Five years ago these two teams played a competitive game in the FCS playoffs. Now look at ’em.
Saturday’s ETSU football opener at Jacksonville State will be a microcosm of how much the Buccaneers’ peers have passed them by.
Five years ago the Bucs, fresh off their first conference championship in 37 seasons and 49 years, traveled to Burgess-Snow Stadium to play the Gamecocks in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
It was the sixth straight appearance in the FCS playoffs for Jacksonville State, but upstart ETSU led 20–10 at halftime.
After JSU scored 24 straight second-half points to take a 34–20 lead, Bucs quarterback Austin Herink was on his way to executing one of his trademark comebacks before running back Quay Holmes succumbed to future FBS linebacker Zack Woodard’s hit and fumbled the ball away four yards shy of a tying touchdown with 2:38 left in the game.
Final score, Jacksonville State 34, ETSU 27.
But today the programs that were separated by just four yards in 2018 are decidedly not equal.
Jacksonville State is now an FBS school, coming off a 9–2 season in their final year in the FCS. The Gamecocks won their first game as an FBS team last week against UTEP, 17–14 and are coached by Rich Rodriguez, who previously contended for a national championship at West Virginia.
ETSU, meanwhile, is coming off a 3–8 season in the FCS and their administrators have said they have no real interest in leaving the classification.
Coaching? With the exception of defensive coordinator Billy Taylor, the staff is inexperienced.
And even if an ETSU fan wanted to champion the Buccaneers’ 23–3 victory against Vanderbilt in 2021 as evidence the Bucs stand a chance on Saturday, Jacksonville State can trump that with victory against Florida State the same year.
Is it any wonder ESPN gives Jacksonville State better than a 90 percent chance of winning?