Game Time: Saturday, August 26, 2017, 6:30 p.m. ET
Location: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
Where To Watch: ESPN
Betting Odds: Jacksonville State -7, O/U 50.5
Odds via sportsbooks monitored by GamblersPalace.com
It’s the start of the season and the nation is so football starved that even smaller schools are going to get a little love. The No. 12 Chattanooga Mocs will take on the No. 6 Jacksonville State Gamecocks in the middle game of an ESPN triple-header on Saturday afternoon. Both schools are thrilled for the national publicity. Jacksonville State hasn’t had a football game broadcast on the mothership since 1992, while this is the first time Chattanooga has been on ESPN.
These two FCS powers have played often this decade. Jacksonville State has won the last four meetings with the most recent being a 41-35 victory over Chattanooga in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Although the Gamecocks have had the better end of things, the Mocs have kept it competitive each time, with each of the last four meetings being decided by a touchdown or less.
Reasons to Like Jacksonville State
This is going to be one of the best defenses at the FCS level. Eastern Illinois head coach Kim Dameron recently stated that the Gamecocks are the most athletic defense that his team will face all season and that includes FBS opponent Northern Illinois.
It’s not hard to see why this defense is held in such high regard. Jacksonville State finished fourth in the country in total defense last season and has a future NFL draft pick in defensive end Darius Jackson. Jackson was an All-American in 2016 and is the Ohio Valley Conference’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year after a season in which he registered 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.
The secondary also has a future star in safety Marlon Bridges. Bridges picked off four passes and forced five fumbles as a freshman in 2016 and ended up being named the OVC’s Freshman of the Year.
Aside from Jackson and Bridges, six other starters return to a defense that should again be elite.
Reasons Not to Like Jacksonville State
Dynamic playmaker Eli Jenkins is no longer under center. Jenkins took over the starting role midway through his freshman season in 2013 and never looked back. He was a First Team All-OVC Quarterback selection from 2014-16 and was the conference’s first back-to-back Offensive Player of the Year since Tony Romo did it at Eastern Illinois.
The loss of Jenkins is huge. He accounted for almost 60 percent of the Gamecocks’ offense last season and he will be sorely missed.
Bryant Horn is the new quarterback, but he doesn’t have the wow factor that Jenkins had. There will be some growing pains as he has only thrown seven passes in his collegiate career.
Reasons to Like Chattanooga
Alejandro Bennifield put up good numbers in his first season as the Mocs starting quarterback and should be even better as a senior this year.
Bennifield will benefit from the tutelage of new head coach Tom Arth, one of the most underrated offensive minds in the game. Despite being 36, Arth has seen it all. As a quarterback in the 2000s, he played in the NFL, CFL, AFL, and NFL Europe over a six-year career.
Arth went 40-8 in four seasons at Division-III John Carroll and led the Blue Streaks to the D-III semifinals last season. He has been working with Bennifield throughout spring practice and summer drills to ensure that he has a firm grasp on his offense.
Reasons Not to Like Chattanooga
The Mocs are young. Very young. Only eight starters return from last year’s squad (three on offense, five on defense) and they are switching schemes on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Arth didn’t run his quarterbacks much at John Carroll and will likely make Bennifield more of a pocket passer.
Chattanooga’s defense loses a lot of its playmakers from a team that finished sixth in the country in total defense. The starters that are returning are moving from a 4-2-5 to a 3-4 and having an extra two linebackers on the field in your base defense is a pretty big change.
Jacksonville State’s defense is going to be too much in this one. The Gamecocks will ask Horn to just manage the game and grind out a comfortable victory in a low-scoring affair
Final Score: Jacksonville State 27, Chattanooga 13