The Gamecocks are, as usual, expected to be contenders, but to what degree remains open for debate.
Lindy’s Sports Annuals has installed the Gamecocks as its favorite to win the OVC and tabs them No. 11 in its preseason Football Championship Subdivision Top 25. The Any Given Saturday FCS website has them No. 11 as well.
But The Sporting News picks Murray State as its OVC favorite and No. 14 nationally. It has JSU second in the OVC and No. 19 in its preseason Top 25.
Athlon’s has the Gamecocks highest of all the available preseason national rankings — No. 9.
If the OVC is a race between JSU and Murray’s electric Hatch Attack, it could all be decided Oct. 1 when the teams meet at Roy Stewart Stadium in Murray, Ky. Defending champion Southeast Missouri could be the spoiler, however, playing both teams in its final two games of the season.
“We are going to be very competitive, in some ways better than we have been,” said JSU coach Jack Crowe, who enters his 11th season and final year of his current contract. “Rankings are subjective, but we are excited to prove ourselves on the field every week.”
The Gamecocks finished last season 9-3 and ranked 12th in the Sports Network poll, their highest final season ranking since the final 1992 Division II poll following their national championship victory.
They were ranked as high as No. 2 after starting the season 8-0 — including a double-overtime upset of Ole Miss — with a chance to move to No. 1 at Eastern Kentucky, then lost three of their final four games.
They have been ranked in the top 25 for 30 straight weeks.
Senior defensive end Monte Lewis is on Lindy’s first-team preseason FCS All-American team -- one of two OVC players on the squad.
A first-team All-OVC pick last fall, Lewis recorded 27 tackles, four sacks and a fumble recovery.
“I’ve coached three first-team All-OVC defensive ends in the last five years and he’s better than them,” JSU defensive coordinator Chris Boone said. “And he didn’t just fall into it. He did it by a lot of hard work. He’s a special player.”
The other OVC player on the Lindy’s team is Eastern Kentucky senior defensive back Jeremy Caldwell.
The Gamecocks open the 2011 season with a conference game against UT Martin Sept. 1. It’s the third time in Crowe’s tenure they will open the season at home on a Thursday night.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.