TAKEAWAYS | Jacksonville State hopes No. 3 seed is the charm
IS NO. 3 THE CHARM FOR JSU?
After a three-peat in the Ohio Valley Conference, Jacksonville State is going for a repeat appearance in the FCS national championship game as the No. 3 seed.
The Gamecocks (10-1, 7-0 OVC) are the highest seed in the 24-team FCS playoffs from ASN's family of schools and conferences. They became the first team in 33 years to win three consecutive OVC championships and the first ever with three perfect OVC seasons in a row.
"Going undefeated in the Ohio Valley Conference is pretty amazing, especially if you go back and look at what these guys have done," said JSU head coach John Grass. "It feels good knowing all the hard work and preparation put in during the season is starting to pay off."
As the No. 2 seed last season, the Gamecocks won three playoff games to reach the title game. But a 37-10 loss to North Dakota State still stings, even though the Bison, one of the most dominant FCS teams, won their fifth consecutive national championship.
North Dakota State is the No. 1 seed again this season and the teams could meet again in the championship game. First, the Gamecocks face Saturday's Samford-Youngstown State winner at home on Dec. 3 at 1 p.m. ET. They would also be home for the quarterfinals and possibly the quarterfinals.
"We'll take home-field advantage as long as we can get it," said Grass, who knows winning the OVC championship is just the beginning. "You have to raise your level of play as you go into the playoffs," he said after JSU's 33-7 victory against UT Martin on Saturday.
"Teams that are there and have been before, I think they're able to do that. I think our bunch is getting to that level, and that showed from start-to-finish today.
"It's not that we've been playing bad, but we raised our level of play. We've been playing great defense, but sporadic on offense and sometimes the kicking game. I think everyone has to raise their level of play, because you can't be complacent at all."
And they haven't been, especially senior quarterback Eli Jenkins. The second leading rusher in school history with 3,607 yards leads an offense that is ninth in FCS with 244.5 rushing per game.
He's been driven in part by a disappointing performance in the national championship. He completed only 7 of 20 passes for 57 yards with two interceptions against North Dakota State. He also fumbled.
"I feel like I didn’t play up to my standards, and that was the reason why we lost this game," Jenkins said after the loss. “It should have been different."
It might be this season, especially if three's a charm.
SAMFORD PASSING DUO NO. 3 IN FCS
Speaking of threes, Samford's Devlin Hodges and Karel Hamilton finished the regular season No. 3 in the FCS.
Hodges, the Bulldogs' redshirt sophomore quarterback and candidate for ASN's FCS Player of the Year, was third in passing yards with 3,716. He trailed FCS leader Jeremiah Briscoe of Sam Houston State (4,096), another candidate for ASN's FCS Player of the Year, and Eastern Washington's Gage Gubrud (4,071).
Hamilton, the Bulldogs' senior receiver, was third in receiving yards with 1,242 and receiving touchdowns (14). He trailed FCS leader Kamron Lewis of Saint Francis, Pa. (1,349) and Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp (1,297), the 2015 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year.
Samford (7-4, 5-3 Southern Conference) is one of four SoCon teams in the FCS playoffs, along with No. 6-seeded The Citadel, Chattanooga, Wofford.
Chattanooga plays Weber State on Saturday with the winner advancing to play Briscoe and the undefeated, No. 1-ranked but fifth-seeded Bearkats on Dec. 3.
Wofford plays Big South champion Charleston Southern on Saturday with the winner moving on to play The Citadel (10-1), which registered the seventh 8-0 season in SoCon history.
EDMONDS WINS RUSHING RACE
Speaking of national leaders, Fordham's Chase Edmonds capped another spectacular season as the No. 1 rusher in FCS this season.
The Rams junior running back, another candidate for ASN's FCS Player of the Year, gained 181 yards in a 36-22 Patriot League win at Bucknell Saturday on ASN.
On the season, Edmonds carried 257 times for 1,799 yards and 19 touchdowns. He led the FCS in rushing yards and rushing yards per game (163.5) and was second in rushing touchdowns and all-purpose yards per game (194.6).
For his career, Edmonds has rushed for 5,285 yards and 62 touchdowns, both school and Patriot League records. He needs 1,275 yards in his senior season to break Adrian Peterson's FCS career record with Georgia Southern (1998-2001).
Edmonds seems to have a good shot: He's averaging 1,763 in each of his first three seasons.
The season ended Saturday for Fordham, which missed the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2012.
The Rams (8-3) and Albany (7-4) were the last teams to miss on at-large bids, selection committee chair Brian Hutchinson said, according to STATS FCS Senior Editor Craig Haley.
CONFERENCE TITLES ON THE LINE
And speaking of the postseason, the final week of the FBS regular season in the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA and MAC will determine the final matchups for championship games.
A look at the clinching scenarios:
» The American: Navy, the West Division champions, will play Temple or South Florida on Dec. 3. The Owls will clinch the East Division and berth in the title game with a victory against East Carolina or a South Florida loss to UCF on Saturday. USF advances with a win and a Temple loss.
» Conference USA: Louisiana Tech, the West Division champions, will play Western Kentucky or Old Dominion on Dec. 3. The Hilloppers can clinch a second consecutive berth in the title game with a victory at Marshall or ODU loss to FIU on Saturday. ODU advances with a win and a WKU loss. The Hilltoppers beat Southern Miss 45-28 in last year's championship.
» MAC: Ohio needs to beat Akron on Tuesday to reach the title game for the first time since 2011. The Bobcats can advance if Miami loses to Ball State, also on Tuesday. Ohio or Miami will play Friday's Toledo-Western Michigan winner on Dec. 2 in Detroit.
Bowl eligibility is also at stake for six 5-6 teams — Miami and Akron from the MAC; SMU from The American; and North Texas, Southern Miss and UTSA from Conference USA.
The bowl pairings will be announced on Dec. 4.
Photo courtesy Jacksonville State Athletics