Grass, Gamecocks hope big crowd awaits new FCS No. 1

(STATS) – John Grass was obviously disappointed that his Jacksonville State squad couldn’t pull off a stunner last weekend. The second-year coach might be even more peeved if he doesn’t see the stands packed for its home opener this weekend.

Though the Gamecocks (1-1) fell short of turning the college football world on its ear with their 27-20 overtime loss to then-No. 6 Auburn, they climbed five spots to the top of the STATS FCS Poll after introducing the rest of the country to a program already known to those on their own level as one of the best in the country.

"Our university could not have paid for the advertisement they got (last) Saturday," said Grass, who is 11-3 as coach of his alma mater.

JSU won 21 games the last two seasons and its No. 1 ranking is its first in any poll. It is also the first for an Ohio Valley Conference team since Tennessee State – coincidentally, the Gamecocks’ opponent Saturday – held the top spot in 1999.

However, the team has no interest in hearing about moral victories or basking in the praise associated with such a lofty ranking. What it wants – its coach especially – is for those close to home to realize that something special is happening on its Alabama campus of roughly 8,600 students located some 75 miles east of Birmingham.

"We’re challenging our fans to sell this place out (Saturday)," said the 47-year-old Grass. "I think these guys deserve to sell this stadium out this week. We have a good fan base. It’s not an unattainable goal for us."

Though the Gamecocks traditionally rank among the top 10 in annual FCS attendance, they’ve never sold out the 24,000-seat Burgess-Snow Field. A school-record 22,186 fans watched them take on Chattanooga one week after upsetting Mississippi 49-48 in double overtime in September 2010.

Grass believes that can happen again, and is more than happy to play the role of public relations flack to promote Saturday’s "Red Out."

"We have tailgates, it’s a family environment, we have a great band," he said. "If you want to see a great band, come see them. Our cheerleaders do a great job, we have some pretty good ballerinas and our football team plays good football.

"It’s worthy of coming and buying a ticket and I promise you this, you can get a ticket a lot cheaper than you can at one of those other two schools down the road, and it’s a lot less time getting in and out."

That’s for sure. Seats will run $10 or $15 apiece for Saturday’s FCS clash, while tickets available only on the secondary market for second-ranked Alabama’s game with No. 15 Ole Miss two hours away in Tuscaloosa start at $100.

"(In) this state it’s just the way it is – at birth you’ve got to be an Alabama or Auburn guy," Grass added. "Well, that’s not the case. You can be a Gamecock. If you’re an alumnus here, your loyalty ought to lie with our university first.

"We showed we can play on that stage and we’re just as good as they are and our guys deserve that respect. If you’re a JSU alumni you should be in those stands Saturday watching these guys play and not just when they go play on that (FBS) stage."

On the field, the reigning OVC champions will try for a 10th consecutive league victory. Junior Josh Barge earned league offensive player of the week honors after recording a school-record 14 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown against Auburn.

And don’t expect the Gamecocks to take a Tennessee State squad that’s trying go 3-0 for the second time in four seasons lightly.

"No one is satisfied," Barge said. "We can look at this as a positive saying, ‘We don’t like that taste in our mouth that we left Auburn with.’ We can look forward as motivation. … I feel that’s what the team is going to do."

Ideally, with plenty of witnesses.