2012 Middle Tennessee Preview
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Posted Aug 11, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Middle Tenn. Blue Raiders

Preview 2012

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Rick Stockstill
7th year: 35-40
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 18, Def. 22, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 26
Ten Best MT Players
1. DE Omar McLendon, Sr.
2. LB Christian Henry, Soph.
3. S Jajuan Harley, Jr.
4. QB Logan Kilgore, Jr.
5. RB Benny Cunningham, Sr.
6. WR Christian Collis, RFr.
7. CB Kenneth Gilstrap, Jr.
8. WR Tavarres Jefferson, Sr.
9. OT Darius Johnson, RFr.
10. LB Roderic Blunt, Jr.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 McNeese State
Sep. 8 Florida Atlantic
Sep. 15 at Memphis
Sep. 29 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 6 ULM
Oct. 13 at FIU
Oct. 20 at Miss State
Oct. 27 North Texas
Nov. 1 at WKU
Nov. 17 at South Alabama
Nov. 24 Troy
Dec. 1 at Arkansas State
2011 was a mulligan. Now comes the good swing with the ball going right down the middle.

The Blue Raiders aren't going to win the Sun Belt title in a loaded year for the conference, but they're not going to be anywhere near 2-10 again after a down season when nothing seemed to go quite right.

The defense was abysmal, especially against the run, getting ripped to shreds by anyone and everyone who tried to generate a push, and while the offense wasn't too bad, it couldn't keep up the pace and fell off the map over the second half of the season.

After scoring 20 points or more in the first seven games, the O failed to hit more than 19 over the final five games and the team got destroyed over the final six losses. Fortunately, the team under head coach Rick Stockstill has a way of bouncing back with decent years after struggling a bit, but it never comes up with the same year twice.

The 2008 team was awesome at getting into the backfield but couldn't run the ball a lick and never came through clutch. Everything clicked in the 2009 season with a dominant defensive front on the way to a ten-win season, and then the 2010 team couldn't stop giving the ball away in a downer of a season. And then came last year.

The Blue Raiders didn't necessarily quit, but the production was miserable as the year started to slip away. Stockstill is looking to wipe the slate clean, and he might have the team in place to do that in a hurry.

The offense should be more explosive with a nice group of skill players and a veteran quarterback in Logan Kilgore to make the passing game fly. The defense that couldn't stop anyone at least as experience, especially on the front seven, and should be back to its old ways of camping out in the backfield.

No, the program might not be ready to come up with double-digit wins like it did a few years ago, but it appears ready to get back on the right track in a big hurry. The Sun Belt got a year off from dealing with the Blue Raiders, but the big improvement is about to come.

What to watch for on offense: The passing game. Logan Kilgore came up with a decent year throwing for 2,231 yards and 18 touchdowns, but he had problems with picks and struggled to get the offense to get moving over the second half of the season. He loses two good receivers in Malcolm Beyah and Sancho McDonald, but Kyle Griswould and Tavarres Jefferson are strong starters to work with and there's nice depth to count on. Now the goal needs to be to hit on more plays down the field after averaging just six yards per pass and 10.2 yards per completion. The potential will be there to stretch the field a bit more.

What to watch for on defense: Can anyone stop the run? All four starters are back up front with tackles Kendall Dangerfield and Jimmy Staten joining ends Omar McLenon, Shubert Bastien and Jijuan Fennell to give the team a veteran group to work around. Now they have to hold up after allowing a whopping 2,754 yards and 37 - 37 - touchdowns with Georgia Tech coming up with five and North Texas closing things out with seven rushing scores. Overall this was a relatively young group last season that needs to be much stronger and much more consistent. New co-defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix won't let this bunch take plays off like it did last year.

The team will be far better if … the defense can take the ball away once in a while. Middle Tennessee came up with five fumbles and a pick in the blowout win over Florida Atlantic and recovered two fumbles in the victory over Memphis. That means eight of the 20 takeaways came in the two wins with just 12 coming in the ten losses. Getting fumbles wasn't too much of an issue with opponents putting the ball on the ground 28 times and the D getting 16 of them, but the secondary didn't do anything with just four picks and just two in the final nine games.

The schedule: It's not bad and it should lead to a strong start facing McNeese State, Florida Atlantic and Memphis before getting a week off. The problem comes in the midsection with four road games in a five date stretch and with just two home games after mid-October. Missing Louisiana-Lafayette is a plus, but having to face FIU, WKU and Arkansas State all on the road all but ends any Sun Belt title hopes before they'll get a chance to start. The two BCS games at Georgia Tech and Mississippi State will be sure losses, but there isn't any one game among the other ten that looks like a sure-thing loss.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Logan Kilgore. At least that's the hope. The 6-3, 185-pounder has good mobility and a nice arm, and now he should be even better in a sped-up offense that will put a premium on increasing the tempo and pushing the ball down the field a bit more. The 12 interceptions were too many, and nothing seemed to work over the last five games of the year, but he has the tools and experience to come up with a 3,000-yard season and be one of the league's better passers.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Omar McClendon. The 6-3, 242-pound veteran did a decent job last season with 54 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but the potential is there to do far, far more. He was a star recruit who was expected to become a perennial all-star, but he has been average and nothing too special. With veterans around him, the chance will be there to turn it loose and become the breakout pass rushing star the defense desperately needs.

Key player to a successful season: Senior C Alex Stuart. It might not seem all that sexy when the best offensive player is an interior offensive lineman, but the 6-2, 288-pound senior is a veteran quarterback for the front five with two years of starting experience and good strength. He might not be a mauler and he isn't going to blast anyone off the ball, but for a line that has to replace three starters, he'll be a steadying force who helps a group that finished second in the nation in sacks allowed.

The season will be a success if … the Blue Raiders win eight games and get back to back to a bowl. There's no reason to not at least start out 2-0 with wins over McNeese State and Florida Atlantic, and beating North Texas and ULM at home and South Alabama and Memphis on the road are a must. It might be tough to get to eight wins, but it's going to take an upset or two and a lot more consistency to come up with the bounceback season to make it three bowl appearances in the last four years.

Key game: Oct. 13 at FIU. If everything goes according to plan, a 4-1 start isn't out of the question with wins over McNeese State, FAU, Memphis and ULM to go along with a loss at Georgia Tech. If that happens, the Blue Raiders will be 2-0 in conference play with a chance to make a huge statement at FIU. After winning two straight in the series, MT got rolled 31-18 last year as the season fell into the abyss. A win would show that everything has turned around.

2011 Fun Stats:
- 3rd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 113 - Middle Tennessee 44
- Penalties: Opponents 71 for 588 yards - Middle Tennessee 58 for 511 yards
- Interception Return Average: Middle Tennessee 44 yards on four picks – Opponents 15.3 yards on 15 picks
- Time of Possession: Opponents 34:09 - Middle Tennessee 25:51
- 2012 Middle Tenn. Preview | 2012 Middle Tenn. Offense
- 2012 Middle Tenn. Defense | 2012 Middle Tenn. Depth Chart