Jacksonville State has been picked by the Ohio Valley Conference' s head coaches and sports information directors to win an unprecedented sixth-straight league title, the conference announced on Monday at its annual Media Day.
The Gamecocks earned 126 total points to finish ahead of Southeast Missouri in the preseason poll, while junior quarterback Zerrick Cooper was selected as the league's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. A total of seven JSU players were on the Preseason All-OVC Football Team.
[Hear from JSU WR Josh Pearson and DB Marlon Bridges as well as head coach John Grass in the featured video]
Joining Cooper on the Preseason All-OVC squad are senior wide receiver Josh Pearson, junior tight end Trae Barry, senior offensive linemen Darius Anderson and Hunter Sosebee, senior linebacker Jalen Choice and senior safety Marlon Bridges.
JSU has won a league-record five-straight OVC titles and has also won 39 of its last 40 OVC games heading into 2019. The Gamecocks are the only Division I program - FCS or FBS - that has won its last five conference championships outright. It marks the sixth-straight year and the eighth time in the past 10 years that they have been picked atop the league's preseason poll.
Despite suffering its first Conference loss since the 2013 season last season, Jacksonville State finished the year 7-1 in OVC play to win its record fifth-straight OVC Championship. The Gamecocks would go on to top East Tennessee State in the first round of the FCS Playoffs before falling to Maine in the second round.
JSU finished the year ranked No. 10 in the STATS Top 25 poll and the team has now been ranked in the Top 10 in 70 of the past 73 polls. After ranking fifth nationally in total offense (497.3 yards/game) and seventh in scoring offense (40.0 points/game) last year, the team returns Cooper and Pearson, who earned multiple All-American honors a year ago. Cooper passed for 32 touchdowns last season, the third-most in OVC single-season history, and accounted for 3,787 yards of total offense, the sixth-most in league history.
Pearson caught a school-record 17 of those touchdown passes, which was the most of any Division I player in 2018 and the second-most in OVC history. Pearson finished the year with
67 catches for 1,123 yards, both second-most in a single season in JSU history.
The offense will be bolstered by two Preseason All-OVC selections from the offensive line in guard Anderson and tackle Sosebee. Barry serves the JSU offense as a blocker and pass catcher. He was a Freshman All-American two seasons ago before netting a First Team All-OVC nod as a sophomore in 2018.
A year ago, the Gamecocks led the OVC and ranked 15th nationally in total defense (311.3 yards/game). This year's edition of the Gamecocks will be led by Bridges, who has been a First Team All-OVC pick in each of his first three seasons and was also an All-Newcomer pick in 2016. Bridges had 69 tackles and a pair of interceptions last season.
He is joined on defense by Choice, who led JSU with 88 tackles and also notched a team-high 12 tackles for a loss. He also had five hurries and an interception to pace the defense.
Senior safety Traco Williams was not on the preseason squad after earning Second Team All-OVC honors last season. He returns with cornerback Yul Gowdy, who was an OVC All-Newcomer pick and a Freshman All-American in 2018.
(Courtesy: JSU Sports Information: www.jsugamecocksports.com)