Tennessee State was picked to finish third in the Preseason Poll announced by the Ohio Valley Conference. Senior wide receiver Patrick Smith was named as the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and was a part of the Preseason First team selected by coaches and sports information directors.
Junior center Thomas Burton joined Smith on the offensive team, while senior defensive end Ebenezer (Ebo) Ogundeko was selected on the defensive side. The Tigers placed five players in all on the preseason team as senior kicker Lane Clark and sophomore returner Chris Rowland were also named to the squad.
Defending champions Jacksonville State, was given the nod to repeat with 16 first place votes and 128 points. UT Martin finished second with 107 points as they picked up the final two first place votes. The Tigers followed with 96 points to finish ahead of Eastern Illinois (81). Eastern Kentucky (96), Tennessee Tech (64), Southeast Missouri (42), Murray State (41) and Austin Peay (21) rounded out the order of finish.
After finishing 4-6, 1-6 in the OVC, in 2015 the Tigers bounced back with a 7-4 finish, 4-3 in conference play a season ago. TSU looks to continue its rise in 2017 as they return eight starters on defense while the offense returns seven and hopes to get a boost from University of Florida transfer Treon Harris at quarterback.
Smith is coming off a season where he caught 61 passes for 966 yards and 13 touchdowns. His touchdown mark ranked seventh nationally was the seventh-most in OVC single-season history. Smith and Burton were members of the top scoring offense in the OVC in 2016 at 32.6 points per game. Burton anchored the line which allowed the least amount of sacks in the OVC (14) and averaged 415.1 yards per game.
Ogundeko leads a group of eight returners on the defensive front and will pose a threat to opposing quarterbacks after recording 5.5 sacks, five quarterback hurries and 11 tackles for loss in just eight games. The senior finished fifth on the team with 48 tackles and forced a fumble, recovered two and blocked a kick.
Clark made 17-of-25 field goals (68.0%) and 38-of-42 extra points to lead the OVC in scoring with 89 points and 8.1 points per game. Clark was one of three players in the four levels of NCAA to kick at least four field goals of over 50 yards and had four of the five longest distances in the FCS.
Rowland looks to improve on his 1,103 combined return yards, which led the nation. Rowland set the TSU single season record in kickoff returns (42) and kickoff return yards (965).
The Tigers open camp on Wednesday, July 26 in preparation for the season opener at Georgia State on Aug. 31.
2017 OVC Preseason Football Predicted Order of Finish
1. Jacksonville State (16 first-place votes) 128 2. UT Martin (2) 107 3. Tennessee State 96 4. Eastern Illinois 81 5. Eastern Kentucky 68 6. Tennessee Tech 64 7. Southeast Missouri 42 8. Murray State 41 9. Austin Peay 21 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Patrick Smith (WR), Tennessee State Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Darius Jackson (DL), Jacksonville State