- Associated Press - Friday, August 21, 2015

MARTIN, Tenn. (AP) - Jason Simpson is hoping to put together a better start from his UT Martin Skyhawks who have shown they know how to finish well.

The Skyhawks tied for third in the Ohio Valley Conference last season shaking off a 1-5 start by winning five of their final six games to finish 6-6 overall, 5-3 in the league. Their only loss down the stretch was at then-No. 1 Mississippi State, and Simpson has 13 starters back, including 13 fifth-year seniors, from that team.

UT Martin hosts defending OVC champ Jacksonville State on Sept. 26 and will be at home against both Tennessee State and Eastern Illinois.

Simpson says they will be in the race for the OVC title by season’s end if they take advantage of that home schedule.


Some things to watch at UT Martin:

EXPERIENCED QB: Jarod Neal is among six starters back on offense, and the quarterback ranked second in the OVC completing 63.5 percent of his passes and was 19th nationally. He threw for 1,880 yards with 14 touchdowns and also ran for six more TDs in his 11 starts last season.

REPLACING BELL: The Skyhawks return seven starters on defense but will need someone to step up and replace Tony Bell who finished his career with a school record 22 ½ sacks and sixth nationally in fumble recoveries. Bell now is in camp with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

COACHING EXPERIENCE: Simpson is the OVC’s longest-tenured coach going into his 10th season and also leads active coaches with 58 wins ranking 10th in OVC history. He’s 44-26 in league play alone at a program that had 20 wins combined in the 14 seasons before his arrival.

NEW SKYHAWKS: UT Martin tapped into some transfers with quarterback Troy Cook joining the roster from Florida State this offseason along with tight end Malcolm Faciane who won two national titles at Alabama in 2011 and 2012. Running back Preston Baker went 24-0 winning consecutive junior college titles at East Mississippi.

TWO TIMES THE SEC: The Skyhawks certainly have upped the ante this season opening at Mississippi on Sept. 5 along with a trip to Arkansas on Oct. 31.


Predicted finish in Ohio Valley Conference: Fourth

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