If it wasn’t for Jacksonville State, Jason Simpson would be considered the most successful head coach in the Ohio Valley Conference.
UT Martin has perennially contended for the conference title under his watchful eye. The team finished second in the league last season at 6-2 in OVC play, and Simpson is 57-30 in conference play over his 11 seasons in charge.
The 46-year-old Mississippi native found initial success in his debut season of 2006, winning the conference and earning a postseason spot. Since then, though, he has failed to do either.
Heading into the 2017 campaign, it’s hard to see the Skyhawks claiming a league crown and a playoff berth without a Jacksonville State collapse.
2016 UT Martin Football Season In Review
The Skyhawks played three FBS teams last season, an unusual amount for a program not looking to make an FBS move. UT Martin received nice little payouts for the three games, but it was unable to notch a victory in any of them. The second week of the season saw the ‘Hawks nearly notch an upset, but they lost to Hawaii by five points. They’d also get stomped by Cincinnati and Georgia State.
UT Martin played very well at home in 2016. The Skyhawks cruised to a 5-0 record in Graham Stadium, winning every game by at least 14 points. They didn’t play any of the conference’s good teams at home, but they took care of business regardless.
Troy Cook was one of the conference’s better quarterbacks in his first year as a starter. He was originally a walk-on at Florida State, but he transferred after he was buried down the depth chart in his first two seasons. He averaged 7.8 yards per attempt and was very good at avoiding sacks, getting hauled down just 10 times over the course of the year.
Carries were split between Jaimiee Bowe and Ladevin Fair, who combined to run for over 1,300 yards and helped keep defenses honest. Bowe had a fumbling problem, though, coughing the ball up once every 36 carries.
This was one of the better defenses in the FCS last fall. The Skyhawks gave up just 24 points per game and were 18th in the nation in total defense. They were able to get a ton of pressure with their front seven, registering 81 tackles for loss.
2017 UT Martin Football Season Preview
Cook needs to progress if the Skyhawks hope to topple Jacksonville State this season. He performed well enough last fall, but he was awful against the conference champions, completing just 37.8 percent of his passes and throwing four interceptions. He struggled against aggressive, attacking defenses and must take big steps this year.
Caylon Weathers is the leading returning receiver and will play a bigger role in the offense with the top two receivers from 2016 gone. Weathers was the star of the spring game, finishing with 93 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He is a big target at 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds, and he can get open in traffic.
The defense should again be the better unit on the Skyhawks. UT Martin brings back its five top tacklers from last season and will also welcome South Florida transfer Armunz Mathews, who has the potential to make an immediate impact in this secondary.
2017 UT Martin Football Schedule
August 31: UT Martin vs. Clarion
September 9: UT Martin at Ole Miss
September 16: UT Martin at Chattanooga
September 23: UT Martin vs. Tennessee State
September 30: UT Martin at Austin Peay
October 7: UT Martin vs. Murray State
October 21: UT Martin at Eastern Kentucky
October 28: UT Martin vs. Eastern Illinois
November 4: UT Martin at Southeast Missouri
November 11: UT Martin vs. Jacksonville State
November 18: UT Martin at Tennessee Tech
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
UT Martin doesn’t face the murderer’s row it did last season, but a three-game stretch in September against Ole Miss, Chattanooga and Tennessee State will tell us whether or not this team is for real.
The most important game will come near the end of the season, when the Skyhawks host Jacksonville State. UT Martin has a shot with how well it plays at home, but the Gamecocks are going to be tough to beat. Jax State has two home games against weak foes prior to this game, so go against the Skyhawks in FCS Pick ‘Em Contests.