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Boise State Non-Conference Preview: Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks

Boise State opens their first home game for 2013 against the University of Tennessee at Martin (Tennessee-Martin).

Photo courtesy of Skyhawks Football

The game between the Broncos and the Skyhawks is scheduled for a 1:00 PM MT kickoff and can be viewed on ESPN3.*

About the Tennessee-Martin athletic program: the Skyhawks are members of the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) and compete in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

Coach: Jason Simpson, 53-37, eighth year.

2012 record: 8-3, 6-2 (Ohio Valley Conference)

2012 season in review: The Skyhawks opened last season at Memphis, a member of the American Athletic Conference, where they defeated the Tigers 20-17. Tennessee-Martin then traveled to Northern Illinois to take on the Huskies and received a 35-10 loss from the 2012 MAC champions. Northern Illinois went on a 12-1 regular season record and a trip to the Orange Bowl, while the Skyhawks recovered and chalked up seven more wins over SE Louisiana, Murray State, Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois, SE Missouri State, Jacksonville State and Tennessee State, ending the season with two conference losses to Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee Tech.

Quarterback Derek Carr provided the Skyhawks with a deadly passing attack and finished the year ranked in the top 10 in the FCS in passing yards, passing efficiency and total touchdown passes (31). The Skyhawks closed out their season ranked at No. 24 in the nation (FCS) in total offense.

Returning Starters: 6 (offense), 6 (defense).

Key Players and Returning Starters: RB DJ McNeil, WR Jeremy Butler, LB Ben Johnson, OL Matthew Axline, OL Charlie Sweeton, OL Tyler Eady, DB Camaren Harris, DB Thad Williams, S J’Vontez Blackmon.

2013 Strengths: With the 2006 OVC championship to his credit and a second place OVC finish in 2008, coach Simpson’s teams have been ranked among the top 25 FCS teams in the nation annually. Having twelve returning starters will get his team into early competition for the 2013 OVC crown. Some of those are the returning linebackers which could prove pivotal as the Skyhawks reposition themselves at quarterback. These are the same starters, by the way, that have won five of their last six games.

The Skyhawks should have a strong defense this year. Senior D.J. Roberts will be helping to anchor the SkyHawks D-Line. Last season he chalked up 53 tackles and 11 sacks. That defense also has senior defensive backs Camaren Harris and Thad Williams, along with senior safety J’Vontez Blackmon. Blackmon alone had 76 tackles and 2 INTs last season. LB Ben Johnson racked up 131 tackles and has been recognized as a Preseason All-American by both Lindy’s Sports and the Sports Network.

2013 Weaknesses: If Tennessee-Martin comes out to Boise and has a lousy day on The Blue, it could be a huge setback for their season. Right now it does not bode well for the Skyhawks that top ranked, three-year starting quarterback Derek Carr has graduated. Without Carr, the Skyhawks are left with a huge hole to fill. That hole could have redshirt freshman Jarod Neal in it, but with fall camp coming up there will be more competition for the position. Besides Neal, QB’s Tyler Rice and Dylan Favre all played in the Tennessee-Martin spring game. Still, the loss of Carr is the single greatest weakness facing the Skyhawks.

* ESPN3 is not a television network. It is an online streaming service.

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