JACKSONVILLE -- The NCAA selection committee didn’t look at the Ohio Valley Conference's recent playoff history in deciding the league should get three teams in this year’s FCS playoff field and Jacksonville State coach Bill Clark says fans shouldn’t consider the history when looking at the Gamecocks' first-round game either.
Maybe that should go for the potential second-round game, too.
Historical reference No. 1: The OVC has three teams in the tournament for the first time despite not having won a game in it since 2000 -- JSU, champion Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State -- a fact Clark attributes to the league's rising power rating.
Historical reference No. 2: The Gamecocks (9-3) open against Samford (8-4), a team they had beaten the last eight times in a series that ended in 2007 when the Bulldogs left for the Southern Conference.
Historical reference No. 3: If they win, they'll travel to No. 6 national seed McNeese State, a team they've never beaten in seven meetings -- six as members of the Southland Football League -- tying with Troy for their longest open losing streak.
Actually, the Gamecocks have won nine of the last 10 in the Samford series. The only loss came in 1999 and former coach Mike Williams resigned two days later.
Clark says none of that matters now, because this isn't your older brother's Samford team.
"Jacksonville State had this success against Samford, but it's not the same team," he said. "What they look like, how they play. There are new coaches, new players. They're recruiting a different way.
"I know the history, but it's just a different time."
In 2007, the Gamecocks won the last game in the rivalry 24-12 to take their first lead in a series Howard/Samford ruled until JSU resumed football after World War II (22-21-2). That was in Pat Sullivan's first year as the Bulldogs' coach.
Fast forward. Samford has posted winning seasons each of the last three years playing in one of the toughest FCS conferences in the country and now is in the playoffs for the first time since 1992. The Bulldogs won their last two regular-season games on the final play to share the conference title and get in the field, but Sullivan wouldn't call them a team of destiny, just one that has "a lot of resiliency."
When Clark looks at them he sees a team that would be "one of the top" in the OVC.
Sullivan gives all the credit to Dr. Andrew Westmoreland, the president who arrived at the school in 2006 and hired the former Heisman Trophy winner a year later.
"When I came over here we had no facilities, there wasn't a great commitment toward athletics, and I think it all changed with Dr. Westmoreland. That's where it all starts," he said. "I had a plan to build a program. I had been around them. I knew how to do it. I built TCU twice and knew when Dr. Westmoreland came ... it starts with him.
"Just like getting a full-time strength coach, then we were able to build a facility, just different things like that. And we've been able to recruit players. The other thing is I can't say enough about our staff; they have stayed here."
The Gamecocks, meanwhile, are making their fourth playoff appearance since winning the 1992 Division II national championship, but are still looking for their first win. They lost to Western Kentucky in 2003, Furman in 2004 and Wofford in 2010.
Knowing the expectations of the program, Caleb Lawrence, the junior nose who said earlier this season JSU "needs" to be in the playoffs, said it feels "natural" to be here.
Max Holcombe, the Gamecocks' All-OVC center, was being redshirted in 2010. He said he is looking forward to having a hand in whether the Gamecocks win or lose this time around, but to ask if the team is better prepared to handle the postseason this time would be unfair.
"I don't think it relates as much. It's two different situations," he said. "In 2010, we had a (first-round) bye and had to go about it a different way. With a whole new coaching staff, everybody's going to handle it differently."
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.