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 … Towson.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country with HERO Sports.
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TOWSON (7-5 IN 2018)
CAA (Towson was T3rd in 2018)
COACH: Rob Ambrose – At School: 11th year (59-59 record) Overall: 12th year (62-66)
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2018 (First-round loss to Duquesne)
2018 OFFENSE: 34.5 ppg. (15th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 28.8 ppg. (69th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Oct. 26 @ James Madison – The best three teams in the CAA, at least as it looks on paper in the preseason, are JMU, Maine and Towson. Towson's the only one who plays the other two in the regular season, so this matchup could go a long way in telling us what we want to know about the top tier of arguably the FCS' top conference. This one could ultimately hand us our eventual CAA champion and automatic playoff berth.
SUM IT UP: We'll be blunt right off the bat — this is the best Towson team since the national runner-up team that went 13-3 in 2013. Period. Yes, last year's playoff loss at Duquesne was head-scratching considering the hurting this Towson team laid down on CAA playoff teams like Stony Brook and Elon. But this team is almost entirely intact, it is steaming mad about the way last year ended and it has one of the best quarterbacks (Tom Flacco) in Division I football. Oh, and they have a coach (Rob Ambrose), who led the Tigers to a national title game in recent years. There's a lot to like about this team, and that's why it is in our HERO Sports Preseason Top 10.
Flacco's back. The younger brother of Joe threw for more than 3,200 yards and 28 TDs last year, while also gaining more than 1,000 rushing yards. He will be the catalyst, but he also has the No. 1 all-purpose guy in the FCS world back in Shane Simpson, who can run it, catch it and return it and he probably grills an award-winning brisket when he's not playing football. He's the Swiss Army Knife of FCS football this year. Flacco's top three receivers are back, and while there are a few holes to fill on the offensive line, three returning big guys started games last year. This, statistically, was one of the top offenses in the FCS last year, and it'll be even better than that this year.
The defense, statistically, wants to improve. But that's the thing — with seven of your top 10 tacklers back and your top four negative yardage threats all back, the foundation is there to improve by leaps and bounds. This is a play-making unit that was actually pretty decent against the pass last year and just needs to tighten up against what the CAA does best — the run. Coupled with a high-powered offense, this defensive unit doesn't have to pin people to 14 points per game, or really anything near that. The low to mid-20s would be a nice goal for this defensive unit. If that happens? Oh boy.
And we don't usually take too much space to talk special teams, but the individual weapons this program has in the third phase of football is worthy of mention. We already said what we said about Simpson as a returner above, but this team also has a perennial All-American kicker in Aidan O'Neill, and All-American special teams standout in Yeedee Thaenrat, who also is key in the run game on offense. Mark this down: Towson will win a key game or two because of special teams this year.
OUR TAKE: We think we're looking at a potential quarterfinalist (and maybe better if all things go well?). Obviously, the trip to take on the Florida Gators will find Towson in the "underdog" role, and likely the trip to James Madison, too. But in what other game would Towson be considered an underdog? The Maine game in Orono is a classic 50/50 game that will go a long way in determining the CAA pecking order. But in general, this is lining up like a 9 to 10-win type regular season, with the potential of some playoff wins to hit double digits in the victory column. We don't see a first-round upset happening for the Tigers in 2019 — in fact they may snag a seed and not even play in the first round.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./QB Tom Flacco (1st Team 2018 All CAA – 3,351 yds passing, 28 TDS … 1,005 rushing yards gained, 4 TDs).
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./RB-RS Shane Simpson (1st Team 2018 All CAA – 711 yards rushing, 356 yards receiving, return specialist); Sr./PK Aidan O'Neill (1st Team 2018 All CAA – 22 of 29 field goals); Sr./ST Yeedee Thaenrat (250 yards rushing, 5 TDs – 3rd Team All CAA); Jr./DL Bryce Carter (52 tackles, 14 TFLs, 6.5 sacks); Sr./LB Robert Heyward (leading tackler returning – 99 tackles, 10.5 TFLs); Sr./WR Shane Leatherbury (67 catches, 885 yards, 7 TDs); Jr./WR Jabari Allen (53 catches, 751 yards, 8 TDs); Sr./LB Keon Paye (74 tackles, 5 TFLs); Jr./OL Aaron Grzymkowski (21 career games, started all 12 last year); Jr./OL Andrew Garnett (23 career games, 12 starts at right tackle last year); Sr./LB Ricky Deberry (former Oklahoma player – 9.5 TFLs, 34 tackles); Sr./DB Terrill Gillette (9 passes defensed, 40 tackles); Sr./LB Malik Tyne (9 TFLs, 6 hurries, 3 FFs); Jr./LB Mantriel Reaves (52 tackles).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./WR Charles Murphy (No. 92 FCS signee in 2019 HERO Sports Recruiting rankings – Rutgers offer, along with 3 other FBS offers, etc)
THE QUOTE: "This is the second spring in a row with a workman-like attitude, they are not distracted by much. They are tight and together as team. They have goals, and they are working towards them. It is tough when there is not a bowl game on the backend: it is the playoffs, only one team in America that ends the season the way they want them to. Where we finished, how we finished, no one is pleased with that. We've adapted, we've adjusted, and I dare you to pick us tenth in the CAA again." — coach Rob Ambrose said during spring ball
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's Towson Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of CAA
Albany | Delaware | Elon | James Madison
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