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Jacksonville State, Sam Houston Set to Begin Farewell Tour

The Gamecocks and the Bearkats are gearing up for their final season before jumping to the FBS.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Abilene Christian at Jacksonville State Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The college football landscape is ever in flux and this summer, the FCS once again saw its fair share of change, especially at the upper crust. Three programs, all of which have rich histories, are on their way to the FBS. James Madison wasted no time in making their move and are set to begin Sun Belt play in just a few weeks. The other two, though, aren’t gone just yet... at least not entirely.

Sam Houston and Jacksonville State will have one final curtain call and both are leaving behind a decorated stay in the FCS.

The Bearkats and the Gamecocks have accepted invites to Conference USA for next season. Of course, the major caveat for these programs is that they may not compete in this season’s playoffs regardless of record and conference finish, a common stipulation during a team’s transitionary period. The games on their schedules are it. November 19 will come with absolute finality to both groups and their respective residences in the subdivision.

Sam Houston Carries Momentum After Recent Championship

Sam Houston is set to kick off its 2022 season against Texas A&M on September 3 and leaves behind a storied legacy as one of the more dominant FCS teams of the last decade. The Bearkats reached the playoffs nine times since 2010 and went 21-8 in their postseason contests during that span. It wasn’t until 2021’s spring season that the team claimed its first DI national title, however, with a gutsy win over South Dakota State.

2021 NCAA Division I Football Championship
Members of Sam Houston’s team celebrate with head coach K.C. Keeler and the national championship trophy in Frisco, TX on May 16, 2021.
Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

For a program that has only lost one home playoff game throughout its history, it is odd to think they’ve only won a single championship. The Bearkats did, however, play in Frisco three times but fell to juggernaut North Dakota State in back-to-back title games in 2011 and 2012. The Bison also ended Sam Houston’s seasons in 2014 and 2017 in the semifinals.

Longtime residents of the Southland Conference, the Bearkats recently joined the WAC, a league they’ve only called their home for two years. K.C. Keeler, one of the winningest head coaches at the FCS level, has been with the team since 2014.

Keeler and his team are staring down the barrel of a nine-game slate this fall that features several noteworthy matchups, including contests against WAC favorites Stephen F. Austin and one of the nation’s newest FCS teams in Texas A&M-Commerce. Bowers Stadium will see its final all-FCS game on November 19 when Sam Houston plays host to Southern Utah.

Gamecocks Showing Promise With New Coach

Jacksonville State begin their final FCS season on August 27 with a neutral-site game against Stephen F. Austin. That will take place in Montgomery, AL for the annual FCS Kickoff. The Gamecocks too will be saying goodbye to a division they’ve made noise in for much of the 2010s.

JSU had a longtime home in the Ohio Valley and won nine conference championships during their 18-year stay. The Gamecocks have qualified for the FCS playoffs ten times since joining the subdivision in 1995, going 7-10 in those games. Their crowning jewel was the 2015 campaign that saw them win 13 contests and earn the program’s only 1-seed in school history. They ran with that momentum all the way to Frisco before Carson Wentz and North Dakota State toppled them in the title game. It was Jacksonville State’s only appearance in the national championship.

The Gamecocks have proven they’re capable of handling FBS opposition. In 2015 they traveled to Jordan-Hare and took Auburn to overtime and last year, JSU stunned Florida State on the final play of their meeting in Tallahassee. This was the brightest moment of their 2021 season and perhaps the biggest win in recent program memory.

Rich Rodriguez is entering his first year with the team as head coach and will guide them through an 11-game slate that features one FBS foe (Tulsa in Week 4). The Gamecocks will play their final home game as an FCS program on November 12 against Eastern Kentucky and, one week later, will play their last game before moving up against Central Arkansas on the road.

As the sun sets on the two schools’ time in the FCS one has to wonder what the subdivision will look without these cornerstone programs. Will C-USA be a good fit? Are both ready? Who steps up and takes their place? These are questions that will all be answered in due time. For now, though, fans ought to just sit back, tip their caps and enjoy the goodbye.