HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days" where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs from June 17 to August 6. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 12-15. Today, we present … Tennessee Martin.
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UT MARTIN (2-9 IN 2018)
The OVC (UTM was 8th in 2018)
COACH: Jason Simpson – At School: 14th year (80-68 record) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2006 (first round loss)
2018 OFFENSE: 28.9 ppg. (50th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 34.4 ppg. (96th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Nov. 16 vs. Tennessee State: UT Martin and Tennessee State are programs hungry to improve on what happened last year. Last year's game went to overtime in Nashville, and we have a feeling it could be that type of game again this year in Martin. This game may have a very big effect on the Sgt. York Trophy, an in-state battle that has gone on since 2007 between these two teams, Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech. Austin Peay is the reigning Trophy winner, holding on to it because of the tiebreaker with UTM and TSU — as all three finished 2-1 in the competition last year.
SUM IT UP: First of all, let's state something that nearly all of the OVC head coaches told me off-the-record at OVC Media Days on July 22 — coach Jason Simpson probably does one of the top jobs in the FCS of putting a consistent winner on the field, despite not having the budget or the sexy "big city" feel that might attract a prospect to Nashville or Atlanta, etc. Though last year the program dipped to two wins, it played Jacksonville State as tough as any OVC team this side of SEMO, and it was 11 points away from three other wins, including two in overtime. To sum up, it was an excruciating season for the Skyhawks, but it wasn't nearly as bad as 2-9 would seem to indicate. Simpson has led this program to nine ".500 or better" seasons in his 13 seasons in Martin, Tenn., and the program is 63-42 in conference play.
So why'd we type all of that above? Because we don't think 2-9 is the beginning of any sort of trend here. The program was within 10 points in five of its losses, so UT Martin really wasn't far off from another winning season. So could the program turn around this year in this 12-game schedule? If history is any indicator, one would think that yes, it could happen. Here are the measurables within the program: There are seven players back who started games on offense, six back who started games on defense, and the OVC seems to have more parity than it has had in recent years. That's what this staff has to work with.
The offense has two quarterbacks returning who have started games in Dresser Winn and Joe Hudson — who also adds a running threat. Both threw for more than 1,000 yards, and they have two outstanding targets returning to throw to. A replacement for talented RB LaDarius Galloway must be found, as well as three linemen ready to step up and start full time. The defense, statistically, wants to bounce back in a big way. It was only a few years ago when this program put together back-to-back Top 20 FCS defenses, so good defense at UT Martin is not unprecedented. Truly, to start with, the Skyhawks definitely want to improve on the 34.4 points per game given up pace. They'll need some new stars to step up.
OUR TAKE: UT Martin opted to put two SEC programs (Florida and Kentucky) on this year's 12-game schedule, but the two FCS non-conference games (Northwestern State and Southern Illinois) are interesting matchups that could go either way. The OVC is going to be tougher than usual, we think, so road trips aren't going to be easy for UT-Martin. We think aiming for a .500 season is a good goal here considering the schedule and the OVC parity, and we think the Skyhawks will do no worse than double their win total of 2018.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./DL Julian Crutchfield (2nd Team 2018 All OVC – 9 TFLs, 41 tackles)
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./WR Terry Williams (67 receptions, 736 yards 3 TDs); Sr./WR Jaylon Moore (52 receptions, 799 yards, 8 TDs); Sr./LB T.J. Jefferson (35 tackles, 2.5 TFLs); Jr./QB Dresser Winn (1,601 yards passing, 12 TDs); Soph./DB Wanya Moton (54 tackles, 2.5 TFLs); Sr./OL Terry Fultz (returning starter); Jr./OL James Walker (returning starter); Sr./DB DeVonta Maura (46 tackles, 9 PBUs); Jr./OL Austin Newsom (returning starter).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./DB Jaden Gibbs (No. 30 in the Top 300 FCS signee in 2019 HERO Sports Recruiting rankings – reported Kentucky and South Carolina offers, among others)
THE QUOTE: "Over the years I've realized … there's a lot of guys who can run and jump out there, but getting the guys and making sure they are excited for the chance to play FCS football and play in Martin, Tennessee and are excited to pursue our university degree? That's what you want. If you can keep a guy for five years in your program and he's proud of where he is, you'll have a good chance to win in our league." — coach Jason Simpson told HERO Sports' Brian McLaughlin at OVC Media Day on July 22
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Tennessee Martin Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The OVC
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