Where: JSU Stadium, Jacksonville.
Radio: 91.9 FM (Jacksonville), 97.9 FM (Oxford)
1. It’s do-or-die: Jacksonville State is making its fourth appearance in the Division I-AA/FCS playoffs and second in the last four years. It’s the second year in a row the Gamecocks have hosted. They are looking for their first win, losing to Western Kentucky and Furman in one-sided affairs in 2003 and 2004, and to Wofford in a close game in 2010. Samford is making its third Division I playoff appearance and first since 1992, the year JSU won the Division II national title. That 1992 team reached the national semifinals. Today’s winner travels to No. 6 national seed McNeese State next week.
2. Renewed rivalry: It took the FCS selection committee to bring back together two teams 80 miles apart. The series with Samford is JSU’s oldest, but the teams haven’t played each other since 2007 and it’s not likely they will again anytime soon. The combination of a tough Southern Conference and the need to play guarantee games leaves the Bulldogs little room for another tough and potential road opponent. The Gamecocks are 12-7-1 in the series since 1948 and won the last eight games when it ended to take the all-time lead 22-21-2.
3. Decorated QBs: Both teams have quarterbacks who were recognized by their conferences. Samford sixth-year senior Andy Summerlin, a transfer from Memphis, was named the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Running an offense with multiple formations and the occasional trick play, Summerlin has thrown for a school-record 3,559 yards and 25 touchdowns to 17 different receivers. JSU junior Max Shortell, a transfer from Minnesota, was an All-Ohio Valley Conference second-team pick despite missing four games with injuries. He is 102-of-178 passing for 1,435 yards and six touchdowns. He splits time with redshirt freshman Eli Jenkins.
4. Team of destiny: Samford coach Pat Sullivan, the 1971 Heisman Trophy winner at Auburn, wouldn’t say it, but the case could be made. The Bulldogs won their last two regular-season games in dramatic fashion to share the conference title and get into the playoffs. They beat Chattanooga in overtime, basically knocking out the Mocs, and beat Elon on a touchdown pass with seven seconds to play. The Gamecocks fought their way into the field. They were 1-2 at one point in their conference season, but came out of their open date by winning four of their last five, losing only to No. 2 national seed Eastern Illinois.
Samford’s Fabian Truss vs. JSU’s defense and coverage teams: The senior running back leads the FCS in all-purpose yards with a 200.45-yard average. He averaged more than 100 yards rushing and receiving, and has been electric on returns, averaging 32.1 on kickoffs (with two touchdowns) and 14.8 yards on punts. He has more than 6,600 career all-purpose yards and nearly 3,100 career rushing yards
This has the potential to be a close one. Can JSU’s running attack offset Samford’s passing game? Can Samford overcome JSU’s post-war history in the series and can JSU overcome the OVC’s playoff jinx? Can Samford’s late-game heroics offset JSU’s home-field advantage? ... JSU 30, Samford 28.