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 Tech.
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TENNESSEE TECH (1-10 IN 2018)
The OVC (TTech was 9th in 2018)
COACH: Dewayne Alexander – At School: 2nd year (1-10 record) Overall: 9th year (42-43)
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2011 (lost first round to Central Arkansas)
2018 OFFENSE: 18.0 ppg. (111th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 46.1 ppg. (123rd in FCS)
KEY GAME: Aug. 31 vs. Samford: This will be an interesting game. The Golden Eagles don't necessarily have to win this game, but will this be a competitive game? Samford is rebuilding some since Walter Payton Award winner Devlin Hodges has moved on. Could this be a 'gotcha' game for Samford? That's a good question. This one will set the tone for 2019 for Tennessee Tech.
SUM IT UP: After two straight 1-10 seasons, FCS fans around the country might think that a program like Tennessee Tech is an annual cellar dweller, but that's not the case. The program has won five or more ballgames in six of the last 10 seasons, so it has not … in all fairness … been at the bottom perpetually. But yes, the last two seasons have hurt in Cookeville. I had a chance to sit down with head coach Dewayne Alexander, sophomore QB Bailey Fisher and seasoned senior DB Shannon Fayne — who played quite a bit for the 2016 Golden Eagle team that won five OVC games. I didn't get a negative or downtrodden vibe from that table, not in the least.
Two years ago in the OVC, Austin Peay broke its FCS "leading" 29-game losing streak and won eight games, finishing second in the OVC and nearly making the FCS Playoffs for the first time. Last year in the Southland Conference, Incarnate Word went from the bottom to the top — sharing the conference title with Nicholls and making the playoffs after being picked at the bottom in the preseason and going 1-10 in 2017. Tennessee Tech would like to be the 2019 version of 2017 Austin Peay and 2018 UIW, and it has some building blocks to work with. Alexander knows the state of Tennessee, has coached within its boundaries for 30+ years and has a positive pitch that will make you believe in five minutes flat that this is going to be a turnaround. That's a starting point.
Offensively, there are eight starters back from a very young lineup that took its lumps last year. Skill-wise, this group is nearly intact, and there is some experience coming back up front, too. Look for an improvement of seven to 10 points a game this fall and that will take some of the pressure off the defense, which will be replacing a good bit of its lineup with only four starters returning. Don't be surprised if a good chunk of this year's stellar recruiting class contributes immediately on defense.
OUR TAKE: So tell us if this sounds familiar — an upbeat new coach comes into a struggling OVC program in a small Tennessee town, recruits his rear end off and within two years has things turned around. That was Austin Peay with Will Healy's 2016 recruiting class, which stuck out like a sore thumb because it was clearly one of the best 30 FCS signing classes, yet the program hadn't won in like three years it seemed. This spring, Tennessee Tech's class ranked No. 32 in the FCS and signed three Top 300 recruits in the HERO Sports FCS Recruiting ranking, including the No. 4 overall player (see top newcomer below). We're not predicting an OVC title this year, folks, but we think this program will be a factor soon. Maybe the whole turnaround doesn't happen in 2019, but it's going to happen eventually. The vibe is positive and the roster is young. We think the program will triple or quadruple its win total from a year ago, and the offense will get rolling quickly and set up for an even more interesting 2020 season.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./DB Shannon Fayne (89 tackles in 2018, including 10 against FBS Utah State and 14 against FCS powerhouse Kennesaw State)
THE FOUNDATION: Soph./QB Bailey Fisher (1,661 yards passing, 11 TDs; 346 yards rushing, 2 TDs); Sr./RB Andrew Goldsmith (leading rusher, 484 yards rushing, 3 TDs; 22 receptions); Sr./CB Dami Adekunjo (43 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 5 PBUs); Jr./DE Chris Tucker (6.5 TFLs, 34 tackles); Soph./OL Schaefer Almoyan (returning starter); Jr./OL Kurt Huff (returning starter – 19 career games played).
THE NEWCOMER: Fr./WR Justin Oden (No. 4 ranked FCS signee in the HERO Sports Top 300 for 2019, eight reported Power Five Conference offers originally).
THE QUOTE: "We've talked to our team about let's be part of the biggest turnaround in college football … We can be the biggest story in FCS football this season, and I wouldn't say that if I didn't think there was the potential on our team to show that. Do we have the players to do that? I feel like we do. It's a huge statement because there are a whole lot of good teams in our conference." — Head Coach Dewayne Alexander told HERO Sports' Brian McLaughlin at OVC Media Days on July 22
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Tennessee Tech Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The OVC
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