Tennessee State fans aren’t used to sub-500 football. The Tigers were just 4-6 a year ago, their first losing season since 2011. Can TSU return to be the league’s elite? Here’s three reasons they can.
1. The Tigers are experienced
The NCAA allows Division I college football teams to keep 85 players on their roster.
Of those 85 from last year, TSU is returning 65.
That includes a pair of quarterbacks, the league leader in reception yards per game, their five top tacklers, (all in the top 35 in the league) top of the top ten men in the OVC in sacks — in all six offensive starters, and eight defensive starters.
Last year’s 4-6 team wasn’t all that bad: three of those losses were by less than a touchdown, and TSU was undefeated outside the conference.
The 2015 season was the proverbial ‘rebuilding year’ for Tennessee State — and it went mostly how you expect rebuilding years to go. But that phrase isn’t being thrown around to describe a bad year.
TSU has actually rebuilt, and now has fantastic pieces ready to springboard the Tigers back into where we’re used to seeing Tennessee State: among the top of the conference.
The 2015 season was the proverbial ‘rebuilding year’ for Tennessee State
2. Patrick Smith is a game-changing wide out
Tennessee State’s offense wasn’t exactly it’s strong point a year ago. The Tigers finished in the bottom third of the league in total offense, and the passing game never really could sustain consistency.
But when the air attack was working, Patrick Smith was the reason why. Smith caught 54 passes a year ago for 996 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season playing with the Tigers, ranking seventh nationally in receiving yards/game. That yardage represents 47% of TSU’s total passing yardage of 2015, and his 10 touchdowns was more than the rest of the receiving corps combined.
…and he did that while the team dealt with severe inconsistency at the quarterback position.
Whatever QB battle brewed early last season appears to be resolved. All indications are that sophomore O’Shay Ackerman-Carter (pictured above) will lead the offense this year, a decision, as well as the increased experience Ackerman-Carter will bring this season, can only help make Smith an even more dynamic part of the offense.
Smith is the proverbial ‘deep threat’ that a lot of teams at the FCS level lack. Smith had four catches of sixty yards or more a year ago, including an 81-yard catch as part of a 241-yard day against Murray State late in the season. He has great speed, good hands, and with two years still to develop, he’s one of those guys who shows flashes that he might have what it takes to play on Sundays in the future.
3. TSU’s defense is strong throughout
If you read through the ‘experience’ section, you may have noticed some high praise for returnees on the defensive end. Head coach Rod Reed has been known for years for his tenacious defenses, and while last year was a disappointment in that facet, it’s hard not to believe that the future, led on the front by guys like preseason all-OVC selection Ebebezer Ogundeko and Latrelle Lee, isn’t bright.
To win in the OVC, a defensive line is of supreme importance — especially when you have a team like Jacksonville State that averaged 300-yards a game on the ground a year ago. But the Tigers front is backed up by even more talent, guys like junior linebacker Chris Collins, who led the team in tackles and finished sixth in the league a year ago; sophomore defensive back Laquarius Cook, and junior safety Javon Brandon. From front to back, Tennessee State has talented players across their defense and doesn’t have a clear weakness, which is rare at this level.