Where: JSU Stadium, Jacksonville.
Radio: 91.9 FM (Jacksonville), 97.9 FM (Oxford)
1. There’s a reason it starts with home: It’s homecoming at Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks spoiled Tennessee-Martin’s special day last week and are looking to avoid the same fate befalling them this week. The Gamecocks used to own their homecoming, but are only 12-8 since winning the 1992 Division II national championship and 7-3 since joining the OVC in 2003. They’ve lost in each of the last two odd-numbered years. TSU spoiled their homecoming in 2006. They will be Tennessee Tech’s homecoming opponent in two weeks.
2. Poll positioning: The Gamecocks are in both major FCS polls for the first time since Halloween 2011. With TSU also in the coaches poll this week, it marks the first time since Sept. 22, 2012, at Eastern Kentucky the Gamecocks are playing a game in which both teams are ranked. They are 37-26 as a ranked FCS team, but have lost their last four games in which both teams are ranked. They haven’t played a ranked opponent at homecoming since 2002 when they beat No. 3 Northwestern State in 2002.
3. Where’s the beef?: It’s right here. Tennessee State has size on its offensive front most NFL teams would love. All 10 players on the Tigers’ tackle-to-tackle two-deep are more than 300 pounds and the listed starters average 6-foot-4, 309 pounds. JSU has four 300-pounders among the nine in its offensive line two-deep. Add in three tight ends who are at least 6-4, 230 and the Tigers are tough to get around. The Tigers are on a five-game winning streak.
4. Two-headed quarterbacks: Both teams have two quarterbacks to direct their offenses. TSU had planned to ease freshman Ronald Butler along, but Butler was thrown into the mix when Michael German missed the first two games to a suspension and has looked good. Meanwhile, in the last three games since his return, German is 28 of 43 for 565 with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. JSU puts its offense in the hands of pocket passer Max Shortell and athletic Eli Jenkins.
JSU offense vs. TSU defense: OK, it’s general, but it’s really strength against strength. Tennessee State ranks first in the FCS in total defense, second in passing yards allowed and third in scoring defense. The Tigers may be 29th nationally in rushing defense, but they only give up an average of 127 yards a game. Jax State, meanwhile, is 19th in total offense and 14th rushing. The Tigers haven’t given up more than 170 yards in a game rushing, and that came last week with the help of a 99-yard run.
This is by far the toughest of the Gamecocks’ games to call so far this year. The season averages favor the Tigers. Even if you subtract the blowout of dreadful Division II Central (Ohio) State they still have the edge. If defense is the difference, the nod goes their way. ... Tennessee State 28, Jacksonville State 23.