That time came Tuesday on the Ohio Valley Conference’s weekly football teleconference.
The Jacksonville State head coach took the occasion to make his strongest pitch yet for the Gamecocks’ inclusion in the 24-team field — provided, of course, they beat Southeast Missouri in their final regular-season game Saturday.
“We feel like if we win this week we’re deserving,” Clark said. “I’d love to hear people in our league talk about trying to get three teams in. I hear some other leagues have got maybe four teams getting in. I think we ought to all be at least fighting for two but I say we should be trying to fight for three.
“To me, you can’t go on playoff history. You’ve got to go on who we are now, what we’re doing now, what our teams have done in those non-league games. I would like to see them do that, but we have to win this game first and that’s going to take all we’ve got just to do that, but if we do, I would hope we would be considered strongly.”
The OVC’s playoff history in recent years is wretched — it hasn’t won a game since 2000. JSU has contributed three of the losses. But the league is 13-5 against outside FCS competition this year and has two wins over FBS teams.
Beating the Redhawks (3-8) would give the Gamecocks (8-3) nine victories this season — the same number they had when they made it as an at-large pick in 2010 — and four in their last five games. They also were ranked as high as No. 2 nationally that season. They’ve been in the poll only twice this season.
They are coming off a 52-14 loss at No. 2 Eastern Illinois. Clark said you can’t factor that game into whether the Gamecocks deserve to go, but their four non-conference wins “have got to factor in.”
The Gamecocks started the season by winning on the road over an Alabama State team that’s now 7-4, a North Alabama team seeded third in its Division II super regional, FBS Georgia State on the road and a Jacksonville University team that doesn’t have a winning record but put 35 points on FCS playoff hopeful Delaware.
Top-ranked defending champion North Dakota State, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Washington, Southeastern Louisiana, Maine, Sacred Heart and Butler all already are in as automatic qualifiers. The first five are the top five in the Massey FCS composite of more than 40 nationwide indexes.
The Gamecocks are the third highest OVC team in the Massey composite listings, at No. 22. Four teams ahead of them have more losses and another doesn’t participate in the playoffs. They appear, however, to have a slight edge over TSU in the seven recognized indexes that make up the Gridiron Power Index, a tool used by the selection committee.
Among Saturday’s games of particular interest to JSU’s fate are Montana State-Montana, Charleston Southern-Liberty, Youngstown State-South Dakota State, William & Mary-Richmond, Sam Houston-Central Arkansas, Lafayette-Lehigh, Furman-Wofford and Samford-Elon.
The complete field will be announced at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPNU.
“Now you have some teams that have four and even five losses they’re talking about putting in there; I don’t know how fair that is, just to be honest,” Clark said. “I think we’ve got a really good league; sure, you’ve got to go prove it in the playoffs, but some of that stuff in past history, I just don’t see how you can (consider) that.
“It’s a new year, we’ve got new people in the league, every week it’s a dogfight — and we’ve got a lot of good success outside the league. I think we’ve got some other teams being considered ... but we’d hope if we get this win Saturday we would be considered.”
The Gamecocks would seem to be bouncing on the bubble with two other OVC teams.
Tennessee State has finished its season at 9-3, 6-2 in the OVC with one of those victories coming over JSU. Two of the Tigers’ losses came to ranked teams and the other came on the road with 10 starters out against an Eastern Kentucky team JSU crushed.
UT Martin (7-4) wraps up its season against Eastern Illinois. The Skyhawks have won three straight from the Panthers and already have beaten two FCS top 25 teams this season — three of whom coach Jason Simpson thought were “14 to 17 points better” inside the OVC — but the Gamecocks beat them.
Two major bracket projections available on the Internet list only EIU and Tennessee State as the OVC’s two playoff teams.
JSU senior tight end Gavin Ellis has every expectation of seeing the Gamecocks’ name go up on the screen when he watches the selection show Sunday.
“I’m just planning on us going,” he said. “We’re going to have that mindset in practice, this whole week; we don’t plan on not going. I don’t plan on this being my last game. We’re going to go out there and play as hard as we can. Hopefully everything will work out where we’ll have several more games ahead of us.”
SEMO coach Tony Samuel believes the Gamecocks are playoff worthy, and not just becuase he has to play them this week.
“Just the record alone, the people they beat and they way they play, they’re a playoff team,” he said. “Jacksonville’s doing really good football. They’re very capable.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.