***** NCAA Football Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders *****
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
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.
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
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
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
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.
08/21 11:24:58 ET