Non-scholarship Jacksonville awaits playoff fate

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. (AP) - Jacksonville has a nine-game winning streak, a share of the Pioneer Football League title and its highest ranking in school history.

The Dolphins (10-1) also are in the top-10 nationally in several offensive and defensive categories.

Is it enough to get them into the Football Championship Series playoffs? The non-scholarship program will find out Sunday when the postseason bracket is released.

“We’ve done everything we could do,” coach Kerwin Bell said. “This team has played at a very high level and I think we have proven we can play with any team in the country.”

Ten teams will get automatic berths for winning their conferences. The Ohio Valley and Big Sky conferences likely will get additional bids, leaving about 14 teams vying for six spots. Many of those teams play each other this weekend.

The Dolphins are off this weekend, allowing them to sit back and watch things unfold.

No matter what happens, players and coaches feel like they’ve got the credentials. Jacksonville shared the PFL title with Dayton and is averaging 486 yards and 42 points a game, both tops in the FCS.

Josh McGregor ranks first in passing efficiency, and the team is fifth in turnover margin, seventh in passing offense and 10th in sacks.

Nonetheless, the Dolphins are seemingly hampered by being a non-scholarship program. Athletic director Alan Verlander believes the private school with an enrollment of about 3,200 faces an uphill battle because of the non-scholarship label.

“It’s a huge battle,” Verlander said. “I do think there is a label put on us, unfortunately. Just because we’re not scholarship football doesn’t mean that we’re not investing a lot of dollars into our program. Operationally, if you look at everything, we’re making the investment that the top schools in FCS are making. It’s hundred of thousands of dollars.

“If you take the financial aid the university is awarding, the university is investing a decent amount of money into football. Granted, the players have to qualify, there’s a set of criteria. Nobody on our team is on a free ride.”

Knowing they needed to impress the selection committee comprised of 11 FCS ADs, the Dolphins worked on style points all season. They hammered Valparaiso 86-7 and thumped Morehead State 61-17 _ both on the road.

Their only loss came to then top-ranked Appalachian State, 45-14 _ and the Dolphins trailed 17-14 in the third quarter. They’ve been ranked as high as No. 20 in the FCS coaches and media polls.

“The big thing is you’d hope (the selection committee) would look at the whole body of work,” Bell said. “If you look at what we’ve accomplished in our conference and go to what we’ve done outside the conference, I think it shows favorable that we can compete at that level. I think it would be a great story to have a team that can legitimately compete on the scholarship level.”

The only regret Bell, a former quarterback at Florida, has is the Appalachian State game in which he says two missed passes foiled the Dolphins. One had a Jacksonville receiver behind the defense and the second was a miss that “was

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