Tennessee-Martin will cash a big check for getting stomped at No. 17 Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon. The Rebels are heavy favorites at -40.5 with a total of 47.5
So I'll try to give you my best scouting report of Tennessee-Martin, which plays in the Ohio Valley Conference. I've honestly never even heard of Martin, Tenn. The Skyhawks are coached by Jason Simpson. They have made the FCS playoffs just once, losing a first-round game to Southern Illinois in 2006.
UT-Martin finished 6-6 last year and 5-3 in conference. The Skyhawks did play two SEC teams, of course both on the road. They lost 59-14 at unranked Kentucky to open last season, allowing the Wildcats 656 total yards, the fourth-most ever for UK. It was 35-0 at halftime. At least UT-Martin avoided UK's first shutout since 2009, I suppose.
Late last season, UT-Martin visited Mississippi State when the Bulldogs were No. 1 in the country. That one finished 45-16, which is pretty respectable. MSU gained 520 yards of offense. Mississippi State led 38-3 in the fourth quarter before Tennessee-Martin scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Bulldogs' backup defense. The Skyhawks' Jarod Neal threw for a 31-yard touchdown and also ran for a 1-yard score.
UT-Martin brings back 24 seniors and 13 starters and was picked to finish fourth in the Ohio Valley. Fifth-year senior Neal returns at quarterback. He played in all 12 games as a junior, making 11 starts under center. He completed 158 of 249 pass attempts for 1,880 yards and 14 touchdowns. Neal ranked second in the OVC in completion percentage (.635) third in pass efficiency (140.6, 25th nationally) and sixth in total offense (174.9 ypg). His backup is Florida State transfer Troy Cook. Fifth-year senior Trent Garland takes over as the featured back. He has played in every game the past two years as a backup, averaging 5.9 yards per carry in 2014. Kentucky transfer William Tanner leads the returning receivers. He had 38 receptions for 527 yards and four touchdowns in 2014. The Skyhawks run a 3-3-5 defensive scheme and bring back leading tackler Walter Evans, who had 66 stops and three picks in 2014.
Time Is Now For Ole Miss
Coach Hugh Freeze has worked wonders at Ole Miss and this looks to be his most-talented team yet with three projected high first-round picks in next year's NFL draft in offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. The former two are coming off serious injuries from last season but both are good to go. The Rebels finished 9-4 in 2014, although they were routed in the Peach Bowl. They haven't had a 10-win season since 2003 when a guy named Eli Manning was the starting quarterback.
Overall 16 starters are back. The big question was who replaces quarterback Bo Wallace. For Week 1, at least, it will be junior college transfer Chad Kelly, although Freeze plans to play redshirt sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade as well. Kelly was a highly-touted recruit at Clemson who played sparingly as the team's third-string QB in 2013. He was dismissed from the program in April 2014 and transferred to East Mississippi Community College. He led that team to the NJCAA national title last year, completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 3,906 yards with 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions, earning NJCAA first team All-America honors.
Kelly is the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer and Buffalo Bills legend Jim Kelly. I have no doubt that Freeze plays all three QBs here because he wants to settle on a full-time guy for Week 3 against Alabama. All five offensive line starters are back. The receiving corps should be one of the nation's best. So should the defensive line. Factors which only serve to make Ole Miss a solid College Football pick here and onward.
Ole Miss played three non-Power 5 conference teams last year, all at home. It beat Louisiana-Lafayette 56-15, Memphis 24-3 and Presbyterian 48-0.
Matchup Analysis: Obviously who wins this game isn't up for debate and the College Football odds market agrees. And I'm fairly confident that UT-Martin won't score more than single digits against the first-team Ole Miss defense. But when will Freeze call off the dogs? It should be something like 49-3 so give the points. Go 'over.'
Free College Football Pick: Ole Miss -40.5 & 'OVER' 47.5 at 5Dimes