Jacksonville State, I just don't get you. You have such an awesome community and obviously … football is secondary because sports should be secondary (paging Tuscaloosa/Columbus/Clemson), always should be. With JSU, just look back at the tornado bounceback effort, right? Starting at the top of your athletic department setup, you have one of the best ADs in the country in our opinion, one of the coolest head coaches too, and you have an outstanding track record overall in your conference. But the last two seasons? In the FCS Kickoff Classic you played a great team in HBCU Champion North Carolina A&T, but it's a team you should have beaten. Today? Southeastern Louisiana is a solid program in the Southland Conference, but who are we kidding? The Gamecocks should have won tonight's game. Honestly? It shouldn't have even been close … and it wasn't. But not in the way JSU fans would appreciate.
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It doesn't really add up. Sam Herder and I didn't put Jacksonville State at No. 6 in our national preseason FCS Top 25 poll because we're in love with JSU or because we're regurgitating past results. We're not in love with any program and we refuse to regurgitate last year's results — it was predictive based on the talent returning on the roster. We put the Gamecocks there because the roster is as loaded with talent (on paper) as 2015. This is a good team. When this team scared the living hell out of Auburn in 2015 in overtime on War Eagle turf and went to a national title game and ran into this dude named Carson Wentz before it ran out of gas (understandable, ask the NFL)? This JSU program in 2019 is that level good, that talented. I swear. And hey, there's a lot of season left …
But it keeps tripping itself up.
When I visited Southland and OVC media days in July … I asked about 20 different coaches at the two media days that age old question of … is it the Jimmies and the Joes (recruiting) or the Xs and the Os (playcalling) … and 75% of them, almost like they were on a conference call together prior and were ready for the inquisition, said "Brian, there's a 3rd factor you're not throwing in there when it comes to program success"! They said: "Program Culture".
Eye-opening. But then again? I get the culture thing. I get it, it makes sense. Atmosphere, camaraderie, consistency … duh. It makes sense. These players are tied together like a pack of wolves for five years (at least) and we're supposed to expect just talent and or playcalling are the only key components? Hell, most of us work in the real world. We know the professional world is challenging, and the above is a key component of a good work place. Why would we expect less from a Division 1 powerhouse football program? Right? But how do you produce this? Hey, I'm an old fat guy with graying hair, I don't have all the answers. I have no clue how you do it, but I've seen it work and succeed.
The bottom line is? There are programs in the FCS that have figured this out.
What is it? OVC programs in general are receptive to transfers. We've all enjoyed the NETFLIX series of "Last Chance U". This league in particular embraces the idea of giving a kid a second chance and should be commended for it. It fits the culture of the south (I live here too and know many who've gone this route) and it has really, really helped a lot of kids along the way. Transfers from Power Five conference schools flock to the OVC … and that can pay dividends, but does it also create a chemistry issue? I'm not the only guy to ask that question. I'm not the only guy to wonder, but I'm not in the huddle. But it makes me wonder.
But tonight? It just doesn't add up. And this is coming from a guy who enjoys working with Jacksonville State in every capacity. Seriously. I love that school and I'm not afraid to say it. I don't care anymore about what my media colleagues "used to say" about "liking" or even "disliking" a school. I don't care. Most of those clowns were cynics anyway, even though they all had/have their favorite too and wouldn't admit it pubically. Welcome to human nature.
I think JSU is a wonderful landing spot. So it makes it tougher to be honest here and not be positive, but …
Something isn't clicking here. At a talented program that draws 20-25K plus every weekend when it is winning, and can push an SEC team (hello: paging Auburn and Ole Miss in the past decade) when things are clicking?
What happened today? JSU, you know you're better than that. We KNOW you're better than that. You want to be better than that. The naysayers will say you're not, but you and I (and many others) know you're better than that. Chin up, there's a ton of season to go.
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