- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. (AP) - Jacksonville State isn’t shying away from the high expectations.

The Gamecocks are favored to repeat as Ohio Valley Conference champions in John Grass’s second season with a deep, experienced team led by quarterback Eli Jenkins and reigning league defensive player of the year Devaunte Sigler.

The expectations are similar to what Grass and the Gamecocks faced in his debut season. They wound up going undefeated in OVC games and earning the No. 3 seed in the FCS playoffs before falling 37-26 to Sam Houston State in the second round.

“You want those expectations,” Grass said. “You want that pressure. That is a pat on the back to our last year’s team, what they did on the field. So that’s got your predictions set up for this year.

“I’m proud of last year’s team. We’re predicted where we would like to be predicted and we want that pressure because we want to be good. Does that mean anything about how we’re going to play? No.”

Jacksonville State is ranked as high as No. 4 in preseason polls and had 12 players make the preseason All-OVC teams, including Jenkins.

Grass said the sting of losing in the playoffs helped his players come “back with a hunger in January.” It still serves as a motivator.

“I don’t think it will ever go away,” Grass said. “I think it drives you. As a competitor you always dwell on your losses and that hurt of that loss more than you do your success. Unless you win that last one, you’re not happy.”

Here are some things to watch in Jacksonville State’s season:

CHALLENGING START: The Gamecocks will have to play well to avoid an 0-2 start. They face Southern Conference favorite Chattanooga on Sept. 5, followed by their first trip to Auburn. Jacksonville State beat Chattanooga 26-23 in overtime last season.

REPLACING JAMES: Jacksonville State must replace 1,000-yard rusher DaMarcus James but still has experienced runners. Counting Jenkins, the Gamecocks return three players who topped 600 rushing yards last season. Troymaine Pope and Miles Jones are joined by Kentucky transfer Josh Clemens, who has battled injuries throughout his career.

ON THE LINE: Sigler and fellow defensive linemen LaMichael Fanning and Chris Landrum are all preseason all-conference picks. Sigler and Landrum are Auburn transfers and Fanning started his career at Alabama.

QB PLAY: Jenkins passed for 1,870 yards and rushed for 698 in his second season as the starter but Georgia transfer Christian LeMay is also likely to play “a good bit,” Grass said. He got into seven games last season.

DEPTH: Grass feels like his team goes at least two-deep in quality players across the board. “That’s a great feeling,” he said. “We don’t have a position where we’re not fairly deep at, and that creates competition.”

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