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July 30, 2012
JACKSONVILLE STATE GAMECOCKS
Returning Starters: 12: Offense (6), Defense (4), kicker, punter
Key departures: DE Monte Lewis (7.0 TFL, Washington Redskins undrafted free agent), RB Calvin Middleton (723 rushing yards, 8 TDs, St. Louis Rams undrafted free agent), DB A.J. Davis (New Orleans Saints undrafted free agent)
Player to watch offense: Running back Washaun Ealey - The former heralded Georgia running back -- stop if you've heard that before -- transferred to the Gamecocks after a series of off-the-field issues at UGA. In his first season at JSU, he ran for 1,082 yards and nine total touchdowns. Ealey, now a senior, was a solid player during two seasons with the Bulldogs, tallying over 1,500 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. During his freshman season in 2009, former Gator linebacker Brandon Spikes allegedly gouged Easley's eye in a pile, sparking a debate after Florida's 41-17 beat down. Easley was just the 10th player in JSU history to pass the 1,000-plateau.
Player to watch defense: Safety Pierre Warren - The Gamecocks' free safety had a great freshman season. Warren led JSU in interceptions (3 -- second in the Ohio Valley Conference) and fumble recoveries (2) while finishing second on the team in passes defended (5). The safety returned one of his interceptions for a lengthy touchdown. Warren recorded 37 stops in 2011, the second highest total for a returning player.
2012 Outlook: In Lindy's FCS Top 25 poll, JSU is ranked #25. After winning its 18th conference championship last year, Jacksonville State returns its leading rusher, tackler and turnover creator. Senior quarterback Marques Ivory missed practically all of JSU's 7-4 campaign in 2011 after suffering an injury in last year's opener versus Tennessee-Martin. Ivory has 25 career passing touchdowns, but was replaced by two-sport star Coty Blanchard. The Gamecocks do return three veteran starters along the offensive line. JSU was one of three Ohio Valley teams to be ranked in the top 25 (#9 Eastern Kentucky, #18 Murray State), so it'll have some stiff competition for conference supremacy.
Level of Difficultly for the Gators (*based on ranking schedule 1-12, one being the hardest): 12 ?While there's schedule "cupcakes," this game should be more like a nice pound cake for the Gators. Although JSU is a formidable FCS team, they haven't had much luck against SEC teams -- even cellar dwellers. The Gamecocks actually opens the season in Fayetteville against Arkansas. Kentucky dropped Jacksonville State 38-14 last year, but the Gamecocks did stun Ole Miss in a double-overtime thriller in 2010 (49-48). Florida and JSU have never squared off. While Easley, Warren and linebacker Rashad Smith are nice players, even Florida's B team would be double-digit favorites.
Gators' chances of winning: 99.9%