2012 Record: 8-4 (6-2 in Sun Belt)
Head Coach: Rick Stockstill (43-44 at Middle Tennessee)
Four Year Win Trend: 6.5 wins and 6 losses
Last Bowl Game: 2010 Season GoDaddy.com Bowl: lost to Miami (OH) 35-21
Stadium: Johnny 'Red" Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, TN (capacity = 31,000)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 35th out of 55 mid-major teams
Affiliation: Joins Conference USA for 2013 season
Out of Conference: 8/29 vs Western Carolina, 9/7 at UNC, 9/14 vs Memphis, 9/27 at BYU
Toughest Conference Home Games: 10/5 vs East Carolina, 10/24 vs Marshall
Toughest Conference Road Game: 11/23 at Southern Miss
Stats to Fear: let opponents convert on 50.58% of third downs (last in Sun Belt), only scored TDs on 48.89% of red zone trips
Stats to Cheer: had 28 takeaways (first in Sun Belt), only allowed 8 sacks
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 92nd out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 9, Special Teams: 1
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Craig Allen (82 tackles), LB Roderic Blunt (75 tackles), SS Kevin Byard (74 tackles),
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Logan Kilgore (2571 yds pass, 16 TD, 6 INT), RB Jordan Parker (851 yds rush, 5.13 ypc), WR Kyle Griswould (45 rec)
Adam Sparks: It kind of depends on the year. His name – Stock – is very appropriate because it rises and falls periodically. He's in a pretty good place right now because he's kind of proven himself twice, a reaffirmation of sorts. He arrived in 2006 and instantly made MTSU a bowl team and Sun Belt contender (first ever FBS bowl that season and Sun Belt co-championship), and then his team went 10-3 and won the New Orleans Bowl in 2009 (arguably the best season in program history). And after the team dropped off the cliff in 2011 with a 2-10 record, Stockstill came right back and posted an 8-4 record (an overachieving team) and routed Georgia Tech in Atlanta. There are still detractors, just like anywhere, but most fans have bought into Stockstill twice and therefore believe in his formula.
CFBZ: The Blue Raiders move from the Sun Belt to Conference USA this season. What games do the conference games do fans have circled this season?
Adam Sparks: As far as C-USA games, Oct. 5 versus East Carolina and Oct. 24 versus Marshall are highlights for many fans. The C-USA opener is on the road and against FAU, which is another Sun Belt school going to C-USA – so nothing new there. ECU (although moving to American Conference in 2014) and Marshall are new C-USA foes for the Blue Raiders, and they at least have some name recognition among mid-majors for many MTSU fans.
CFBZ: What are the biggest concerns on this team heading into fall practice?
Adam Sparks: Lack of a pass rush is big concern. The team lacked a steady rush last season, and most of the same players return. There was reason for slight optimism in spring, but it must be proven on Saturdays in the fall and not Tuesdays in the spring. The defense had a "bend but don't break" approach last season. Tackling was reasonably good, and red-zone defense was solid. But the pass rush just wasn't there enough, and the secondary suffered because of it. Everything on defense will be immensely better if a pass rush develops. And that's especially needed with a very young secondary this season.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
Adam Sparks: Bowl appearance, at least. In C-USA (with more guaranteed bowl bids than the Sun Belt), that means a 6-6 record probably gets a bowl appearance. Being the first year in C-USA and being left out of the bowl picture last season (despite the 8-4 record), MTSU needs to get back to a bowl and be competitive in its new conference. A 6-6 or 7-5 record and bowl bid would show that.
Offensively, there is a lot to like about the Blue Raiders. The OL loses an All-Sun Belt performer in Micah James but they return four starters and six players that have started at least one game. QB Logan Kilgore returns (16:6 TD:INT ratio) as does leading rusher Jordan Parker (5.1 ypc). The receiving corps losses their top receiver (Anthony Amos) but does return Kyle Griswould (45 rec) and Tavarres Jefferson (51 rec in 2011). In 2012, Buster Faulkner was promoted to OC and the team averaged around 4 more ppg despite gaining less yards. According to Football Study Hall, the Blue Raiders have been one of the fastest teams in college football in terms of plays per minute of possession from 2008-2012 (they were sixth fastest in the Nation during that time period). If you look at the same stats, you will see that last year they departed from the norm as they ranked 57th in this same metric. So last year, the Blue Raiders slowed it down a little bit by being more dedicated to the running game. Ask Paul Johnson how that worked for them.
A name you might recognize, Tyrone Nix, is one of the guys that is running the Blue Raiders defense (he's the co-DC along with Steve Ellis). Last year, the Blue Raiders cut their ppg allowed from 36.8 to 28 so that's definitely a good sign. Adam spoke about the lack of QB pressure/sacks last season and that is a big concern for this year with many of the same players back. The Blue Raiders return eight of their top ten linemen and six of these players played in 12 games last year. The LB corps returns everybody but Justin Jones (he was recently dismissed from the team). The secondary also returns a bunch of players as only Jajuan Harley exits. Adam mentioned the Blue Raiders "bend but don't break" style of play last season. If they want to move forward they might have to be a bit riskier this season.
Middle Tennessee has an interesting schedule in 2013 and I think they may have lucked out with their conference schedule as they avoid the top projected teams out of the West and instead play North Texas and UTEP. The out of conference schedule has games at UNC and BYU and should provide a split with Middle Tennessee going 2-2. The toughest conference games are at home (ECU and Marshall). I see this as a 7-5 team but wouldn't be shocked to see them win eight or nine if they show good improvement on defense.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews: