TOWSON, Md. – For the fourth time in the last five seasons, the Towson University football team will open its season on the road against an NCAA FBS program when the Tigers travel to Kent State University on Thursday night to face the Golden Flashes at Dix Stadium at 7 p.m.
The Tigers’ season opener will be televised back to the Baltimore area on Comcast-Plus. Joe Beninati will call all the action from Kent State while Brad Jackson provides the color commentary.
The game will also be aired on the Tigers’ web site, www.TowsonTigers.com with Spiro Morekas and Ron Meehan calling the action.
The Tigers, who return eight starters on offense and six starters on defense, stunned the college football world last season with a historic turnaround. One year after finishing the season with a 1-10 record, the 2011 Tigers were one of the most improved teams in college football history as they won their first Colonial Athletic Association championship and finished the season with a 9-3 record.
However, the Tigers won’t surprise anyone this season. Towson is ranked among the top ten teams in nearly every FCS pre-season poll. The Tigers are ranked as high as fourth in the nation by Lindy’s. But, the consensus rates Towson anywhere from sixth to eighth in the nation. For the first time ever, Towson has been tabbed as the CAA pre-season favorite.
All the pre-season attention has created a different dilemma for Coach Rob Ambrose.
He says, “We have had to work hard to stay focused. Up until last season, all our players heard was how bad they were. That is easy to block out. Now, everybody wants to tell us how good we are. That is harder to ignore. But, we’ve been working since January to put last year in the past. We had a very good pre-season and I think we’re ready to go.”
For the first time since 2008, the Tigers enter the season with an established starter at quarterback. Senior Grant Enders started 11 games last season and won nine of them. He completed 165 of 245 passes for 2,081 yards and led the CAA with a 153.72 pass efficiency rating. Enders threw 16 touchdown passes with only eight interceptions.
Sophomore Terrance West, a pre-season All-American, returns to lead the Tigers’ running game. Honored as the winner of the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in FCS football, West led the nation with 29 touchdowns scored while running for 1,294 yards. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry.
Junior tackle Eric Pike and junior center Doug Shaw are back to lead the offensive line. Pike was a third team All-CAA selection last season.
On defense, the Tigers will be relying on a pair of All-Americans, defensive end Frank Beltre and safety Jordan Dangerfield.
A third-year starter, Beltre made 68 tackles as a junior, fourth on the team. He also ranked third among CAA defensive linemen in tackles while making 12 tackles for lost yardage. He also had four sacks. In his career, he has made 196 tackles.
A two-year starter at safety, Dangerfield led the Tigers with 93 tackles last season despite missing two games with an injury. In two seasons with the Tigers, he has made 189 tackles. Last year, he also intercepted two passes, recovered two fumbles and forced a pair of fumbles.
Junior Jordan Love and sophomore Tye Smith will join Dangerfield in the secondary, along with sophomore safety Thomas Bradley. Love is a transfer from the University of Georgia who has been impressive in the pre-season while Smith made 49 tackles and intercepted two passes last year.
Senior defensive end Romale Tucker and senior linebacker Danzel White also return as top defensive players. Tucker led all CAA defensive linemen with 73 tackles last season while White had 77 tackles in nine games.
Coach Ambrose is pleased with the progress the Tigers made during the pre-season. He says, “This is actually the first camp where the players actually knew what it took for us to win. Our players know how hard you have to work and they know how much discipline you need. For us, the biggest word has been focus. That has been the theme for us all during camp.”
Kent State, a member of the Mid-America Conference, posted a 5-7 record last season. However, the Golden Flashes won four of their final five games.
“This is an extremely good defensive team,” says Coach Ambrose. “They might have two NFL draft choices on that defensive unit. In fact, this might be the best defensive team that Towson has ever played.”
The Tigers, who are starting their 44th season of college football, have a 27-16 all-time record in season openers. However, the Tigers dropped season openers on the road, losing at Navy (41-13) in 2008, Northwestern (47-14) in 2009 and Indiana (51-17) in 2010.
By contrast, Kent State is opening its 90th season of college football.
Towson, which opened the 2011 season with a home win over Morgan State, is seeking its first season-opening win on the road since the 2004 season. In 2004, the Tigers beat Elon, 34-14.
After opening the season at Kent State, the Tigers will be off until Saturday, Sept. 15 when they host William & Mary in the Colonial Athletic Association opener for both teams at Johnny Unitas® Stadium at 12 noon. The game will be broadcast on NBC Sports.