In a week of rollovers or giants, Jacksonville State has chosen a giant among giants. The Gamecocks season begins against a top-10, and considered by some National Title Contender in Michigan State, on a Friday night on national television.
What a way to start a new coaching era.
“We get to see where we are as a team against a team that people are predicting to be in the national championship,” new head coach John Grass said. “We are going to battle and play every snap and not fold.”
Despite the move the head coach, Grass says he will continue to call plays for quarterback Eli Jenkins, and Walter Payton Preseason Watch List nominee DaMarcus James. James, the OVC preseason player of the year, is coming off a school record 1,477 yard season. Jenkins, a Freshman All-American selection a year ago, has his top-eight receptions leaders back from last season, including Josh Barge, who also garnered Freshman All-America accolades after recording 58 catches for 885 yards; both of those totals rank third most in a JSU single-season. In a year where many are looking for the OVC defense’s to rise, Jacksonville State is one of the few teams whose offense could truly be more potent.
On the defensive side, Jacksonville State has a new look, led by a few transfers, including Junior defensive end LaMichael Fanning, a transfer from Alabama, and fellow junior defensive end Chris Landrum, an Auburn transfer. “It makes me sleep easier at night,” Grass said. “It was not a deep position on our team last year. I think we just added some depth to that position last year. Last year, you had Caleb Lawrence, who had an exceptional year and he is a mainstay there. Chris Landum had a great year for us and do did Dustin Gayton. We have some guys that played last year that helped us win 11 ballgames. All we have done is add to the stable there.”
With the loss of Braxton Miller at Ohio State, many tab Michigan State as Big 10 favorites, thanks heavily to their defense. Michigan State has ranked in the Top 10 the past three seasons is points allowed. On the other side of the football, the Spartans return seven starters and 16 players with starting experience on offense, including junior quarterback Connor Cook, who went 12-1 in his first season as the starter in 2013. MSU also welcomes back its top rusher in senior Jeremy Langford (292 carries for 1,422 yards and 18 TDs) and four of its top five receivers. Overall, the Spartans are returning 97 percent of their total offense from a year ago, 99 percent of their rushing yards and 79 percent of their receiving yards.