NASHVILLE — Tennessee State has high expectations coming off its best season in almost 30 years, thanks largely to a very stingy defense that takes after the Tigers' best tradition.
The Tigers, who have produced such NFL players as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Richard Dent and Ed "Too Tall" Jones, ranked in the top 10 nationally in 2013 for total defense, scoring defense and turnovers gained.
Coach Rod Reed said preseason Ohio Valley Conference defensive player of the year Anthony Bass and defensive back Daniel Fitzpatrick both deserve such an honor. Bass had 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, and Fitzpatrick led all of Division I nationally with eight interceptions.
The Tigers went 10-4 as the OVC's runner-up and reached the FCS playoffs. They also were awarded the Historically Black College National Championship.
Five things to watch from Tennessee State:
STRONG FINISH: The Tigers have two quarterbacks in preseason All-OVC senior Michael German and Ronald Butler, who threw for 13 touchdowns apiece. Butler played in all 14 games and started 10 as a freshman when German missed the start of the season to a suspension. German completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,168 yards and didn't throw an interception in seven games. Reed says German is showing maturity on and off the field this year.
SHOES TO FILL: Former Miami transfer Darion Hall leads a group of running backs succeeding Tim Broughton, who rushed for 1,146 yards. Sophomore Tevin Spells, converted cornerback Martine Stevenson, and Tennessee transfer Tom Smith are other options.
LINE CHANGES: Robert Myers and former Florida transfer Jessamen Dunker return at tackle. But the Tigers have to replace NFL draftees Kadeem Edwards at left guard and Demetrius Rhaney at center.
IN THE MIDDLE: Linebacker Nick Thrasher had the most tackles since 2002 with 110 stops as captain of the defense, including 12 tackles for loss.
UPWARD CLIMB: Reed has improved the Tigers' win total by at least two each season in his previous four years as head coach. He capped that with their first playoff win since 1986.
Predicted finish in the Ohio Valley Conference: Third