JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State's football team opens its season in only four days.
After months of wondering, we'll finally get to see the 2019 Gamecocks in a game that counts. They're expected to be good again, as they were picked to win the Ohio Valley Conference for the sixth straight year. Also, they're No. 6 in the preseason STATS FCS poll.
So what should we look forward to the most?
Here are five things to keep in mind:
1. The passing game
After earning first-team All-OVC honors as a sophomore transfer last year, Zerrick Cooper has worked hard in the off-season to get even better. If he can cut down on the turnovers and stay injury-free, he'll be one of the top quarterbacks in the country again.
He's got a brilliant set of receivers, too. Josh Pearson is a preseason All-American, and Jamari Hester has been a stalwart for the previous three seasons. Don't count out dependable Daniel Byrd or Notre Dame transfer K.J. Stepherson, and Cooper showed last year he likes to throw to tight ends Trae Barry and Landon Rice.
2. Marlon Bridges
Bridges is entering his senior season, and as a starting safety since his redshirt freshman year, he's made more great plays for Jacksonville State than anyone can recall. He struggled with a knee injury last year, and it slowed his playmaking ability.
How great would it be to see Bridges be healthy and give JSU the kind of defensive brilliance we saw often in 2016 and 2017?
3. Rock in the middle
Senior linebacker Jalen Choice was a bit of a surprise last year as he played strong at the start of the season and never dropped off.
He led the team with 88 tackles, and he's a good bet to top 100 this year, especially if JSU advances far in the FCS playoffs. It was his first season as a full-time starter, and as with Cooper, it should be fun to see what he can do this year.
4. Young linemen
JSU lost most everybody from last season's first- and second-team defensive lines, but there is young talent ready for their shot.
Anthony Nesby is someone to keep an eye on at defensive tackle. Oxford's Matthew Muncher will have a chance to shine. D.L. Coleman is a sophomore who played a decent amount last year as a freshman.
The season opener should give us a chance to see who else is ready to step up.
Who's going to replace Cade Stinnett as the Gamecocks' place-kicker. That hasn't been announced yet, but there are three guys who've been part of the race at one point or another in preseason.
Sophomore Bryant Wallace, junior Parker Holland and sophomore Jason Pierce (the starting punter) have gotten a chance.
It's always a big responsibility, but whoever wins the job will have endured a pretty competitive tryout this past month.