Fueled by an invitation to leave the Division-I FCS and join college football's highest level, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks are quickly picking up steam as a CFB program to pay attention to.
JSU faced some ups and downs in the 2021 season, with their former football coach John Grass announcing his resignation after eight seasons earlier this year. A resignation of a football coach that won almost three-quarters of the games he coached (with a 72-26 record) would usually prove problematic for a small conference football team - especially one that is planning to move up to the FBS in 2023.
But despite such adversities, the Gamecocks are gaining some attention well beyond the borders of their home state of Alabama. With a new Virtual Visit, JSU's coaching staff is leaning into innovations that will put them on the map for the nation's most exciting recruits. And the new ball coach is one that will certainly excite prospects and their parents.
JSU Gets A New Head Coach
A familiar face for Power 5 college football fans, Rich Rodriguez, accepted the position as head football coach for Jacksonville State in early December 2021. A pretty big name hire for a team still in the FCS.
Rodriguez was the former head football coach at Michigan who has amassed a 163-119-2 overall record in his career as the head of a program. With intentions of jumpstarting the struggling WAC-ASUN Conference team, Rodriguez will need to also prepare his younger players and incoming recruits for a new era in Division-I's Conference USA.
Not Just A Conference Change
There is a reason Jacksonville State was among the teams selected to join Conference-USA after a number of teams moved conference due to the SEC and Big 12 realignment. The Gamecocks had been on a hot-streak in the FCS's Ohio Valley Conference and are a recognizable brand in the division - one that could fill gaps left in the depleted Conference USA.
That hot streak includes winning six Ohio Valley Conference Championships since 2011 and reaching the FCS Playoffs eight times since 2013. In 2015, they lost the FCS National Championship to a North Dakota State team that sent two players to the NFL draft.
JSU will move up to the FBS ranks in the 2023-24 academic year, joining another ASUN conference team in Liberty, New Mexico State, and Sam Houston.
Watch Out For Matthew Caldwell
The future to Jacksonville State, QB Matthew Caldwell, will have a couple years of eligibility left when the Gamecocks move divisions in 2023.
Caldwell currently boasts 136 passing yards with 14 completions in the three games he played in 2021 and averaged 5.4 rushing yards as a freshman. Caldwell is anticipated to be the next starting quarterback after senior Zerrick Cooper graduates.
Caldwell is a highly anticipated weapon in the Gamecocks arsenal, and the more snaps he gets to ready himself for the next level, the more backing he will get from the coaching staff and Gamecock fans.
A complete package linebacker Marshall Clark will be a Junior heading into the 2023-24 academic year with the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. In 2021 alone, Marshall Clark amassed 16 total tackles, with one forced fumble.
Clark is the highly anticipated starter for the defensive front of the Gamecocks. Heading into his Junior year, Marshall Clark has risen in popularity, as he becomes one of the team’s top tacklers again in the fall season despite only playing seven games due to an injury. Clark was currently fourth on the team in tackles with 52 and forced a pair of fumbles.
Marshall Clark has made a name for himself as one of the defensive forces for the Gamecocks. As he prepares for his junior year, his popularity as a Gamecocks defense leader is continue to increase.
Continuing the train of popularity
Popularity doesn’t come overnight for a football organization. Jacksonville State Football has amount numerous trophies and levels of success within the FCS conference. As they prepare for the Conference USA, it is understandable why people may wonder why Jacksonville State Football is becoming more popular.
The new head coach, conference change, and two-star powerhouses for Jacksonville State Football. It is easy to understand that the organization is taking the popularity of the Conference USA by storm. Only time will come when JSU will become a household name around the nation.