Jacksonville State football: The upside for the 'cupcake' team
JACKSONVILLE -- If Auburn's new, supersized videoboard is all Jacksonville State has to worry about, then the Gamecocks won't have much trouble on its visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.
Even so, five days before facing the sixth-ranked Auburn Tigers on their own turf, JSU coach John Grass could take a moment to enjoy a question Monday concerning Auburn's videoboard, which is the largest among FBS schools. It's 190 feet wide and 57 feet tall, dwarfing the old Jordan-Hare board that was about one-third as wide and half as tall.
Grass joked that he has a plan to prepare for the board, which he added is quite a bit larger than the little black-and-white TV he had in his room while a student at Jacksonville State.
"We're going to sit six inches away from that TV over there in this room to get an idea," Grass said, smiling. "But I have no idea how to simulate that. I'm glad it's not a night game because I think it could be a factor in the game. During the day at 11 a.m., I'm hoping that it won't be a big factor."
Even so, Jacksonville State is no stranger to playing in large stadiums against power conference teams. Saturday's game against Auburn will be JSU's 12th against a major FBS conference team since the start of the 2002 season. The list includes Michigan State, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech (twice), Florida State, Mississippi State (twice) and Kansas.
The Gamecocks' lone win in those games came in 2010 when they won 49-48 at Ole Miss in double overtime.
It might seem that the Gamecocks are traveling to Auburn for little more than a predicted loss and a check. The money is sizeable as Auburn will pay $525,000 to JSU, according to Gamecocks interim athletics director Greg Seitz. The Tigers also are giving JSU 900 tickets, with about 600 of those going to the band.
Last year, Michigan State paid $625,000 to JSU for coming to East Lansing, Mich., for a season-opening game.
But Grass and his players say there's more to be gained than a payday. The Gamecocks say that even in last year's 45-7 loss at MSU, they learned something that helped down the road.
"You learn from every game that you play," Grass said. "We learned a lot in that game against Michigan State, and that loss hurts as much as any other loss. It magnified some mistakes that we made, especially on the back end of the defense. They struggled to run the football against our defense, but they were able to make some big plays in the passing game. The mistakes that were made in the back end of the defense were not made at the end of the season."
Saturday also will serve as a chance for the Ohio Valley Conference preseason favorite to measure itself against the Southeastern Conference preseason favorite.
"It is a great opportunity to face an SEC team, and I truly believe that if don't let them dictate what we do, I think we can play a great game," JSU defensive back Junior Hough said. "This is a stage where we can show what we can do as a team and as individuals. With the coaches behind us with a great game plan, I think we can go in there with the mindset of playing a great game."
Also, there's the chance to get a win.
"I think it is like a championship game because you won't play anyone better on the FCS level, so you have a stage there that our guys love to go be a part of and be those types of games," Grass said. "You get to see right where you are in these games because everything as magnified because they are a very good football team. It is something our guys are looking forward to."
SEC members falling to an FCS school doesn't happen often, but it isn't unheard of. According to footballgeography.com, SEC teams have fallen to FCS squads three times since 2004 -- Florida lost 26-20 to Georgia Southern in 2013, Ole Miss lost to JSU in 2010 and Mississippi State lost to Maine 9-7 in 2004.
In addition, Arkansas lost to The Citadel 10-3 in 1992. That Arkansas team was coached by Jack Crowe, who coached JSU past Ole Miss.
Since 2007, three teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 have fallen to FCS teams, including No. 5 Michigan to Appalachian State 34-32 in 2007, No. 13 Virginia Tech to James Madison 21-16 in 2010 and No. 25 Oregon State to Eastern Washington 49-46 in 2013.
Jacksonville State running back Josh Clemons will get a chance to face this type of matchup from the other side. He played at Kentucky during 2011-14 before moving to JSU as a graduate transfer with one year of eligibility remaining.
"It is a great opportunity for this team and to go out there and compete at a high level. That's what we play the game for, and I'm looking forward to getting out there and competing and seeing what we can really do," said Clemons, who was hurt and didn't play in Kentucky's 38-14 win over JSU in 2011.