Game: UAB Blazers at Jacksonville State Gamecocks
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Blazers -15.5, Gamecocks +15.5
Week 1 of the 2021 college football season kicks off on a Wednesday night with UAB traveling to FCS Jacksonville State. Both teams are coming off strong 2020 performances and are looking to get out of the gate quickly in 2021. The Gamecocks could make another strong statement with a great performance against an FBS program. Last season, JSU lost just three games, one of those to Florida State.
Interestingly, UAB head coach Bill Clark and JSU head coach John Grass both attended and graduated from Jacksonville State. When Clark became the head coach at Jacksonville State in 2013, he named Grass his offensive coordinator. When Clark took the job at UAB, Grass succeeded him.
Last season, JSU played 13 games total, six in the fall and seven in the spring. They went 10-3 and made the FCS playoffs. Playing the spring season may give the Gamecocks a bit of an advantage heading into the fall. JSU will also be playing in a new conference – the Atlantic Sun – this season after 18 years in the Ohio Valley Conference.
What really gives JSU an advantage is having one of the best players in the FCS – QB Zerrick Cooper. In 29 games with JSU, Cooper has thrown for 7,491 yards and 61 touchdowns. He got hurt last fall but is healthy heading into this season. Cooper is on the Walter Payton Award watch list.
The Gamecocks also return their top two running backs, Josh Samuel and Uriah West. Samuel led the team with 773 yards and West added 687. Both rushed for eight touchdowns. Cooper is also a threat to run and JSU averaged 28.4 points per game last season.
Grass’s offense will go up against a very stingy UAB defense, one that returns nine starters. If there is one thing Clark-led teams are known for, it is defense. Last season, the Blazers ranked seventh nationally in total defense. Returning for a fifth season is All-Conference USA Kristopher Moll. He will move back to safety from his linebacker spot.
On offense, UAB lost leading rusher Spencer Brown to the NFL, but they return DeWayne McBride who averaged over nine yards per carry as a freshman last year. Quarterback Tyler Johnston III returns. He threw for 843 yards, seven touchdowns, and just one interception last year but will need to improve upon his completion rate of 58.8 percent. The UAB offense is balanced. Last year, the Blazers rushed for 200 yards a game and passed for 201.3.
Last year, UAB went 6-3 with a couple of games canceled due to the coronavirus. UAB went 1-3 ATS in games where they were favored by double digits. Jacksonville State played two FBS opponents last year – Florida State was one – and covered the spread in both of those games.
Tonight’s total may seem low at 51.5, but both teams are strong defensively. As good as UAB has been on defense, they have hit the Over in 10 of 12 games in which they were favored by 10 to 15 points.