I-A College Football
            ***** NCAA Football Preview - South Alabama Jaguars *****
 By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: In their final season as an FCS Independent, the South
 Alabama Jaguars had an up and down campaign, finishing 6-4.
 Their wins came at home against West Alabama (20-10), Lamar (30-8), UT-Martin
 (33-30), Henderson State (28-3) and Mississippi Valley State (35-3), and on the
 road against UTSA (30-27 in double overtime.
 Head coach Joey Jones is now 23-4 as the Jaguars head coach after going
 undefeated in both 2009 and 2010.
 The team is a member of the Sun Belt Conference now, and while it will play a
 full FBS schedule, it will not be eligible for the conference title or
 postseason bowl game until 2013.
 OFFENSE: South Alabama had a modest offense in 2011, scoring 24.4 points per
 game and gaining 326.7 yards per game. Both numbers would have placed in the
 bottom-half of the Sun Belt rankings, but those stats came against FCS
 competition, so expect the numbers to come down in the first season playing
 against better competition.
 Any freshman quarterback being thrown in as the starter from day one is going
 to experience some growing pains, and C.J. Bennett was no exception. He
 completed 54.9 percent of his passes for 1,640 yards with just 7 touchdowns
 against 17 interceptions. An improvement in his overall skills for his
 sophomore campaign isn't out of the question, but considering he will have to
 face a whole new set of faster and more talented defenses, Bennett could be in
 for another long season.
 Though Bennett is expected to have a difficult time getting the ball to his
 receivers, at least he knows that he has some reliable options returning in
 starters Bryant Lavender (28 catches, 370 yards), and Jereme Jones (205 yards,
 2 TDs).
 The strength of the USA offense last season was its running game, and the two-
 headed attack of Kendall Houston (558 yards, 8 TDs) and Demetre Baker (491
 yards, 9 TDs) are both back for another go. The Jaguars will need to control
 the clock by slowing the tempo if it has any chance of competing this season,
 so expect for those two to have heavy workloads once again.
 DEFENSE: The South Alabama defense has a much better chance of playing well
 right away than does the offense, as the unit allowed just 309.7 yards per game
 last year, which ranked 16th in the FCS and would have been tops in the Sun
 Belt. It limited foes to 21.7 points per game.
 Most of the team's top defensive contributors are back for the 2012 season.
 Jake Johnson is a leader from the middle linebacker spot, and he led the team a
 year ago with 83 tackles while also adding 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and a
 forced fumble.
 An experienced secondary is led by a pair of hard-nosed safeties in Charles
 Harris (81 tackles, 1 interception, 3 forced fumbles) and B.J. Scott (48
 tackles, 4 pass breakups). Linemen Desmond LaVelle (25 tackles) and Romelle
 Jones (7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks) should provide pressure up front.
 Despite the unit's success last season, all of it came against smaller, slower,
 less-talented offenses, so it will be interesting to see how it responds to the
 FBS competition in its first year.
 SPECIAL TEAMS: Michael Chapuseaux will take over placekicking duties from the
 departed Jordan Means. Scott Garber will return as the punter after he averaged
 41.7 yards per kick in 2011.
 Speedster T.J. Glover will serve as the team's primary kickoff and punt return
 OUTLOOK: After dominating FCS competition in 2009 and 2010, South Alabama took
 a step back in '11 as it began to prepare for its transition to the FBS. It's
 sure to be a very difficult challenge, especially in year one, but Jones is
 confident he has a group of players that are ready to step up and make the most
 of this opportunity.
 "I don't want to cut our kids short on what we're doing," Jones said. "We're
 going to play to win. Knowing that, we have a difficult schedule and we've got
 to step up each week."
 The bar has been set very low for the Jags, since it isn't yet known if they
 have the talent to keep up with their Sun Belt brethren, but with low
 expectations come less pressure.
 "I think our kids will play with a chip on our shoulder this year," Jones
 continued. "Every week, we've got to prove something. Anybody we beat will be a
 big deal."
 The Jaguars start the season off with a few familiar foes from their FCS days
 in Texas-San Antonio and Nicholls State before being thrust into hostile road
 games at NC State and Mississippi State. They then take on eight Sun Belt
 opponents before ending the season at Hawaii.
 The offense will struggle to move the ball, which will ultimately end up
 hurting the defense. The team is sure to be in for a rough season, but if it
 can steal a game or two against conference opponents, it will be considered a
 successful first foray into the FBS.
 08/21 11:34:06 ET

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