FRISCO, Texas – They are from Alabama and playing for a Division I national football championship.
No, not the Crimson Tide.
Jacksonville State is the No. 1 seed in the FCS playoffs, and will face four-time defending national champion North Dakota State on Saturday. That is two days before the No. 2 Crimson Tide play No. 1 Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game in Arizona.
“We don’t feel like we’re under the radar,” Gamecocks senior running back Troymaine Pope said Thursday. “We’re just living in our moment, just enjoying ourselves, just proud to be here.”
Jacksonville State (13-1) has an FCS-best 12-game winning streak since a 27-20 overtime loss to Auburn on Sept. 12. The only longer active Division I winning streak is Clemson’s 17-game run.
The campuses for Alabama’s championship contenders are about 130 miles apart on opposite sides of Birmingham – Jacksonville State to the East closer to Atlanta, and Tuscaloosa located West of the state’s biggest city.
“It’s not an overshadow thing. They’ve got their deal, we’ve got our deal,” Jacksonville State coach John Grass said. “It’s pretty good to be representing our state.”
Chris Landrum, a former Auburn transfer who in three seasons has tied Jacksonville State’s career record with 16 sacks, said he always wanted to play for a national championship and is proud to have the opportunity at the FCS level. Landrum said their focus is on winning their title, and not worrying about how much attention the Crimson Tide will get in preparation for their championship game.
“We just want to bring attention back to our town Jacksonville,” Landrum said.
Dual-threat junior quarterback Eli Jenkins has thrown for 2,731 yards and 21 touchdowns, two shy of the school record, while running for 1,073 yards and 14 more scores. Pope’s 1,757 yards rushing are a single-season school record, only 30 shy of breaking the Ohio Valley Conference record.
While the Gamecocks are in their first FCS national championship game, North Dakota State has made it to Frisco for the fifth year in a row. The Bison have won their last eight games.
“We’re definitely the underdog,” Pope said. “They’re the national champions so we deserve to be the underdogs, so we’re just going to take it and run with it.”
Jacksonville State can become only the fourth team to win titles in both NCAA Division I and Division II, joining North Dakota State, Montana State and Delaware. The Gamecocks won the 1992 Division II title, while North Dakota State was a five-time Division II champ before its four FCS championships.
Nearly four months after almost pulling off a huge upset at Auburn, the Gamecocks are now trying to knock off a perennial champion.
“We talk about playing a faceless opponent no matter who we play. It’s all about how we play,” Grass said. “I think that game helped prove that to our guys. We can play on any stage and I think they’re really focused on how we play.”
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