Jacksonville State facing challenge in OVC

CRAIG HALEY (STATS FCS Senior Editor=)
The Associated Press

(STATS) - And still undisputed FCS champion of "I told you so" … Jacksonville State

The Gamecocks remain the team so many people across the subdivision pile on after any and every loss. There's been two this season for the nation's No. 17-ranked team, the first to Southeastern Louisiana out of conference and the more important one to Austin Peay in an Ohio Valley Conference opener.

Criticism of the program has been born out of early playoff losses in recent years, and nobody has been more disappointed than the Gamecocks, but the postseason exits too often overshadow the great success, including:

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- 89 wins, fourth-most in the FCS in the 2010s;

- five straight outright conference titles, something no other FCS team can claim;

- a quarterfinal-round playoff appearance in 2013 and a national runner-up finish in 2015 - in a decade when only three FCS programs have won the national title;

- 80 straight weeks in the national rankings;

This season, Jacksonville State (4-2, 1-1) has a challenge ahead if it is going to end the decade with another OVC title. The Gamecocks are looking up in the loss column of the standings to UT Martin, Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri. There's little margin for error in the particularly deep race, especially with Austin Peay holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Gamecocks.

"We feel like we did not play well the two times that we got beat on the road, but we got beat by two really good football teams," sixth-year coach John Grass said. "Not to discredit them, I don't feel like we played our 'A' game. and I say it all the time, anytime in this league, in the OVC, whether you're on the road or at home, if you don't bring the 'A' game, you're going to get beat."

Already 4-0 at home, Jacksonville State seeks to earn its first road win Saturday at Eastern Illinois. The Gamecocks are plus-4 in turnover margin in the home wins and negative-5 in the road losses, so a lot has fallen on junior quarterback Zerrick Cooper throwing interceptions.

But having some youthful offensive and defensive linemen have had a big impact as well. Opponents are rushing for 174.7 yards per game, the most against the Gamecocks since 2013. Even worse, their offense is rushing for 112.5 yards per game, the lowest average since 1998.

The Gamecocks have started slowly in games with a negative-41 point differential in the first quarter, but finished strong with a plus-61 point differential in the fourth quarter.

They hope the same will be said about their OVC season. If they go on to win another title, they might say, "I told you so."

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