Non-scholarship Jacksonville awaits playoff fate

Jacksonville has a nine-game winning streak, a share of the

Pioneer Football League title and its highest ranking in school

history.

The Dolphins (10-1) also are in the top-10 nationally in several

offensive and defensive categories.

Is it enough to get them into the Football Championship Series

playoffs? The non-scholarship program will find out Sunday when the

postseason bracket is released.

”We’ve done everything we could do,” coach Kerwin Bell said.

”This team has played at a very high level and I think we have

proven we can play with any team in the country.”

Ten teams will get automatic berths for winning their

conferences. The Ohio Valley and Big Sky conferences likely will

get additional bids, leaving about 14 teams vying for six spots.

Many of those teams play each other this weekend.

The Dolphins are off this weekend, allowing them to sit back and

watch things unfold.

No matter what happens, players and coaches feel like they’ve

got the credentials. Jacksonville shared the PFL title with Dayton

and is averaging 486 yards and 42 points a game, both tops in the

FCS.

Josh McGregor ranks first in passing efficiency, and the team is

fifth in turnover margin, seventh in passing offense and 10th in

sacks.

Nonetheless, the Dolphins are seemingly hampered by being a

non-scholarship program. Athletic director Alan Verlander believes

the private school with an enrollment of about 3,200 faces an

uphill battle because of the non-scholarship label.

”It’s a huge battle,” Verlander said. ”I do think there is a

label put on us, unfortunately. Just because we’re not scholarship

football doesn’t mean that we’re not investing a lot of dollars

into our program. Operationally, if you look at everything, we’re

making the investment that the top schools in FCS are making. It’s

hundred of thousands of dollars.

”If you take the financial aid the university is awarding, the

university is investing a decent amount of money into football.

Granted, the players have to qualify, there’s a set of criteria.

Nobody on our team is on a free ride.”

Knowing they needed to impress the selection committee comprised

of 11 FCS ADs, the Dolphins worked on style points all season. They

hammered Valparaiso 86-7 and thumped Morehead State 61-17 – both on

the road.

Their only loss came to then top-ranked Appalachian State, 45-14

– and the Dolphins trailed 17-14 in the third quarter. They’ve been

ranked as high as No. 20 in the FCS coaches and media polls.

”The big thing is you’d hope (the selection committee) would

look at the whole body of work,” Bell said. ”If you look at what

we’ve accomplished in our conference and go to what we’ve done

outside the conference, I think it shows favorable that we can

compete at that level. I think it would be a great story to have a

team that can legitimately compete on the scholarship level.”

The only regret Bell, a former quarterback at Florida, has is

the Appalachian State game in which he says two missed passes

foiled the Dolphins. One had a Jacksonville receiver behind the

defense and the second was a miss that ”was

wide open,” Bell said.

Two completions and the Dolphins probably would have been up

28-17 in the second half, which might have changed that the outcome

of the game and the postseason.

”If we do not get in and we’re 10-1, I’ll be highly

disappointed,” Verlander said. ”It’s a chance to create a

perception and a reality that you are now competing for a national

championship.”

He remains hopeful as the selection process nears.

”They know who we are,” he said about the committee. ”They

know our stats. We’re on the charts. It becomes, ‘Are we on the

charts high enough?’ It’s convincing some of those people to take

the label off the non-scholarship and we’re just an FCS football

team.”