HERO Sports welcomes you to "Two-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 125 FCS programs, with two being released each day from June 18 to August 18 (with the final day having three in one day). Today we give you … East Tennessee State.
EAST TENNESSEE STATE (4-7)
SoCon (ETSU was T8th in the SoCon in 2017)
COACH: Randy Sanders – 1st year (0-0 record)
2017 OFFENSE: 19.2 ppg (96th in FCS)
2017 DEFENSE: 28.4 ppg (84th in FCS)
SUM IT UP: This may just be the year for ETSU to break out, if it can survive a SoCon gauntlet that has a boatload of very strong teams back. That's the big question. Last year, the Bucs gave SoCon champion Wofford fits before falling by a touchdown, but were blown out in games against other strong SoCon teams like Samford, Western Carolina and Furman. That is the hump the Bucs have been trying to get over for the past few years. One big strength is this is the first full senior class the program has had since restarting its program in 2015. These guys are seasoned and hungry to be in the playoff mix and always seem just a hair away from busting loose. Both sides of the line are experienced. If the Bucs can just run the ball better, a lot of issues will be resolved. So to sum up? Most of this team is back, and guys like QB Austin Herink and LB Dylan Weigel seem like they've been putting up numbers for ETSU since the Reagan Administration.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: This is going to be a very, very interesting program to watch this year. We've been high on the Bucs before, but they just didn't get over the hump. That could be this year, but again — they have a slew of ranked SoCon teams on the schedule. Let's say this — when you stare at ETSU's schedule, you see two big home games staring back at you in September — Furman and a much improved Chattanooga team. I think this two-game stretch is the key to ETSU's year. If the Bucs go on the road to The Citadel in October with a 5-1 or 4-2 record (meaning losses only at Rocky Top or one of those two SoCon opponents) ETSU is going to have to be a program taken seriously in the SoCon discussion. If the Bucs fall in those two Sept. home games, the goal would then likely default to trying to beat last year's total of 4 wins. September is big.
TOP RETURNEE: DL Nasir Player (1st team All SoCon – 7 sacks, 13 TFLs)
THE NEXT BEST: OL Alex Rios (2nd team All SoCon); RS Quan Harrison (2nd team All SoCon); PK J.J. Jerman (2nd team AllSoCon – 14 of 18 on FGs); QB Austin Herink (2,213 yards passing, 14 TDs); LB Dylan Weigel (4-year starter and leading tackler); DL Blake Bockrath (SoCon Freshman team – 57 tackles, 9 TFLs)
TOP NEWCOMER: LB Jared Folks (Temple transfer – 32 tackles in 13 games in 2016).
DID YOU KNOW?: ETSU was a I-AA (now FCS) team from 1978 until 2003 and then shut down its football program, only to restart it in 2014. In 1969, the program had one of its best moments when it knocked off Louisiana Tech and its senior QB, Terry Bradshaw, who would go on to win four Super Bowls and be inducted into both the NFL Hall of Fame and College of Fame. But on that day? ETSU was better.
THE QUOTE: "There's definitely a new excitement because there's a whole new coaching staff. Everyone has a clean, fresh slate. Everyone has to go and show these new coaches what you can do, because they don't know you. They don't know you from the next dude, so you've gotta let them know that you're better than the next man. Everyone has to put their best foot forward and make a good impression."" — All SoCon DL Nasir Player said this spring
SOCIAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
THE HASHTAG: #ETSUTough
FOOTBALL TWITTER: @ETSUFootball
2 MONTHS TO THE DAY UNTIL 2018 @ETSUFootball, and we'll see plenty of this scene this year! Nothing like a battle on the gridiron under the lights, but 3 to start the home schedule is even better! #ETSUTough #RandySandersEra pic.twitter.com/1bui0wVPxg
— Buc Sports Network (@BucSportsRadio) July 1, 2018
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