(STATS) – They're sitting out there for top-ranked Jacksonville State.
The FCS playoffs.
The No. 1 seed.
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And so much pressure.
The Gamecocks have been No. 1 for nine straight weeks, and during that time, their play has suggested they will perform better in the playoffs than many past teams from the Ohio Valley Conference. The list of struggles includes their team just last year, when they claimed the No. 3 seed but were knocked out in their first game at home by Sam Houston State.
This year, JSU (8-1) will finish the regular season with two home games against teams with losing records, Southeast Missouri State and Murray State. It appears, the Gamecocks will get to 10-1, including a perfect 10-0 against FCS opponents, and gain the top seed and a bye in the first round of the playoffs, jumping into action with the round of 16 on Dec. 5.
They wouldn't have to leave Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium unless they head to Frisco, Texas, for the national championship game.
But they're not thinking ahead. They haven't all season.
Each step, from an season-opening Top 10 win at Chattanooga to a near-miss in overtime at Auburn to facing some good and not-so-good opponents in the OVC, the Gamecocks have prepared themselves well by winning in different fashion and against opponents that have different styles of play.
“I think you see about everything in this league,” coach John Grass said. “One of the best things about our league is I think everybody has a pretty good quarterback. We saw a good one in (Eastern Illinois' Jalen) Whitlow (last) Saturday, we saw a good one the week before, we'll see a good one this week.
“Our league is very multiple. That helps prepare you. Being in the game we were in Saturday (a 3-3 halftime tie that became a 24-3 win at Eastern Illinois) definitely helped our football team. I think it had been a long time we had been in a tight ballgame. You need that type of game.”
Jacksonville State ranks second in the FCS in total defense (257.6 ypg) and sixth in total offense (490.2 ypg), so it's been excelling on both sides of the ball.
But what the Gamecocks also should draw upon in this year's playoffs are the upperclassmen who were a part of the 2013 team that won two playoffs games, including one on the road, before they fell at Eastern Washington in the national quarterfinals. Prior to that season, an OVC team hadn't won a playoff game since 2000, so that factor looms over the conference.
Some of this year's standouts, including quarterback Eli Jenkins, running back Troymaine Pope, wide receiver Josh Barge and safety Jermaine Hough, were key players on the 2013 team. Grass, their second-year head coach, was the offensive coordinator.
While there's no getting around how an OVC team with the No. 1 seed would seem precarious, the Gamecocks have done nothing but suggest this is their best team on the FCS level, and it's prepared for a deep run in the playoffs.
FCS GAME OF THE WEEK=
The Matchup: No. 10 Eastern Washington (6-3, 5-1 Big Sky) at No. 22 Montana (5-4, 4-2)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Montana
Series: Montana leads 26-15-1 (most recent meeting: Eastern Washington won 37-20 at home in 2014 FCS second-round playoff)
The Skinny: The added appeal to this rivalry matchup is how the losing team will face a bad spot in a deep Big Sky Conference. A fifth loss would likely take Montana out of the running for an FCS playoff spot. Eastern Washington, which is seeking a fourth straight conference title and sits in second place a game behind Southern Utah, would be in with a win, but a loss would mean the Eagles would have to beat nationally ranked Portland State on Nov. 21.
Eastern Washington needs to shake off last week's home loss to Northern Arizona and play with a lead, which would keep the Montana crowd from rocking. The Grizzlies are tough against the pass, so EWU running backs Jabari Wilson and Jalen Moore have to eat up yards to take some pressure off quarterback Jordan West. Middle linebacker Miquiyah Zamora has played well on a vulnerable defense, which will be spread out by the Montana receivers. The Eagles, despite being 6-3, have been outscored 344-334 this season.
Montana probably doesn't have an answer for EWU's Cooper Kupp (100 receptions, 18 TDs), but the Grizzlies rank second in the Big Sky in pass defense. Earlier this week, cornerback J.R. Nelson became the third different Grizzly to be named Big Sky defensive player of the week this season. The defensive line, led by end Tyrone Holmes, will enjoy not having to chase around former EWU quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. again. One of the reasons Montana has had success with three different QBs (sophomore Makena Simis is now at the controls) is the talented receiving corps, led by NFL prospect Jamaal Jones. But the key may be running back John Nguyen eating up yards.
Prediction: Eastern Washington has won the last four meetings, but Montana is the hungrier team considering what a loss means. Montana, 28-27.
ALL THE PICKS=
Last Week's Record: 44-15 (.746)
Overall Record: 511-128 (.800)
(All Times ET; X-Predicted Winner)
SATURDAY, NOV. 14
Sacred Heart (4-5, 1-3 NEC) at X-Bryant (5-4, 3-1), noon
X-San Diego (7-2, 5-1 Pioneer) at Davidson (1-8, 0-6), noon
X-No. 16 Fordham (8-2, 4-1 Patriot) at Georgetown (4-5, 2-2), noon – Fordham running back Chase Edmonds, the No. 2 rusher in the FCS, has been under 100 rushing yards in back-to-back games. The Rams would clinch at least a share of the Patriot League title with a win and a Colgate loss to Lehigh.
Penn (5-3, 4-1 Ivy) at X-No. 12 Harvard (8-0, 5-0), noon – The unbeaten Crimson, who would clinch at least a share of their third straight Ivy League title with a victory, have won 16 in a row over league opponents. The four longer streaks in Ivy history, ranging from 17 to 20 games, are all held by Penn squads.
Presbyterian (1-8, 0-4 Big South) at X-Monmouth (3-6, 1-3), noon
Robert Morris (3-6, 1-3 NEC) at X-Saint Francis (5-3, 3-1), noon
X-Central Connecticut State (4-6, 3-2 NEC) at Wagner (0-9, 0-4), noon
X-No. 23 Dartmouth (7-1, 4-1 Ivy) at Brown (4-4, 2-3), 12:30 p.m. – The Big Green's senior-dominated defense has forced an Ivy League-best 21 turnovers in eight games, led by free safety David Caldwell with four interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Meanwhile, Brown has coughed up a league-high 25 turnovers.
Columbia (2-6, 1-4 Ivy) at X-Cornell (0-8, 0-5), 12:30 p.m.
Elon (3-6, 2-4 CAA) at X-Maine (3-6, 3-3), 12:30 p.m.
Stony Brook (3-5, 1-5 CAA) at X-Rhode Island (1-8, 1-5), 12:30 p.m.
X-Drake (4-5, 3-3 Pioneer) at Butler (5-4, 3-3), 1 p.m.
X-Jacksonville (7-2, 4-2 Pioneer) at Campbell (5-5, 3-4), 1 p.m.
Lehigh (5-4, 3-1 Patriot) at X-Colgate (5-4, 4-0), 1 p.m.
Marist (5-4, 4-2 Pioneer) at X-Dayton (9-0, 6-0), 1 p.m.
X-North Carolina Central (6-3, 5-1 MEAC) at Howard (1-8, 1-5), 1 p.m.
Florida A&M (1-8, 1-5 MEAC) at X-Morgan State (3-5, 3-3), 1 p.m.
X-South Carolina State (5-4, 4-2 MEAC) at Norfolk State (3-6, 3-3), 1 p.m.
Delaware State (0-9, 0-6 MEAC) at X-No. 19 North Carolina A&T (8-1, 6-0), 1 p.m. – A&T can clinch at least a share of its second straight MEAC title with a likely victory, but the Celebration Bowl bid figures to come down to Nov. 21 action. The Aggies are glad they can ride on the shoulders of three-time 1,000-yard rusher Tarik Cohen because they're 8-1 despite having a 48.1 pass completion percentage (103 of 214).
Yale (5-3, 2-3 Ivy) at X-Princeton (5-3, 2-3), 1 p.m.
X-Hampton (5-5, 4-3 MEAC) at Savannah State (1-7, 1-5), 1 p.m.
Western Illinois (4-5, 3-3 Missouri Valley) at X-Indiana State (4-5, 2-4), 1:05 p.m.
Mercer (4-5, 1-4 Southern) at X-Furman (4-5, 2-3), 1:30 p.m.
East Tennessee State (1-8) at X-Gardner-Webb (3-6), 1:30 p.m.
Towson (6-3, 4-2 CAA) at X-No. 7 William & Mary (7-2, 5-1), 1:30 p.m. – After it seemed like the 2013 FCS runner-up disappeared last season (going 4-8), Towson is back in a big way. But the Tigers' strong run defense faces a tough assignment in William & Mary's 1-2 combo of Kendell Anderson and Mikal Abdul-Saboor.
Samford (4-5, 1-4 Southern) at X-Wofford (4-5, 2-3), 1:30 p.m.
Liberty (5-4, 2-2 Big South) at X-No. 11 Charleston Southern (8-1, 5-0), 2 p.m. – The playoff-bound Buccaneers hope to put the clamps on the Big South's new all-time passing yardage leader, Liberty senior Josh Woodrum (9,824 yards).
Kennesaw State (6-3, 2-2 Big South) at X-No. 4 Coastal Carolina (8-1, 3-1), 2 p.m. – While Woodrum has become No. 1 in passing yardage in Big South history, Coastal's Alex Ross should beat him to the conference's career record for total offense. Former Charleston Southern QB Collin Drafts had 10,571 total yards, with Ross (10,435) and Woodrum (10,240) closing in.
No. 21 The Citadel (7-2, 6-0 Southern) at X-No. 8 Chattanooga (7-2, 5-1), 2 p.m. – This also was deserving of the FCS Game of the Week. The winner earns the Southern Conference's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, while the loser finishes up against an FBS opponent (The Citadel at South Carolina, Chattanooga at Florida State) and would have some concern over earning an at-large bid.
Southeast Missouri State (4-5, 3-2 OVC) at X-No. 1 Jacksonville State (8-1, 6-0), 2 p.m. – The top-ranked Gamecocks seek a 16th straight win against OVC competition, and it would clinch at least a share of a second straight conference title and the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
X-No. 24 Eastern Kentucky (5-4, 4-2 OVC) at Murray State (3-6, 2-4), 2 p.m. – This Bluegrass State rivalry turns 75 with EKU holding a 44-26-4 series lead. The visiting Colonels have no margin for error in their pursuit of an at-large playoff bid.
Northern Colorado (5-4, 3-4 Big Sky) at X-North Dakota (5-4, 3-3), 2 p.m.
X-No. 5 South Dakota State (7-2, 4-2 Missouri Valley) at South Dakota (5-4, 3-3), 2 p.m. – The winning coach, either South Dakota State's John Stiegelmeier or USD's Joe Glenn, may become the favorite for Missouri Valley coach of the year.
X-Alcorn State (5-3, 4-2 SWAC) at Texas Southern (3-5, 2-5), 2 p.m.
X-Morehead State (5-4, 4-2 Pioneer) at Valparaiso (1-7, 1-5), 2 p.m.
X-No. 2 North Dakota State (7-2, 5-1 Missouri Valley) at No. 20 Youngstown State (5-4, 3-3), 2 p.m. – YSU needs to win a big November game … well, here it is. Even with a redshirt freshman (Easton Stick) starting at quarterback, the Bison are again looking like, well, the Bison.
X-Southeastern Louisiana (4-5, 3-4 OVC) at Abilene Christian (2-7, 2-6), 3 p.m.
X-Prairie View A&M (6-2, 6-1 SWAC) at Alabama State (5-4, 5-3), 3 p.m.
X-Lamar (4-5, 3-4 Southland) at Incarnate Word (5-4, 4-3), 3 p.m.
X-No. 6 Illinois State (7-2, 5-1 Missouri Valley) at Southern Illinois (3-6, 2-4), 3 p.m. – The visiting Redbirds probably want to keep the game close because SIU is 0-6 in games decided by six or fewer points. Any pass to wide receiver Anthony Warrum seems to turn into six points as he's scored eight touchdowns over the Redbirds' last four games.
Ave Maria (4-6) at X-Stetson (2-7), 3 p.m.
Eastern Illinois (5-4, 5-1 OVC) at X-UT Martin (6-3, 5-1), 3 p.m.
X-No. 17 Northern Iowa (5-4, 3-3 Missouri Valley) at Missouri State (1-8, 0-6), 3:04 p.m. – In its three-game winning streak, UNI has allowed under two yards per carry – 195 yards on 101 attempts.
X-No. 25 Grambling State (7-2, 7-0 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-8, 0-7), 3:30 p.m. – Armed with their first national ranking since the final 2010 poll, the G-Men will clinch a spot in the SWAC Championship Game with an expected victory. All-purpose back Martez Carter has scored 13 touchdowns on rushes, receptions and kickoff returns, passed for a two-point conversion and kicked three extra points.
X-No. 14 James Madison (7-2, 4-2 CAA) at Delaware (3-6, 2-4), 3:30 p.m. – There's been a visit by ESPN's “College GameDay,” two straight losses and a bye since JMU last won a game on Oct. 17. The Dukes hope to get back on track against a Delaware squad that hasn't scored a touchdown in its last two games.
No. 9 Richmond (7-2, 5-1 CAA) at X-Villanova (5-4, 4-2), 3:30 p.m. – Speaking of CAA teams without a touchdown, Villanova hasn't allowed one in its last three conference victories. Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta hopes to rebound from his first subpar game.
No. 10 Eastern Washington (6-3, 5-1 Big Sky) at X-No. 22 Montana (5-4, 4-2), 3:30 p.m. – The FCS Game of the Week.
Northwestern State (3-6, 3-4 Southland) at X-No. 13 Sam Houston State (6-3, 5-2), 3:30 p.m. – Even with a victory, the Bearkats' game at Central Arkansas on Nov. 21 may decide a playoff spot. Will there be an NIT bracket?
Sacramento State (2-7, 1-5 Big Sky) at X-Northern Arizona (6-3, 4-2), 4 p.m.
Houston Baptist (1-7, 0-6 Southland) at X-Stephen F. Austin (3-6, 3-4), 4 p.m.
Montana State (4-5, 2-4 Big Sky) at X-Idaho State (2-7, 1-5), 4:35 p.m.
X-Cal Poly (3-6, 2-4 Big Sky) at UC Davis (1-8, 1-5), 5 p.m.
X-No. 18 Southern Utah (7-2, 6-0 Big Sky) at No. 15 Portland State (7-2, 4-2), 5:05 p.m. – OK, this was another candidate for FCS Game of the Week (maybe it's buyer's remorse going Eastern Washington-Montana). While SUU seeks to clinch at least a share of the Big Sky title, the Vikings have to shake off one of the bigger surprises of the season, a defeat at Northern Colorado.