Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Preview
  2011 SEASON IN REVIEW:Just two years removed from a 10-win campaign, head coach Rick Stockstill had his worst season in his six-year tenure as head coach of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in 2011.

The season started off promising enough for the Blue Raiders after they lost a hard-fought battle at Purdue (27-24), but it would be the first of three losses decided by three points in the early part of the season (38-35 to Troy on Sept. 24, 36-33 in overtime to Western Kentucky on Oct. 6).

After their lone conference win against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 22 (38-14), the Blue Raiders finished the season on a six-game slide, giving them a record on 2-10 and 1-7 in conference. It marked the first time since 2008 that Stockstill's club didn't qualify for a bowl game.

A 30 vs. McNeese State
S 8 vs. Florida Atlantic
S 15 at Memphis
S 29 at Georgia Tech
O 6 vs. ULM
O 13 at FIU
O 20 at Mississippi State
O 27 vs. North Texas
N 1 at Western Kentucky
N 17 at South Alabama
N 24 vs. Troy
D 1 at Arkansas State
OFFENSE:
QB Logan Kilgore
RB Benjamin Cunningham
WR Tavarres Jefferson
WR Kyle Girswould
OT Alex Stuart
OG Josh Walker

DEFENSE:
DE Omar McLendon
DE Dearco Nolan
DT Patrick McNeil
DT Kendall Dangerfield
LB Roderic Blunt
CB Kenneth Gilstrap
2012 ANALYSIS

OFFENSE:The Middle Tennessee offense was an anomaly in 2011 as it generated a ton of yards (401.1 per game, second in the Sun Belt), but committed far too many turnovers and played poorly in the red zone, which resulted in just 22.3 ppg, second-worst in the conference. To help fix the Blue Raiders' efficiency problems, Stockstill hired a new offensive coordinator in Buster Faulkner to implement a more up-tempo system for the 2012 season.

Leading the charge once again on the offensive side of the ball will be quarterback Logan Kilgore. The junior had a solid season in '11, throwing for 2,231 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, although he hopes to improve his completion percentage (.586) in his second full season as a starter.

The Blue Raiders spread the ball in the passing game last year, with five different receivers registering at least 300 yards receiving, and 10 different players recording at least 14 catches. The spread offense that Faulkner prefers will be in effect in 2012, with Tavarres Jefferson (51 catches, 398 yards), Kyle Griswould (390 yards) and Amos Anthony (379 yards, 3 touchdowns) being the primary beneficiaries.

As a team Middle Tennessee rushed for just 1,761 yards a year ago, but plenty of depth returns in the backfield, including William Pratcher (585 yards, 2 TDs), Benjamin Cunningham (546 yards, 4 TDs), and speedy LSU transfer Drayton Calhoun. They will need to find holes behind an inexperienced line however, which returns just two starters.

DEFENSE:While the offense showed promise but ultimately underachieved, there was nothing pretty about the Middle Tennessee defense in 2011. The unit allowed a conference-high 36.8 points per game, while the 441.1 yards per game surrendered was second-most. To help correct these woes, the team hired Tyrone Nix as the new defensive coordinator, who has previously had success in that role with Ole Miss, South Carolina and Southern Miss.

One of Nix's first orders of business will be to increase the turnover margin. The Blue Raiders only intercepted 4 balls in 2011 and they have just one returning starter in the secondary in Kenneth Gilstrap (27 tackles).

The defensive line also needs to get more pressure on the quarterback, as defensive end Omar McLendon is the leading returning sack man with just 2.5 a year ago. The run defense was an issue as well, though the return of defensive tackle Kendall Dangerfield (eight tackles for loss) will only help.

The squad is also thin at linebacker as Roderic Blunt (54 tackles) is the only returning starter.

SPECIAL TEAMS:Carlos Lopez will take over field goal kicking duties after transferring from Division II Carson-Newman. After losing the job last season, Josh Davis will be the punter in 2012 and hopes to regain the All-Conference form he displayed in 2010.

Departing senior Eric Russell was the primary kick and punt returner a season ago, so an open competition will be held in fall camp for those two positions.

OUTLOOK:Middle Tennessee's 2-10 record a year ago wasn't just Stockstill's poorest season yet, but the program's worst mark in more than 30 years. After a letdown of epic proportions, Stockstill made staff changes to help deal with some of the more pressing issues. The coach knows that a repeat performance in 2012 is unacceptable.

"We had a sense of entitlement, and that can never happen again," Stockstill said. "We flushed away 2011, but we can never ever forget it. That was gut- wrenching, and we never want to go through that again."

"I don't worry about us staying down because I don't think we're going to be down at all," he continued. "I think every year is different. There are different scenarios throughout each year. I just believe we're going to be back up."

A good majority of the offense returns, and if they can translate their big yardage totals into more points, that should add at least a couple of wins to their record. The defense remains a huge question mark but should show improvement under new leadership.

Don't expect the Blue Raiders to catapult back to bowl-eligible territory, but they should return to relevance in the Sun Belt.

By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor


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