Jacksonville State embarks on an eight-game CUSA schedule in 2023, an exciting challenge for the program. The Gamecocks were productive at the FCS level, making the national championship game in 2015. Before that, the Gamecocks won a Division II national title in 1992.
Playing at the FBS level presents a larger test for the program, but it enters 2023 led by a coach with plenty of FBS experience. Rich Rodriguez guided the team to a nine-win season in 2022, and he’s won more than 100 games leading West Virginia, Michigan, and Arizona.
College football betting odds don’t expect anything too special from Jacksonville State this season, with the team’s win total listed at 4.5 on BetMGM. There are +115 odds for over 4.5 wins and -135 odds for under 4.5 wins.
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Zion Webb’s return helps
Zion Webb, the team’s starting quarterback, received an offseason waiver to play a seventh year of college football. His return provides a massive bump to Jacksonville State’s chances of reaching five wins.
Webb is a decent passer – he’s thrown for more than 4,000 career yards and 29 touchdowns – but it’s his rushing that gives the offense a chance to be solid. Webb rushed for 647 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
Jacksonville State has a group of nice running backs, highlighted by Anwar Lewis and Malik Jackson. If the Gamecocks can run the ball successfully – the offensive line has some question marks – they could have one of the more dangerous offenses in CUSA.
The possibility of a strong rushing attack should keep Jacksonville State in games, although they’ll need more than just a running game to win five or more contests.
Chris Hardie and J-Rock Swain are solid defensive ends, but does the defense have enough talent and depth to hang close with conference teams like Liberty and Western Kentucky?
The schedule has a few games that appear quite winnable. The season opener against UTEP is a game the program can win, and the next week’s showdown with FCS East Tennessee State figures to be a winnable game for the Gamecocks. JSU takes on Sam Houston in late September, another program joining CUSA from the FCS.
Other games on the schedule, however, present massive challenges to Rodriguez and company. A road game against Coastal Carolina on Sept. 9 is a huge test, with Grayson McCall returning at quarterback for the Chanticleers.
Back-to-back Tuesday battles with Liberty and Western Kentucky in October will likely see the Gamecocks as significant underdogs. Those two teams are among the likely CUSA contenders, while Jacksonville State is expected to finish closer to the bottom of the league standings.
A Nov. 4 road game with South Carolina is a likely loss, but facing a solid SEC school is a nice opportunity for Rodriguez’s team to see how it stands up against a fringe top-25 team.
Jacksonville State has a few games on its schedule that seem like expected losses. At the same time, the program should have a few matchups that suit it well. If Jacksonville State reaches its potential with a powerful rushing attack and a decent defense, a five-win season is definitely in play. If the offensive line falters, it’ll be a long season for the Gamecocks.