Jacksonville State vs. UAB Odds, Predictions, Picks: Bet the Gamecocks to Cover in Wednesday’s Game
Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: The UAB Blazers.
UAB vs. Jacksonville State Odds
There's only one game on the board Wednesday, but it has so much history and so many storylines that it feels like we're getting ready for a new thriller movie rather than a C-USA/FCS matchup.
Bill Clark and John Grass meet for only the second time as head coaches on opposite sidelines, but their friendship dates back to 1987, when they assisted Ragan Clark, Bill's father, at Ashville High School.
They both attended and graduated from Jacksonville State together, and in 2007, they met in the Alabama 6A state final game in which Bill Clark led his team to a 14-0 victory.
In 2013, Clark became the head coach at JSU, bringing Grass with him to be his offensive coordinator. After an 11-4 first year in which they lost in the FCS Playoffs quarterfinals, Clark resigned to become the head coach at UAB, leaving Grass with the head job at Jacksonville State.
In the teams' first meeting since 2005 with both teams coming off impressive seasons — UAB as reigning C-USA champions and JSU falling just short in the FCS Playoffs — can Grass and his Gamecocks keep up with Clark's Blazers and their aggressive run game?
You would be hard-pressed to find a coach who has done more for a football program with less than Clark.
After his first season at UAB in 2014, when he went 6-6 and achieved bowl eligibility, the university discontinued the football program. The school reinstated that program not long after, but Clark spent two years building a program from the ground up before he could field a team in 2017.
UAB is 28-13 with three bowl appearances since resuming football. The Blazers are 40-22 since Clark arrived, winning C-USA titles in 2018, 2020 and a division title in 2019.
UAB went 3-6 against the spread (ATS) in the 2020 regular season, and the over/under was 4-5.
The Blazers return an offensive TARP of 71% and defensive mark of 76%
The Blazers lost all-time rushing leader Spencer Brown to the NFL, but I don't see their run game taking a step backward. DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr. will split the workload in the backfield.
McBride averaged 9.3 yards on 47 rushing attempts as a freshman in 2020, finishing with 439 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Brown ran for 250 yards and a touchdown on 63 carries and added 32 receiving yards on eight catches.
Quarterback Tyler Johnston III returns for the Blazers. Johnston completed 58.8% of his passes for 843 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception in five appearances last season. He averaged 8.7 yards per pass attempt, which would have ranked second in C-USA had he played enough to qualify.
The two leading receivers for UAB last season — Austin Watkins and Myron Mitchell — are gone, leaving Trea Shropshire as the top returner in receiving yardage (310). Shropshire caught 14 passes, including two touchdowns, and averaged 22.1 yards per reception. Tight end Hayden Pittman is the leader among returning players in catches (19).
UAB will maintain the strong balanced offense it had last season, when it averaged 200.0 rushing yards per game, 201.3 passing yards, and 28.4 total points.
Defensively, the Blazers return nine starters from 2020 when they ranked seventh nationally in total defense.
Of those nine starters, arguably the most important is All-Conference USA performer Kristopher Moll. One of the best defensive players in school history returns for his fifth season, moving back to safety from his linebacker spot.
UAB's defensive transfers include edge Justin Thomas (LSU), linebacker Charlie Benton (West Virginia) and safety Troy Young (Arizona).
Grass begins his eighth season with many familiar faces on both sides of the ball, but one major change: This will be the Gamecocks' first season in the Atlantic Sun Conference after 18 years in the Ohio Valley.
And what better way to kick off their first season in a new conference than against a lifelong friend who brought him to the program as an OC and left him for greener pastures after one year?
Jacksonville State played more games in 2020 than any other FCS team, finishing 10-3 while going 9-4 ATS.
Some teams had a fall season or a spring season, but Jacksonville State played both and made a run in the FCS Playoffs while averaging 28.4 points per game.
Jacksonville State has one of the best FCS Quarterbacks in Zerrick Cooper, who was named to the Walter Payton Award (FCS Heisman) watchlist after transferring from Clemson.
In 29 total games for JSU, he has thrown for 7,491 yards and 61 touchdowns. Cooper went 54-for-81 (66.7%) for 671 yards and one touchdown with one interception in four games last fall before being sidelined by injury. The former Clemson backup also ran for at least 300 yards in each of the previous two seasons while gaining 82 yards and scoring five times on the ground in 2020.
Now healthy, the elite quarterback looks to make a statement.
On the ground, Josh Samuel and Uriah West are a solid running back duo. Samuel led the team with 773 rushing yards on 139 carries, while West put up 687 yards on 137 attempts. Both scored eight touchdowns on the ground, and each caught one. West produced 17 receptions for 195 yards and Samuel added 197 yards on 14 catches.
With Cooper healthy, this Jacksonville State offense becomes lethal on the ground and through the air.
The Gamecocks defense held opponents to an average of 17.6 points, 92.3 rushing yards, and 2.3 yards per carry in a 13-game season last year.
The defense returns defensive end D.J. Coleman, who last year racked up 54 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks, along with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Safety Nicario Harper, who had 92 total tackles with one fumble recovery and three interceptions, also returns.
These crucial members of the defense, along with cornerback Kolbi Fuqua and edge rusher Taji Stewart, will ensure that the 2021 Gamecocks defense is just as good as last year's unit — if not better.
UAB vs. Jacksonville State Betting Pick
UAB went 1-3 ATS last season as a double-digit favorite; JSU went 2-0 ATS against FBS opponents.
This game is not your typical Week 1 FBS-vs.-FCS matchup.
The history between these two coaches and programs that dates back to the late 80s, along with an in-state recruiting battle that includes bad blood from players at JSU who weren't offered an FBS opportunity at UAB, sets this game up to be a lot closer than the listed number suggests.
UAB is a solid team with potential to make a run in Conference USA. If it's going to beat Jacksonville State, the path to victory will be through its depth at running back.
However, I expect the Gamecocks defense to continue to improve on their ability to stop the run from last year and slow UAB down enough for Cooper to show that he's the best quarterback on the field.
Grass' familiarity with Bill Clarks' game-planning and coaching technique will play a factor in this game — enough for the Gamecocks to keep this within the number.
I'm taking JSU+16 (-110) and would play it down to +14 (-110)