Mark Edwards: That 4-0 start could pay off big for JSU
by Mark Edwards
Sep 26, 2013 | 2130 views |  0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State tight end Anthony Johnson grabs a long pass against Georgia State. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Jacksonville State tight end Anthony Johnson grabs a long pass against Georgia State. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
JACKSONVILLE -- Jacksonville State needs to win the Ohio Valley Conference for a certain bid to the NCAA’s FCS playoffs.

But OVC play doesn’t start until Saturday, even though JSU already has played four games. So, what were those four games for? Practice?

Actually, anything but. Those four games JSU won in four weeks might matter quite a bit at the end of the year. Although they were non-conference games, they aren’t unimportant.

They could make the difference in helping the Gamecocks land a spot in the expanded FCS playoffs, if they don’t win the Ohio Valley Conference’s automatic berth.

The playoffs have expanded from 20 teams to 24, and 14 of those bids go to at-large teams, which is an increase from 12 in 2012. The FCS includes 124 teams.

Last year, six at-large teams had records of 8-3, while two were 9-2.

This year, the schedule increases to 12 games. So, it’s reasonable to assume JSU will need to post a record of at least 8-4, maybe 9-3, to get an at-large bid to the playoffs.

That would mean JSU must finish at least 4-4 or 5-3 in the league. That definitely seems within the reach of the Gamecocks. They’ve won 74.7 percent of their OVC contests since entering the league in 2003.

According to the handy-dandy notes package provided by the good folks in JSU’s sports information department, no other FCS has an in-league winning percentage that high. Also, the Gamecocks have a winning series record against six of their eight OVC opponents this year. Eastern Kentucky is 6-4 all-time against JSU, while Eastern Illinois and JSU are tied 5-5.

Before all that, however, JSU must play its conference opener Saturday against Murray State, and here’s another instance in which those four games could help JSU:

This team has had a chance to develop some confidence, which is a good thing, especially with a new coaching staff installed.

The Gamecocks won two of those games in overtime (North Alabama and Georgia State) and took another by two points (Alabama State).

First-year head coach Bill Clark said those wins helped the players realize they can believe what their coaches are telling them. That’s good for the new staff, which needs that trust.

“We need the equity those wins give us, but we also need our guys to believe in what we’re doing and what our coaches are telling them,” Clark said.

There’s something else those four wins have proven – JSU has a pretty good team. Good teams aren’t necessarily the ones who blow out everyone. Instead, good teams find a way to win close games. They have enough weapons to survive a fight.

Does Clark agree that his team is a good one already?

“I think I could say we’re a good team,” Clark said this week, clearly a little uncomfortable in making a judgment after only four games. “But we want to be great. That’s what we’re working toward.”

Ultimately, the Gamecocks’ playoffs chances will come down to games such as the opener against Murray State. And the road games against Tennessee Martin, Tennessee Tech, Austin Peay and Eastern Illinois.

And that back-to-back stretch in November, when JSU faces Eastern Kentucky at home before hitting the road to play Eastern Illinois. EKU was picked second in the OVC preseason poll, just behind EIU.

Still, JSU is off to a good start, and even though there is much to be settled, the Gamecocks can be sure if they go 6-2 in the OVC, they won’t have to worry about a playoff bid because of a lackluster early season record.

Contact Anniston Star Sports Editor Mark Edwards at Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.
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