UT Martin hasn’t been to the FCS playoffs since 2006, despite never having a losing season under head coach Jason Simpson, (pictured above) a pair of second-place finishes since that time, and now three straight third place finishes in the conference. Are the Skyhawks due to get back to the top of the league? Three reasons UT Martin can get there.
1. FBS talent under center
For the first time in more than two seasons, UT Martin will not have Jarod Neal at quarterback. Instead, the Skyhawks have two options: Marshall transfer Gunnar Holcombe and former Florida State walk on Troy Cook.
Cook was with the Skyhawks last season, although he threw just 16 passes in relief of Neal. Through three years with two teams, Cook hasn’t seen a lot of action — but when he joined FSU, head coach Jimbo Fisher said Cook had the talent to start for an FCS team or a lower FBS school.
Option No. 2 is former Marshall reservist Gunnar Holcombe. The backup QB spent four seasons with the program (including a red shirt year) but like Cook only saw limited snaps.
Having two talented guys is a great option — and whoever wins out the starting job will have a high-volume target in Caylon Weathers. The junior is coming off a breakout season — and is one of the league’s top 5 returnees in receiving yards a game.
2. Pressuring the passer
The Skyhawks secondary is all new this year, (only four starters return on defense) but the front four is anchored by all-OVC selection Damani Taylor, a Martin native who had 54 tackles and 5.5 sacks a season ago. Taylor was named to the all-newcomer team, and second-team all-conference a season ago, in his first year in Division I football, after spending two years in NAIA. Having a lineman that can pressure the QB in a 3-4 defense can take some pressure off the inexperienced secondary, which could go a long way in helping the Skyhawks improve on their middling defensive performance a year ago.
3. They…just…seem to ALWAYS be there
Here’s a fun fact: Simpson hasn’t had a losing season in his 10 years with the Skyhawks. Not a single one. They’ve only won one OVC title in his time, his first year, 2006, but the Skyhawks are as consistent a team as they come. UT Martin has won at least five conference games in five of the past six seasons, and have finished no worse than a tie for third the past four years…history says that you don’t bet against the Skyhawks.
It’s hard to judge how much experience this team really has. Only nine starters return from a year ago, but the team returns 65 players in all from last year. They may not have a lot of game experience, but they’ve been a part of the system for at least a year.
history says that you don’t bet against the Skyhawks.
Keeping the non-losing streak alive this year has an extra degree of difficulty: UTM gets an extra game this year, by virtue of traveling to Hawaii in Week 2. It’s one of three games against FBS opponents this year. (The other two being Cincinnati in Week 1, and Georgia State in late October)