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June 10, 2013

Beat writer knows best: Tenn. Tech

MADISON - The Wisconsin Badgers have made a habit of scheduling FCS teams, but they'll have to kick it pretty soon. The Big Ten as a whole wants to move away from scheduling teams from the FCS level, so the Badgers better get their kicks in while they still can.

The Badgers have played an FCS team in each of their last eight seasons, and Tennessee Tech will make it nine straight seasons when the Golden Eagles visit Camp Randall Stadium on Sept. 7. The Eagles went just 3-8 in 2012, but it remains to be seen if they can compete with the Badgers, who have outscored their FCS foes by an average of 24.7 points over the last eight seasons.

I'll admit it's sometimes hard to find reporters who cover FCS teams on a regular basis, but Jamal Ferguson from Tennessee Tech's student newspaper, The Oracle, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Golden Eagles, which are included below.

First of all, what kind of football history does Tennessee Tech have? What do fans usually expect out of their team? Are they used to success in the Ohio Valley Conference?

Jamal Ferguson: The history of TTU football isn't extremely prestigious but like every other football team in the south the area supports and loves the team. The team typically finishes around the middle of the pack in the OVC, and that's what people are used to here. They had some tough years back in the early 80's but that coach wasn't around for very long.

What kind of season did the Golden Eagles have last year? Did a 3-8 record meet their expectations or was it a disappointing season?

JF: Last year was worse than disappointing! As a matter of fact calling it disappointing is like calling cargo planes only plus size. They literally went from first to last in the conference and they did so with a 5-star recruit, high school All-American, SEC top-ranking receiver, but I digress.

Give me the scoop on head coach Watson Brown. What are his offensive and defensive philosophies? What kind of systems do his Golden Eagles run?

JF: Oddly enough Watson's years here haven't been amazing. He's a Cookeville native and he's in the good graces of the fan base after the team won the OVC championship in 2011, which was really just a share of the championship, but everyone here thinks they won it all and there's no explaining that to these people. Other than a second place finish in 2009, which was also a tie, the Golden Eagles have finished no better than sixth in the conference under Coach Brown.

As for the philosophies and systems, there's nothing flashy really here. The offense is a typical spread-option read, everyone has seen it before. The defense has some identity issues, however. They used to run a sort of 3-4 over scheme (3 down linemen and walked up backer/stand up end) but with the acquisition of some new coaches this spring the defense is hard to describe without film.

Who do you expect the Golden Eagles' key players to be in 2013? Are there some players Wisconsin fans should watch out for when the two teams meet in early September?

JF: The key players for the offense will be the skill players. I know that sounds cliché but I mean it. The running back position is about three or four players deep at the end of spring, which is good because they ran thin towards the middle of last season and that did not help their chances late in games.

Redshirt junior quarterback Darian Stone, who started the last for games of last season after the senior starter went down, will be a factor on the field with his legs and his arm, at least in the OVC- I'm not sure about up in Camp Randall. I do wonder about his decision-making. He has some very good receivers to throw to, especially in the slot. Rising sophomore and second team all-conference Ladarius Vanlier is a playmaker in the slot and also returns kicks.

The defense is getting back some defensive backs from injuries and hopes to improve overall. They don't have any real "standouts"- they weren't exactly great last year.

Finally, what kind of season are Golden Eagles fans expecting this year? What do you think this program needs to do to improve in the long-term?

JF: This season Coach Brown says he believes they're better than the team that won the OVC in 2011 I'm not sure if anyone read my article in the summer issue of the student newspaper, but if they did they'll expect the team to at least contend this year. Last year's 3-8 (1-6 OVC) season was emotionally deflating to say the least, so it may be a few wins before they get the same fan support they got during the 2011 conference championship season.

I don't think there is much this program needs to improve upon in the long term other than just winning. I know that sounds weird but a simple search online will show you that middle of the road is where the program can typically be found.

Thanks again to Jamal for giving us the scoop on the Golden Eagles.

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