Preseason polls are always interesting. Many people say they don’t put much stock into them, yet it always turns into a debate when released. When it comes to the FCS Preseason Top 25, there are a couple methods voters use. They either take last year’s playoffs results as a measurement to where they vote teams. Or they look ahead and predict which teams are actually going to be better than the others.
The latter, in my opinion, is much better. The defending national champions don't have to be voted No. 1. And a team that made the quarterfinals doesn’t have to be voted in the Top 10. For the 2018 season, though, it’s quite obvious reigning champs North Dakota State and runner-ups James Madison will be voted No. 1 and 2. But who exactly deserves to be No. 3?
Some may say Sam Houston State or South Dakota State because they made the 2017 semifinals. Others might say quarterfinalists Kennesaw State should be No. 3 because the Owls bring back more than SHSU and SDSU. Or how about Weber State, who played JMU the toughest in the playoffs before the title game? Some may even do their homework and realize a team who didn’t even make the playoffs last year potentially has the third best chance to win a national title. Eastern Washington sure looks to be solid. Or how about Jacksonville State, who has been bounced out of the playoffs early the last couple years but brings in some pieces that could get the Gamecocks back to Frisco?
Those are six worthy teams to be voted preseason No. 3. Or maybe they’re not worthy, depending on how you feel a preseason poll should be voted. So let’s discuss each team.
We’ll break them down in six articles and explain why they deserve to be No. 3 and why they don’t. Then a seventh article will give fans a chance to give their thoughts with an opportunity to vote for the most deserving team. Because even if preseason polls don’t matter in the long run, people sure like to voice their opinions on them. [divider]
Why the Gamecocks deserve to be preseason No. 3
As we saw in 2015, when things click for the Gamecocks, they are one of the most talented teams in the FCS. But when a team isn’t shy on bringing in a handful of FBS transfers every season, you can experience some up years and some down years. It’s all about how the new faces blend in with the old faces, the recruits who have been Gamecocks since their freshman seasons.
After appearing in the national title game during that 2015 season, JSU has dominated a less-than-challenging regular season schedule, but have been eliminated right away in the playoffs as the No. 3 seed the last two seasons. That “FCS blue blood” label is wearing thin. However, JSU has a good chance to gain some credibility back this season.
The defense was outstanding last season. The offense? Not so much. With all due respect to quarterback Bryant Horn, he was no Eli Jenkins. The legs of Roc Thomas were relied on heavily with 178 rushes. Horn ran the ball 140 times and threw the ball just 205 times for a completion percentage of 55.6. The JSU offense just didn’t have that explosion.
There may be an answer to that in 2018. Former Clemson quarterback Zerrick Cooper has transferred in. Cooper threw for 256 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in 10 games as a redshirt freshman last season. He’s battling for the starting job with redshirt freshman Zion Webb, who is heavily hyped.
No matter who is behind center, it’s likely the JSU offense is going to get a boost. And with a traditionally solid defense, that’s the balance you need to make a deep playoff run.
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Why they don’t
Without sugar coating it, the Gamecocks simply might not be as good as their record indicates. Three times in the last four years they have lost their first game of the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. They were 10-1 in each of those regular seasons.
It’s no secret the Ohio Valley Conference isn’t anywhere near the top of the best conferences in the FCS. JSU has dominated this league and has been rewarded for doing so. Yet at what point does the shine of being 2015 national runner-ups go dim? Until they show they can beat a solid FCS team when it matters, should the Gamecocks really be considered even a Top 8 team?
It’s also fair to point out JSU loses a senior class from last year that features seven players who earned a chance in the NFL. That’s a lot of talent gone on a team who was eliminated by a program appearing in its first ever postseason.