It’s possible to analyze college football down to such a microscopic level that you lose sight of the proverbial forest for the metaphorical trees. I’m sure if you look around on the Internet right now you can probably find out what Western Michigan’s red zone scoring rate was last season against ranked opponents during the month of October (I checked, it was precisely 50%). Our buddy DawgStats for example has an advanced stats preview of the 2023 college football season that I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s entertaining and accessible even if calculus breaks you out in hives. You can even get a $3 discount on it with code DAWGSPORTS when you buy it, which I absolutely recommend you do.
And still, science has taught us that this is probably not the most effective way of going about the study of any subject if your objective is to actually guess correctly what will happen in the future. As the phenomenally smart and equally phenomenally named Gerd Gigerenzer pointed out in Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, the human brain has amazing computational capabilities, but those capabilities are not infinite.
That’s why an outfielder chasing down a fly ball doesn’t think about the trajectory and speed of the ball and the resistance created by the grass. Instead they intuitively calculate the angle at which the ball is traveling and then travel themselves along a constant path which maintains the angle. It looks easy, and it is with just a bit of practice (and the athletic ability to actually get to the point of intersection).
So this season we’re previewing the Georgia Bulldogs’ opponents in a different way. We’re giving you the information that is most likely to affect the outcome. General Colin Powell was fond of saying that he made his best decisions between the time he had 40% of the available information and 70% of what he could know about a situation. So after an offseason or poring through the numbers, rosters, and tape I’ve distilled things down to the nectar.
We start this series of ruthlessly efficient previews with the Dawgs’ opening Saturday opponent, the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks.
The Skyhawk File
Conference: Ohio Valley Conference (FCS)
2022 record: 7-4 (5-0 OVC)
Home Field: Graham Stadium (capacity 7500)
Head Coach: Jason Simpson (17th season, 107-84 overall)
Key Fact #1: A big fish in a small pond.
Yes, UT-Martin is an FCS school and they play in a stadium that accommodates only about 500 more people than Colquitt County’s Mack Tharpe Stadium. No, they do not have a roster stuffed with former five star recruits. But graded on a curve, the Skyhawks are a dynasty in the making.
Over the past two seasons they’ve compiled a 17-7 record, including a scorching 10-1 record in the Ohio Valley en route to two straight conference titles. During that stretch they’ve taken on the likes of Western Kentucky, Boise State, and Tennessee. In fact the Skyhawks were tied 7-7 with the Vols last year during the first quarter in Neyland before the Big Orange pulled away to win 65-24. Skyhawk quarterback Dresser Winn threw for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns on the Tennessee defense. Winn now plays QB for the L.A. Rams, like a couple of other guys we know.
Point being, these guys have been to an SEC stadium, they have won a lot of football games. While they may be outmanned, they will not likely be star-struck.
Key Fact #2: Steady hands on the wheel.
As I noted above Jason Simpson has been the Warhawk-in-Chief since 2006. He is therefore one of the longest tenured coaches in Division I football. In fact, Simpson may quietly have the most impressive coaching tree in college football. Simpson has employed 18 current Power 5 assistants, 11 current Group of 5 assistants, and 11 current or past NFL staffers at UT-Martin. To put that in perspective, Martin, Tennessee only has about 10,000 people. Including current staff, college and pro football coaches could number a solid one half of one percent of the city’s population.
A younger Simpson played quarterback at Mississippi State from 1990 to 1992 before switching to baseball and transferring to Southern Miss from 1993 to 1994.
One of the benefits of the kind of longevity Simpson has is that the Skyhawks will not be reinventing the wheel in 2023. They are breaking in a new defensive coordinator, and may be learning some new verbiage. But all in all I expect Simpson’s calm approach to lead to a calm showing for the Warhawks.
Key Fact #3: When Daylan comes, he often gets home.
Three Skyhawks earned preseason FCS All-American nods this season: Tight end DJ Nelson, offensive guard Gavin Olson, and defensive end Daylan Dotson.
Dotson in particular is the player whose name you need to know. The 6’3, 255 pound Savannah (GA) native notched 48 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks last season (1st in the OVC) and is on the watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award (given to the top defensive player in FCS). Dotson is quick, physical, and plays to the ball. I expect him to eventually be an NFL draft pick, and just hope that when he is selected there aren’t any plays from September 2nd in Sanford Stadium on the highlight reel.
Key fact #4: Even old cars running well can use some upgrades.
Coach Simpson has recruited well in Mississippi over the years, as befits a native son of the Magnolia State. But he’s also taken advantage of the transfer portal to add some talented pieces to the puzzle.
Tailback Ygenio Booker comes up from Tulane, where he tallied 223 yards and a touchdown for Willie Fritz. Linebacker Michael Pleas tallied 24 tackles over the past two seasons at Southern Miss and Jackson State. Safety Josh Hastings rang up 29 tackles last year at Memphis. And graduate transfer QB Kinkead Dent comes over after four years at Ole Miss under Lane Kiffin (he played in every game last season, albeit as the Rebel Black Bear Sharks’ holder on kicks).
In sum, this is a roster which combines the best of both worlds for a smaller school in the modern era of college football. There are talented players with big time football experience looking to get more playing time and be seen by pro scouts. There are guys who have developed over the course of 4+ seasons in the same system. I think it’s going to combine into a pretty good onfield product.
Key Fact #5: Even the best Fiesta isn’t a Ferrari.
The Skyhawks are going to be an excellent FCS team in 2023, and May well three peat in the Ohio Valley Conference. But it would be disingenuous of me to say I expect this one to be in doubt. There’s a huge difference between the top of the FBS and FCS, and the Bulldogs will likely demonstrate that in a matter of days. Look for Georgia to play things close to the vest, for Kirby Smart to opine that his team’s fundamentals need to get better, and for the Bulldogs to have to wait a bit longer for a true test.
Score prediction: Georgia 52, UT-Martin 7.