(STATS) – For Eastern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky and UT Martin, the playoffs have unofficially started.
Top-ranked Jacksonville State knows it will represent the Ohio Valley Conference in the 24-team FCS playoff field, and the Panthers, Colonels and Skyhawks also hope to join the fun.
JSU (9-1, 7-0) clinched a share of the league title with a 56-28 rout of Southeast Missouri last weekend. In the 37-year history of the FCS playoffs, the OVC has qualified at least two teams 20 times. A league-record three schools went in 2013.
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That bodes well particularly for whichever team prevails Saturday when EIU (6-4, 6-1) hosts EKU (6-4, 5-2). Or least that's what Colonels coach Dean Hood believes.
“I think the winner of our game will be (the league's second playoff qualifier),” said Hood, whose team has won six of eight against Eastern Illinois.
That winner would have a decent argument.
EIU is alone in second place, was tied with JSU at halftime before losing 24-3 on Nov. 7, lost by three to 2014 FCS runner-up Illinois State and dropped its only game against an FBS school to No. 20 Northwestern.
“We know we have our hands full (Saturday) but we are extremely excited about being at this point,” said Panthers coach Kim Dameron, whose team started 0-3. “This is what we've fought our rear ends off for.”
Though No. 23 Eastern Kentucky is tied for third with UT Martin (6-4, 5-2), it's the only other OVC squad ranked in the STATS poll. The Colonels lost at North Carolina State, in overtime at Kentucky and to the Gamecocks. They also fell 42-35 at home to UT Martin on Nov. 7.
Should EKU win and the Skyhawks beat SEMO on Saturday, both would believe they are deserving of postseason play. UT Martin was blown out by then No. 17 Mississippi and roughed up at Arkansas, but lost by seven to JSU and has that victory over EKU as a potential X-factor for the selection committee to take into consideration.
“We're worthy enough,” Skyhawks coach Jason Simpson said. “I'm going to fight for my team if we are to win this week.”
The Skyhawks, who fell 23-21 to EIU last weekend, likely would be the odd team out if they and the Panthers won Saturday.
FAR FROM SATISFIED
A victory over Murray State on Saturday will not only give Jacksonville State its second straight outright OVC title, but leave the Gamecocks the third team in league history to post back-to-back 8-0 conference seasons. Murray State did it 1995-96 and EKU in 1993-94.
More importantly, a win would secure the overall No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“This game does have a lot of playoff implications,” coach John Grass said. “Our bunch is not looking ahead or looking behind. I don't think they are satisfied with where we are and just winning the OVC.”
After going 10-2 during the regular season in 2014, JSU was upset by Sam Houston State in its playoff opener.
Southeast Missouri (4-6, 3-3) won't be part of the playoff field but a victory Saturday over UT Martin would give the school a winning league record for the second time in the last 12 years. The Redhawks went 7-1 en route to the 2010 OVC title.
“It would really mean a lot if we could win this game,” SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz said. “We're just looking to play well this weekend.
“I think you've got to be consistently good before you take that next step. We're just looking for consistent play.”
The Redhawks' 31-27 win over UT Martin last season was their second in the last 10 meetings.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Murray State's KD Humphries will finish the regular season as the FCS leader in pass attempts, completions, passing yards and passing yards per game. The junior is 308 of 487 for 3,497 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions in 10 contests.
For the second time in three seasons, Austin Peay (0-11, 0-8) failed to win a game. The Governors, whose season concluded with last weekend's 42-24 loss at Tennessee Tech, are 1-34 since the start of 2013.
The OVC will announce its all-conference team, as well the league's individual awards, on Tuesday.