JSU Football Preseason Top 10

Fresh off it's best Division I season in 2013, the 2014 Jacksonville State football team is getting some love in the preseason polls, with The Sporting News and Athlon each ranking the Gamecocks in their Top 10.

The Gamecocks went 11-4 and 5-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference a year ago and caught fire at the right time, rolling to the school's first two FCS Playoff wins before falling in the Quarterfinals at Eastern Washington. A record-breaking season for JSU landed JSU in the Top 10 in last season's final polls and even higher to start the 2014 campaign.

The Sporting News has JSU at No. 4 to start the year, whileAthlon picks the Gamecocks sixth nationally in its preseason rankings. Eastern Washington, the team that ended JSU's Cinderella run last season, is No. 1 in every preseason poll released so far. The No. 4 ranking is the highest preseason ranking in JSU's Division I history, a mark previously set by the 2011 team that started the season ranked ninth. It is the highest preseason ranking by any JSU team since the 1992 season, when the Gamecocks were preseason No. 2 in Division II before eventually winning the National Championship.

JSU will be under new leadership in 2013 under first-year head coach John Grass, but it won't necessarily be unfamiliar to the Gamecocks, especially on offense. Grass coordinated a JSU offense that was the most prolific in school history. His unit was the highlight in a season that saw the Gamecocks set a total of 49 school records, 13 OVC records and three NCAA records.

"It's always nice to be recognized in the preseason football polls," said Grass. "There is a lot of excitment surrounding our football team as we get ready for the 2014 season and it is certainly nice to be ranked in the Top 10."

A quick-strike attack that scored 24 times on drives of less than one minute, the Gamecock offense amassed 6,637 yards of total offense, 1,755 yards more than any team in school history, and racked up 528 points, 107 more than the previous record set in 1991. JSU's 65 touchdowns were a new school record, while its school record 48 rushing touchdowns also broke the OVC mark.

Four All-Americans return from that 2013 offense, led by senior running back DaMarcus James. Also a first team All-OVC selection, James ran for a school record 1,477 yards and was second nationally with 29 rushing touchdowns to break the JSU and OVC records in that category. James' 174 points scored also broke the previous JSU and OVC records.

The Demopolis native now has 35 career rushing touchdowns, which is the third most in school history, and his 13 career 100-yard rushing games is also the second most in school history.

Senior center Max Holcombe will anchor the offensive line for the fourth-straight season after earning All-America honors last year, while sophomore receiver Josh Barge leads a talented group of receivers in his second season after grabbing Freshman All-America honors in his debut season of 2013.

Holcombe, a native of Tuscaloosa, has started 37-straight games for JSU and graded out at a team-high 87 percent after playing 1,138 snaps last year. Barge, a Carrollton, Ga., native, set the school's freshman receiving records with 885 yards on 58 catches. He led a corps of 19 different JSU players to catch at least one pass during the season.

James also set a JSU and OVC record with five rushing touchdowns at Austin Peay and joined teammates Eli Jenkins,Troymaine Pope and Miles Jones to become the first foursome to each run for 100 yards in the same game in FCS history against Jacksonville on Sept. 7.

The ground game wasn't the only thing that guided the Gamecocks in 2013. Despite having to start three different starting quarterbacks because of injuries during the season, Grass' offense threw for a school record 3,033 yards. Quarterback Jenkins earned Freshman All-America honors after throwing for 887 yards and running for 953 more, while junior Max Shortell threw for 1,608 yards to earn Second Team All-OVC recognition.

Defensively, the Gamecocks return most of a talented front line that recorded a school-record 52 sacks in 2013. That record-breaking total included a school-record 11 in JSU's second-round playoff win at McNeese State, one week after notching six in a first-round win over Samford.

The Gamecocks will look for new leadership on the defensive side of the ball after losing their top seven tacklers from a year ago. Junior cornerback Jermaine Hough is the team's leading returning tackler with 51 stops in 2013, just ahead of his fellow corner and senior Rashod Byers. The duo each intercepted a pass and combined to defend 20 passes last season.

Senior Caleb Lawrence anchors the defensive line after recording 46 tackles last season, while seniors Omari Jones and Dustin Gayton each had 40 tackles last year. Another linkebacker, Ben Endress returns for his senior season having recorded 121 tackles in his career.

The 2014 JSU defense will be led by new coordinators David Blackwell and Brandon Hall. Blackwell will coach inside linebackers and Hall will coach safeties in their first year on the JSU staff.

The Gamecocks will get the 2014 season underway on Friday, Aug. 29, at Michigan State. The Spartans are coming off a 12-1 season that saw them win the Big Ten title before defeating Stanford in the Rose Bowl to earn a No. 3 national ranking. JSU's home opener is scheduled for Sept. 20 against old rival West Alabama at 3 p.m. Season tickets are available online atwww.jsugamecocksports.com or by calling (256) 782-8499.

(Courtesy: JSU Sports Information)

2014 FCS Preseason Polls

Sporting News

1. Eastern Washington (12-3, 8-0 Big Sky)

2. North Dakota State (15-0, 8-0 Missouri Valley)

3. Southeastern Louisiana (11-3, 7-0 Southland)

4. Jacksonville State (11-4, 5-3 OVC)

5. Villanova (6-5, 5-3 CAA)

6. Coastal Carolina (12-3, 4-1 Big South)

7. New Hampshire (10-5, 6-2 CAA)

8. Fordham (12-2, 0-0 Patriot)

9. McNeese State (10-3, 6-1 Southland)

10. Montana (10-3, 6-2 Big Sky)

11. Northern Iowa (7-5, 3-5 Missouri Valley)

12. Richmond (6-6, 4-4 CAA)

13. Tennessee State (10-4, 6-2 OVC)

14. Chattanooga (8-4, 6-2 Southern)

15. Towson (13-3, 6-2 CAA)

16. Sam Houston State (9-5, 4-3 Southland)

17. Liberty

18. Montana State (7-5, 5-3 Big Sky)

19. South Dakota State (9-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

20. Northern Arizona

21. Bethune-Cookman (10-3, 7-1 MEAC)

22. Eastern Illinois (12-2, 8-0 OVC)

23. William & Mary (7-5, 4-4 CAA)

24. Southern Utah

25. Furman (8-6, 6-2 Southern)

Athlon College Football

1. Eastern Washington (12-3, 8-0 Big Sky)

2. North Dakota State (15-0, 8-0 Missouri Valley)

3. Southeastern Louisiana (11-3, 7-0 Southland)

4. New Hampshire (10-5, 6-2 CAA)

5. Northern Iowa (7-5, 3-5 Missouri Valley)

6. Jacksonville State (11-4, 5-3 OVC)

7. Montana (10-3, 6-2 Big Sky)

8. Villanova (6-5, 5-3 CAA)

9. McNeese State (10-3, 6-1 Southland)

10. Towson (13-3, 6-2 CAA)

11. South Dakota State (9-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

12. Chattanooga (8-4, 6-2 Southern)

13. Fordham (12-2, 0-0 Patriot)

14. Coastal Carolina (12-3, 4-1 Big South)

15. William & Mary (7-5, 4-4 CAA)

16. Montana State (7-5, 5-3 Big Sky)

17. Tennessee State (10-4, 6-2 OVC)

18. Richmond (6-6, 4-4 CAA)

19. Furman (8-6, 6-2 Southern)

20. Southern Illinois (7-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

21. Sam Houston State (9-5, 4-3 Southland)

22. James Madison (6-6, 3-5 CAA)

23. Delaware (7-5, 4-4 CAA)

24. Eastern Illinois (12-2, 8-0 OVC)

25. Youngstown State (8-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

Courtesy: JSU Sports Information

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