JSU earns its highest preseason ranking
by Al Muskewitz
Aug 17, 2010 | 2466 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State grabbed its best starting position to challenge for the national championship Monday when it pulled down its highest preseason poll position since moving to Division I.

The Gamecocks were installed at No. 17 in the preseason Sports Network poll of media that cover Championship Subdivision football. Defending national champion Villanova was the prohibitive No. 1.

“It’s good to be recognized, somebody out there knows who we are,” Crowe said. “It’s a lot different than it was 10 years ago.

“But that’s not the tradition of this program ... to be included. Hopefully, it’s a starting place we can move from.”

The Gamecocks return 13 starters from last year’s team, which went 8-3 and posted the best record in the Ohio Valley Conference despite being ineligible for the title and the playoffs. They were the highest ranked team not in the 16-team FCS playoff field and ended the season at No. 16.

They have been ranked in the Top 25 for 15 straight weeks, the longest stretch in the school’s Division I history.

Earlier this summer, the Gamecocks were installed as the preseason favorites of the Ohio Valley Conference.

It’s the fourth time in coach Jack Crowe’s tenure the Gamecocks have landed a spot in one of the major preseason polls. They were 19th in the preseason Coaches Poll last season, 20th in the 2005 Sports Network poll and 24th in the 2002 Sports Network poll.

The 2010 preseason Coaches Poll will be released Monday.

“I think we’re seen as a good team, (but) not a contender at the national level,” Crowe said. “That bothers me ... and the OVC.

“We’ve sort of been nipping at the heels. We want to be in the running for the national playoffs and a chance to play for the championship. This challenges us over the next 11 games to use that as a springboard. We’ve got to step up to the plate and play.”

The Gamecocks were one of two OVC teams in the Sports Network poll; Eastern Illinois was ranked 18th. Three other teams received votes ... Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay.

The preseason Coaches Poll is scheduled to be released Monday.

• NO SCRIMMAGE: The Gamecocks continue trying to piece together their 60-man travel squad despite a growing injury list, and will not scrimmage today as originally planned. They will have a light scrimmage Thursday in the run-up to their Fan Day scrimmage Saturday, after which they will start working on opening-day opponent Ole Miss.

“We’ve had scattered pieces that are still scattered,” Crowe said. “You have to read the tea leaves a little bit with the status of ‘M&M Land.’ We’ve got some things to get accomplished. It’s a work in progress and there are some moving pieces.”

One of them is moving defensive end Monte Lewis to outside linebacker and bringing linebacker Antonio Bonner back inside. Lewis had 21 tackles, including six for loss, two sacks, two hurries and three forced fumbles last season. Bonner had 32 tackles, three for loss.

“We may go back, but we’re going to give it a look based on our observations,” Crowe said. “We want to create the best pass rush we can. We’re trying to get pressure on the football a little more.”

• WAITING GAME: JSU officials told The Star Monday it likely will be next week before a determination on linebacker Mikel Whittier’s waiver will come. The NCAA committee considering the request doesn’t meet again until a week from today.

Whittier transferred to JSU from South Dakota State in midyear without playing a game there. The basis for the waiver isn’t switching schools, but rather a medical condition that leaves him susceptible to pain in cold weather.

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
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