The Jacksonville State Gamecocks have a chance to get back into contention for the Ohio Valley Conference title when they host league-leading Tennessee State at 11 a.m. Saturday, despite coming off their second league defeat.
The Gamecocks' 31-28 loss to Eastern Illinois dropped them into a tie with Murray State for fifth place in the OVC standings at 2-2 (3-3 overall). But JSU is only one game behind a trio of teams tied for second at 3-1 (Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee-Martin and Eastern Illinois) and 1½ games out of first. Tennessee State (7-0, 3-0) is one of four FCS teams still undefeated.
So a victory by the Gamecocks would put them in the middle of a tight race for the OVC crown that could involve as many as seven teams. A loss, however, would leave JSU all but eliminated from championship contention.
The Gamecocks hold a 6-1 lead in this series, but none of the Tennessee State teams they beat were 7-0 and ranked No. 17 in the nation. The Tigers have not been undefeated this late into the season since the 1999 team went 11-0.
"They have some of the best players I have ever seen," JSU coach Jack Crowe said. "They are big up front and they can run the ball. Defensively, they are in the top three in the league in almost every category. It will be a challenge for us."
In last week's 40-28 victory over Southeast Missouri, TSU junior running back Trabis Ward rushed for 267 yards and four touchdowns, three in the fourth quarter. Ward ranks sixth nationally in rushing at 129.7 yards per game, and second in scoring at 11.1 points per game.
Despite allowing their season-high in points, the Tigers still rank 13th nationally in scoring defense (16.4 points per game) and are the only OVC team in the top 50 nationally in total defense (48th, 350.1 yards per game).
As for the Gamecocks, their biggest issue this season has been turnovers. They committed five of them in the loss to Eastern Illinois, giving them nine in their two conference losses.
"Other than the turnovers, I think we have played pretty good this year," Crowe said. "We have to overcome that. I think we are a better football team than that. If we don't turn over the football, we will be in every game."
North Alabama at West Georgia, 6:30 p.m.
North Alabama freshman quarterback Luke Wingo will receive his first start when the Lions (5-2, 2-1 Gulf South Conference) play West Georgia (2-4, 0-3).
Wingo, the son of former University of Alabama and Green Bay Packers linebacker Rich Wingo, has seen playing time off the bench in every game this season. He earned his first start after nearly bringing UNA back from a 24-0 deficit to Valdosta State last week by leading the Lions on three second-half touchdown drives. He completed 17 of 31 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown in the 24-21 loss.
A victory would guarantee that the Lions will be eligible for at least a share of the GCS crown when they play current league leader West Alabama on Nov. 8.
Samford at Chattanooga, 5 p.m.
The Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2 Southern Conference) will attempt to put the memories of last week's final-minute loss to Appalachian State behind them when they take on Chattanooga (3-3, 2-1).
The Mountaineers scored on a 22-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining to defeat Samford 28-25. So instead of being tied for first place in the conference, the Bulldogs are tied for fifth.
"Our guys were down on Sunday from the tough loss we had, but I think we've bounced back," Samford coach Pat Sullivan said. "We have to get back, because Chattanooga is playing as well as anybody in the conference right now."
In their past two games, the Mocs have defeated The Citadel and Furman on the road by a combined score of 59-20.
Stillman at Fort Valley State, 2 p.m.
A week after losing to SIAC West Division leader Tuskegee, Stillman (4-3, 3-1) now faces East Division leader Fort Valley State (5-2, 3-1).
Stillman was shutout by Tuskegee 16-0 despite moving inside the Tuskegee 40-yard line on four occasions, including one drive that ended with an interception in the end zone. Quarterback Josh Straughan completed 26 of 39 passes but threw for only 132 yards.
Fort Valley State senior wide receiver Christopher Slaughter, an Auburn transfer, was named the SIAC offensive player of the week after making 10 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-12 victory over Concordia.
Miles at Lane College, 2 p.m.
Miles (6-1, 4-0) will attempt to extend its winning streak to seven games before closing the regular season with back-to-back home games against Stillman and Tuskegee to determine the SIAC West Division champion.
The Golden Bears are excelling on both sides of the ball. They lead the SIAC in scoring offense with an average of 38 points per game, and they are second in scoring defense at 14.7 point per game.
Lane (3-4, 1-4) has allowed an average of 33.4 points per game in its five SIAC contests this season.
Tuskegee vs. Kentucky State, 1 p.m.
These two teams have been going in opposite directions nearly the entire season. Tuskegee (5-1, 4-0 SIAC) is on a five-game winning streak while Kentucky State (1-5, 0-4) has lost four in a row.
Tuskegee has allowed an average of only 12.2 points per game this season, the lowest in the SIAC, with no team scoring more than 18 points. That is not good news for Kentucky State, which committed five turnovers and gained a total of only 126 yards in last week's 45-0 loss to Miles.
West Alabama vs. Shorter, 3:30 p.m.
West Alabama (5-2, 2-0 Gulf South) begins a stretch of four games in 20 days to close out the season by taking on conference newcomer Shorter (4-3, 0-1).
Shorter is not eligible for the conference championship this season, but games against the Hawks do count in the GSC standings.
After this week, UWA has games against conference foes Delta State and North Alabama as well as a road trip to traditional Division II power Abilene Christian.
"I believe we are ready for the home stretch," UWA coach Will Hall said. "I would like to see us get on a roll, and I think we are going to."