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100 Days to Kickoff: 2017 Opponent Previews - Jacksonville State

A 10-2 FCS team is still an FCS team.

NCAA Football: Jacksonville State at Louisiana State Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to Kickoff: 34 Days

As our 100 Days to Kickoff continues on, we begin our opponent previews to provide a quick look at each of the teams coming up on our schedule this season. Each team has changed and provides new challenges than in years past, so this week is all about learning about those changes and learning exactly what Georgia Tech’s opponents have to offer.

2017 Week One Opponent Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

2017 Jacksonville State Gamecocks

Who Left?

QB Eli Jenkins - The biggest-name departure was two time Ohio Valley offensive player of the year Eli Jenkins, who will be dearly missed by this Gamecocks team. After leading them deep into the playoffs two years ago and to another unbeaten conference slate last season, Jenkins graduated, and now Jacksonville State is hunting for another player to step up and fill the role of this acclaimed quarterback. Coach John Grass put it best - the team will miss Jenkins but they must move forward.

Who Comes Back?

Nine Defensive Starters - Nine of them come back from last year’s squad, which was ranked fourth in the FCS subdivision. This incoming group is regarded as the best yet under Grass, impressive considering the team’s past success. This staggering amount of returning talent bodes well for their continuing defensive prowess.

DE Darius Jackson - The junior defensive end already holds the Jacksonville State records for most sacks and tackles for loss, as well as being the returning Ohio Valley defensive player of the year. A true force on defense, Jackson figures to not only repeat as OVC defensive player of the year, but as the anchor of this already-strong defense yet again.

RB Roc Thomas - The former Auburn running back, who also played for Grass in high school, is now in his second season at Jacksonville State. Thomas averaged 86.9 yards per game last season, good for second in the OVC. His 782 yards and 7 scores on the ground were supplemented by another 173 through the air with another touchdown.

OL Justin Lea - The redshirt senior has racked up quite the list of accolades in both postseason and preseason honors. Since his redshirt freshman season in 2014, he has been an academic and athletic standout, as an All-American in both categories. He has been a cornerstone of an offense ranked fourth in FCS, and, this year, as a veteran with a young group, looks to help develop the line for after he is gone.

Who is New?

S Marlon Bridges - A preseason first-team All-American, the redshirt freshman sat out last season because of the excellent returning defense. This year, with the talented Bridges being able to insert himself into one of the two open spots on the defense, the standout high school talent is primed to contribute in a big way to the already strong Gamecocks secondary.

QB Bryant Horn* - Well, he’s not really new to the team. A converted linebacker, but a high school quarterback, the redshirt junior Horn looks to slide back into the quarterback position to take over for the departed Jenkins. Though not a fresh face, his brand new role warrants his inclusion as a new guy. With just one sack in his JSU career, he looks for greater success under center than he did on the line.

2017 Season Outlook

Jacksonville State spent the vast majority of last year steamrolling their opponents. Well, until the playoffs, that is. They lost twice last season, once to a vastly better LSU team and another by a fair amount to Youngstown State in the second round of the postseason. This team is nearly annually at the top of FCS football. With that said, it’s easy to see the ceiling for this team: there’s not much farther up they can go. With one loss to the FBS team on their schedule, which is going to be a tough game no matter who they play (a close loss to Auburn is still a loss), the only other way to improve is to sweep through the playoffs. I don’t know how far they’ll go into the postseason, but this is a solid team. A solid FCS team, but the clear Ohio Valley Conference favorites should easily handle their regular season schedule and return to the playoffs. However, Tech is the superior team, and the first home game on the Flats this season should certainly end in a victory for the more talented Jackets.

Projected Record: 10-1 (8-0 Ohio Valley Conference)