2015 Record: 4-6 (1-6 OVC)
Key Losses: RB Tom Smith, CB Bernell Brooks
Key Returnees: DE Ebenezer Ogundeko (First Team All-OVC), WR Patrick Smith (Second Team All-OVC), OG Jessamen Dunker (Second Team All-OVC)
The Tigers are only two seasons removed from their 10-4 2013 season and their most recent trip to the playoffs. They have been on a decline since then, posting records of 6-6 and 4-6 for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The Tigers will likely come out swinging in 2016 and look to halt the decline and start the climb back up to the top of the OVC totem pole and they have the team to do it. The Tigers return an experienced team, they only lost a couple starters this offseason and have potential to build on last year. Head Coach Rod Reed knows what it takes to make the FCS playoffs as he’s taken the Tigers there before.
On offense the Tigers return the entire offensive line, quarterback O’Shay Ackerman-Carter, and wideouts Isaiah Jefferis-Freeman, Chris Sander-McCollum, and Patrick Smith. The Tigers offense last year lacked some kick, but with the entire offensive line returning, the Tigers have all the tools they need to improve from last year. If the Tigers want to see more offensive success they have to improve their rushing attack. Last year the Tigers only had 1234 yards rushing and only averaged 3.5 yards, ranking 98th nationally. The problem with that is that both running backs Tom Smith and Telvin Hooks have graduated. The good news is that junior running back Erick Evans looks very promising. Evans saw significant time in the last four games of the season last year and racked up 375 yards, 6 touchdowns, and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. If Evans can find the same sort of success this year it should help open up the offense to make more explosive plays in the passing game.
On defense the Tigers return eight starters. The Tigers rode their defense a lot of the season last year and ranked in the top 50 nationally, giving up an average of 368 yards a game. They look to build upon last year and with playmakers like pre-season All-American defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko they could prove to be one of the OVC’s top defenses. Linebackers Chris Collins, Antonio Justice, and Justin North look to help anchor the front seven on the Tigers defense. In the secondary the Tigers return cornerback Terrell Bonds and safeties Javon Brandon and Laquarius Cook. There’s real potential here for the Tigers, they just need to build upon last year.
The Tigers have the capability to shake up the OVC this year. They just have to go out and execute.
Schedule and Predictions: 6-5 (3-4 OVC)
W 9/3 vs. Arkansas- Pine Bluff
W 9/10 vs. Jackson State
W 9/17 @ Bethune- Cookman
L 10/1 vs. UT-Martin
L 10/8 @ Eastern Illinois
L 10/15 vs. Eastern Kentucky
L 10/22 @ Vanderbilt
W 10/29 @ Murray State
W 11/5 @ Austin Peay
W 11/12 vs. Tennessee Tech
L 11/19 @ Southeast Missouri State
Tennessee State will likely see a slight improvement over last years record. I could see the Tigers exceeding this prediction and contending for a spot in the playoffs. However, the level of play in the OVC is likely to take a step up this season and I think it will be harder for TSU contend for a playoff bid but they could be anywhere from a middle of the conference team to competing for a bid depending on how the rest of the conference shakes down.