College football fans, heed the warning — Jacksonville State is no ordinary Football Championship Series (FCS) program. The “other” Gamecocks are the real deal.
Head coach John Grass is entering his third year with the Gamecocks and show no signs of slowing down in 2016. After romping through Alabama high school competition as the head coach at Oxford High School (41-16), Grass has put up back-to-back double-win seasons at his alma mater, notching a 10-2 mark in 2014 and a 13-2 record last season. The Gamecocks have not posted that needed win over their bigger FBS brethren to be taken seriously at the next level, but scared the life out of Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, Tiger fans, and the collective SEC fan base by nearly taking down the SEC giant in Jordan-Hare Stadium in Week 2 of the 2015 season before falling 27-20 in overtime.
Some talent will be missing from JSU’s electric offense that averaged 38.9 points per game a year ago, namely running back Troymaine Pope. Pope rushed for 1,788 yards with 19 scores but has used up his eligibility. Gamecock fans can rest easy with the news that former Auburn tailback Roc Thomas is coming.
The 5-foot-10, 203 pound junior squared away his financial aid agreement on Monday giving Grass another weapon in his arsenal. Thomas was a big recruit for Auburn out of high school after rushing for 2,211 yards and 32 touchdowns during his senior year, but was slowed to 475 yards and three touchdowns along with 17 receptions for 227 yards in two seasons with the Tigers.
JSU also has some help up front coming in from former East Carolina lineman Darius Anderson. Senior quarterback Eli Jenkins, an All-American, also has a new weapon on the outside in former LSU receiver Kevin Spears. Jenkins completed 60.7 percent of his passes during his junior season for 2,788 yards with 21 scores. His top target, Josh Barge returns. Barge had 92 receptions for 1,145 yards with 11 touchdowns. Combine Jenkins' talent and experience with Thomas and Spears joining Barge as his main weapons and Jacksonville State should once again be dangerous on offense.
The Gamecocks were tough on defense last season as well, allowing 19.9 points per game. The secondary will be strengthened in 2016 by yet another SEC transfer, former South Carolina cornerback Al Harris Jr.
JSU has more talent on the roster than four former FBS players; a heads up on senior center Casey Dunn and defensive ends Darius Jackson and LaMichael Fanning. The influx of the new talent paired with what's already on roster should make for another Ohio Valley Conference title and give Jacksonville State a fighting chance to put an end to North Dakota State's domination (five straight national titles) in the FCS playoffs. It also could put the Gamecocks in position to put a big scare into one of college football big boys — LSU.