An Article from the Journal Gazette on the JSU -EIU Game

BY BRIAN NIELSEN, Sports Editor
bnielsen@jg-tc.com

CHARLESTON — Two decades ago Cleveland State’s basketball program went so far as to make up a “Let’s Pretend League.”

That outfit even put a banner on a wall that was pictured in the following year’s media guide.

NCAA violations had coach Kevin Mackey’s Cleveland State team ineligible for the postseason basketball tournament so it was not included in standings of the old Mid-Continent Conference when Eastern Illinois was a member.

As far as we know Jacksonville State has not concocted a “Let’s Pretend League.”

But the Gamecocks are still taking the football field on Saturdays despite being ineligible for the NCAA playoffs or Ohio Valley Conference championship because of an Academic Progress Report penalty.

Not only are they playing their OVC schedule but with two wins they are the only team that has not lost in league play.

For opponents, games against this team ranked 12th and 13th in Football Championship Subdivision national polls count in the OVC standings and if you had Cleveland State tendencies to pretend, you could easily see where the Gamecocks would stand.

“They know they can win the conference unofficially,” Charles Graves said.

Unofficially, the Gamecocks stand 2-0 in the OVC and a for real 4-2 with losses to Football Bowl Subdivision teams while preparing to play host to Eastern, 5-2 overall and an actual 3-1 in the OVC, in a 1 p.m. Saturday game at Jacksonville, Ala.

“They are arguably the best team in the OVC until someone proves otherwise,” EIU coach Bob Spoo said. “They guys who get on the plane have to believe we can go down there and win.”

Rather than giving a team a warning about the talents of an opponent as done some weeks, Eastern coaches might be trying to make sure their players don’t consider this Jacksonville State team invincible.

Since letting a near upset slip away in the game’s final minute of a 19-9 loss at Florida State, the Gamecocks have routed Alabama A&M 45-13, Nicholls State 60-10, UT Martin 52-7 and Murray State 41-7 racking up statistics that have them atop the OVC lists in almost every category.

Last week’s bye week might have provided as much of a challenge.

EIU coaches probably have pointed out to their players that those four FCS teams that have lost to Jacksonville State are just a combined 9-17.

“I don’t think we’re intimidated,” Graves said. “I’d say we’re excited.”

This might be a scaled-down version of the opportunity two weeks ago to visit Penn State, now ranked 12th in the Football Bowl Championship Subdivision.

When losing a 52-3 money-making game at Penn State, the Panthers did not lose any ground in the OVC and probably much consideration for a FCS playoff berth.

Saturday’s game could do such damage for an Eastern team currently 24th and 25th in FCS polls.

“It’s a huge game for us,” Graves said. “It means everything right now.”

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