Jacksonville State vs. Stephen F. Austin (2:30 p.m., ESPN): Gamecock head coach Rich Rodriguez is in no hurry to let the Lumberjacks know if the Gamecocks quarterback starter is Zion Webb, Aaron McLaughlin or Te'Sean Smoot in the FCS Kickoff at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery. Stephen F. Austin won't know for sure until the Gamecock offense goes out for its first series. The Jacksonville State running back situation is muddier. Rodriguez said his team has six running backs in the mix, and it would have been seven if true freshman Reggion Bennett wasn't lost for the season with an injury. Rodriguez said he feels good about the position and expects to play three or four running backs.
Stephen F. Austin, the 10th ranked FCS team in the country, is led offensively by quarterback Trae Self and wide receiver Xavier Gibson. Both are on the Walter Payton Award watch list. The award is given to the top FCS offensive player in the country. Jacksonville State senior cornerback Yul Gowdy and senior safety Jeremiah Harris are surrounded by youngsters in the Gamecock secondary.
The Lumberjacks' defense is led by defensive end B.J. Thompson, who is a member of the Buck Buchanan Award watch list. The award honors the top FCS defensive player in the country. Last season, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Thompson had 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
Stephen F. Austin leads the series between the schools, 6-2. Jacksonville State won last year's meeting, 28-24.
Alabama State vs. Howard (7 p.m., ESPN): The Eddie Robinson Jr. tenure begins at Alabama State as the Hornets travel to Atlanta to play the Bison in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. This will be Robinson's first game as a coach at any level of football. Teams from the MEAC have dominated this game, capturing 11 of the 15 games played. Robinson will try to turn that around with a rebuilding Alabama State team that went heavy into the transfer portal to help make things right.
Auburn transfer Dematrius Davis, a 5-foot-11, 202-pound freshman from Houston, is expected to handle the quarterback duties. He's a dual-threat quarterback with the ability to make big chunk plays. He's needed to energize an offense that produced just 303 yards and 22 points per game last season. Jeremiah Hixon, a 5-foot-9, 167-pound redshirt junior, was the team's leading receiver last year with 44 catches for 563 yards and four touchdowns.
Alabama State's two-deep depth chart includes eight former FBS players on the first team and seven on the second team.
Howard is coming off a 3-8 finish with four of the losses decided by one score.
"The team had to learn how to play hard the whole game," said Howard football head coach Larry Scott in a story on the school's athletic website. "We can win, and it took that experience for them to realize that. We have had time to process and it is going to make a difference."
Quarterback Quinton Williams has been successful despite playing in three different offensive systems. Last season, he was 176-of-301 for 2,353 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Most of his favorite targets return this season.
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