***UPDATE*** according to the JSU depth chart released late 8/31 consider the following:
Uriah West and Damond Philyaw-Johnson are not listed on the 2 deep. I think this makes RB Samuel and WR Edwards pretty strong plays and your super value WR is now only PJ Wells (listed with the second team but has has good reports out of camp).
Week 1 of the 2021 college football season officially opens Wednesday evening with the Montgomery Kickoff game. This will be nationally televised on ESPN so you know you’ll tune in. But did you know UAB didnt have a football program from 2015-2016? Did you know Jacksonville State is not in Florida? Yes and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this game full of intrigue!
Jacksonville State, located in Alabama is one of the premier FCS programs in the country. The Gamecocks made the FCS national championship game in 2015 and routinely make the playoffs. UAB is a quality group-of-five program that has remarkably rebuilt itself after closing up shop for two seasons not very long ago. This should be a quality football game that features defense and offensive ground attacks.
UAB is the favorite, projected to win by 14.5 in a game with a point total of just 47.5. The implied score is about 31-17 in the Blazers’ favor. If this contest was on a typical slate, it would probably be overlooked. But it’s the only game in town and therefore, we must grind.
Tyler Johnston III ($12000) for UAB leads an offense that frankly does not like to pass the ball. Over the last 3 seasons UAB’s neutral script pass rate harkens back to the days of leather helmets at 43.5%. Johnston has averaged only about 20-22 pass attempts per game in his career, a shockingly low number in the modern era. To make matters worse, he is not dynamic on the ground. While he may chip in 20-30 yards, it’s nowhere near enough to make up for his lack of passing upside. The UAB QB may be a strategic tournament fade at his salary even in a showdown slate.
Jacksonville State’s Zerrick Cooper ($9400) may be the best player on the field Wednesday night. The dynamic 6th year senior is on the pre season watch list for the Walter Payton award (the FCS Heisman) and has also caught the attention of the Senior Bowl in 2021. He returns to provide a spark for the Gamecocks. Cooper originally signed with Clemson in 2016 as a 4 star prospect before transferring to JSU. He enjoyed a sensational 2019 season where he threw for 3400 passing yards, ran for 320 yards on the ground and accounted for 34 total touchdowns finishing as a finalist for the Payton award. Unfortunately he was injured in week 4 of the 2020 season and we haven’t seen him since.
The JSU offense looked much less explosive after their star quarterback was lost. I am confident that Cooper will shine on Wednesday night as the lights were not too bright for him against power-five opponent Florida State last season. He looked good, completing 73% of his passes for 232 yards and adding a score on the ground. While this is likely to be a defensive struggle, the JSU offense runs through Cooper and his ability to score in multiple ways makes him a good candidate for the captain spot.
DeWayne McBride ($9800) is getting a ton of hype heading into year 2 after he averaged over 9 yards per carry as a true freshman in 2020. However, the UAB staff said “not so fast” when they published the depth chart heading into this game. Despite workhorse Spencer Brown’s departure, McBride still appears to be in a timeshare with 3rd year runner Jermaine Brown Jr ($5400).
While the versatile Brown can be on the field at the same time as McBride, this does make McBride’s salary a little steep. UAB wants to #establishit, however, and there are plenty of carries to go around. Since it is a showdown slate it would be hard to fade McBride completely, but this news makes me less excited to pay up for him as a captain. Brown becomes a worthwhile punt play for players needing to save cash.
The Gamecocks also have a tandem in the backfield that split the work almost exactly 50/50 in 2020. Josh Samuel ($8200) had 154 touches while Uriah West ($7200) saw 153. Both backs found the end zone 9 times. Samuel was more efficient per touch but there is no discernible starter in my opinion. With Cooper back in the fold JSU may run less than they did most recently while he was sidelined. I will be playing West with the cheaper salary and an equivalent touch expectation. One possibly overlooked strategy would be to play both JSU rushers, as I don’t think the game script will cause them to abandon the run.
The only reason UAB’s passing attack isn’t at the very bottom of the NCAA is because service academies exist. The Blazers are not a very exciting team to mine for receiving value. Trae Shropshire ($9000) is the leading returning receiver who turned in a 14-310-2 line last year. The 6’3″ 195 pound junior is intriguing because of his big play ability, averaging 22 yards per reception in 2020. Since we can’t find many targets on this offense, I am thinking it may be worth it to invest in Shropshire and hope for a long reception or two. He could be a sneaky captain contender as well. If he can come close to last year’s 5-180-1 line against Marshall, the few rosters with him in captain would be sitting pretty.
The only other Blazer on my radar is tight end Hayden Pittman ($3200). The returning receptions leader caught 19 balls in 9 games for UAB a season ago. If you need the bargain play just know you are likely getting 2 receptions and would need a touchdown to return value even on the small slate.
A trio of receivers should jockey for Cooper’s targets against UAB. Ahmad Edwards ($5000) and Damond Philyaw-Johnson ($1000) look to lead the group with PJ Wells ($1000) also working in. Edwards and Dave Russell III ($6400) are the top returning receivers from a year ago. While Edwards has solidified his place in the top of the depth chart, Russell seems to have fallen out of favor. This is reflected in his receiving yards prop on Prize Picks which has fallen from an initial value of 57.5 to 39.5 since posting.
The “other” DPJ is a transfer from Duke and was the Blue Devils’ primary kick returner over the past two seasons but never caught on as a receiver. The obvious speed is intriguing and there are whispers out of Jacksonville that he will be one of the primary options in the passing game. Wells rounds out the likely top 3 receivers. I will probably mix and match 2 of these JSU pass catchers.
I think all the Gamecock pass catchers seem undervalued. With the return of QB1 Cooper I think the offense will be more dynamic than the one we saw for most of last season. It is a funky game for DFS purposes because the favorite just doesn’t have many fantasy friendly options. I am comfortable taking more JSU players because I think the score will not be as lopsided as the spread indicates. If you’re looking for additional action, I will also be on JSU and the points.