksonville State vs. Murray State
November 11: Jacksonville State at UT Martin
November 18: Jacksonville State vs. Tennessee State
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
Jacksonville State has a history of showing that it can hang with the big boys. Just two years ago, the Gamecocks almost knocked off Auburn and hung with LSU for 30 minutes last season. Georgia Tech better be ready when this team comes to Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets will be on a short week following a Monday night game against Tennessee, while the Gamecocks will have two weeks to prepare. Paul Johnson’s squad has a real chance of being upset.
The non-conference slate is harrowing, but the Gamecocks have two weeks to prepare for each game. The showdown against Chattanooga on a neutral site should be a good first test for the passing game, as the Mocs have one of the best defensive backs in the country in Lucas Webb.
The tilt against Liberty will be a great time to take Jacksonville State in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests. The Gamecocks will have plenty of time to prepare for Liberty’s dynamic attack and should be able to grind out a win.