CFN Preview 2013 - Middle Tenn. Blue Raiders
Middle Tennessee QB Logan Kilgore
Middle Tennessee QB Logan Kilgore
Posted Jun 15, 2013 2013 Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Middle Tenn. Blue Raiders

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Rick Stockstill
Eighth year: 43-44
Returning Lettermen
Off. 19, Def. 25, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best MT Players
1. QB Logan Kilgore, Sr.
2. SS Kevin Byard, Soph.
3. RB Jordan Parker, Soph.
4. DT Jimmy Staten, Jr.
5. OG Josh Walker, Sr.
6. LB Roderic Blunt, Sr.
7. WR Kyle Griswould, Sr.
8. DE Shubert Bastien, Jr.
9. WR Christian Collis, Soph.
10. CB Kenneth Gilstrap, Sr.
2013 Schedule
8/29 Western Carolina
9/7 at North Carolina
9/14 Memphis
9/21 at Florida Atlantic
9/28 at BYU
10/5 East Carolina
10/12 at North Texas
10/19 Marshall
11/2 at UAB
11/9 FIU
11/23 at Southern Miss
11/30 UTEP
The feeling of being robbed last December has not left the Middle Tennessee program. And they'll try to use that angst as motivation entering 2013.

The Blue Raiders won eight games in 2012, just the second time that happened since 2001. Bowl eligibility? No worries. It was locked up on the first day of November. Unfortunately for Rick Stockstill's kids, they were snubbed in the school's bid for a fourth postseason game in the last half-century. And to add insult to injury, two of Middle Tennessee's victims, Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky, received bowl invitations.

Stockstill will have no shortage of bulletin board materials this offseason. Not only do his kids have a chip on their shoulders, but they'll be carrying that attitude into a new league, Conference USA. Middle Tennessee agreed late last November to end its 12-year affiliation with the Sun Belt Conference. The Blue Raiders will recognize a few familiar faces, such as Florida Atlantic, Florida International and North Texas, as well as a swath of schools that'll require some advanced scouting.

If Middle Tennessee is going to thrive in a new environment, it'll probably have to be spearheaded by the offense. The D is a liability that shows no signs of making a quantum leap from a year ago. Sure, DT Jimmy Staten shows anchor potential up front, and SS Kevin Byard could be special, but they're exceptions to a very leaky and soft rule.

The Blue Raiders are going to go about as far as the backfield can take them in 2013. Logan Kilgore is the kind of quarterback with whom a program can win a lot of games. He leads, he distributes and he doesn't make many mistakes. RB Jordan Parker dispatched a statement as a true freshman, rushing for at least 140 yards in three of his final four games. Oh, and the underrated line brings back four of last year's starters.

Middle Tennessee got the short end of the postseason stick in 2012, remaining home despite winning eight games. The Blue Raiders are hopeful that membership in Conference USA, which has more bowl tie-ins than the Sun Belt, will improve their odds of bowling in 2013.

What to watch for on offense: Can Parker pick up where he left off? Sophomore RB Jordan Parker was downright revelatory last November, blowing through Sun Belt defenses with relative ease. It was certainly no fluke, but can this two-star recruit from Suwanee, Ga. build on his strong finish? The Blue Raiders are eager to see what No. 26 might do with 250 carries and a full offseason in the weight room. At 220 pounds, Parker now has the size and the strength to hoist the offense on his shoulders if needed.

What to watch for on defense: Someone has to pressure the pocket. But who? Middle Tennessee was hapless in the pass rush last fall, setting in motion a series of problems that became the ownership of the back seven, especially a flimsy defensive backfield. Junior DE Shubert Bastien flashed more inconsistency than production, denying him a starting job. For now, it looks as if the staff will lean on ends Alexandro Antoine and Jiajuan Fennell, with the latter turning a few heads during spring drills.

This team will be far better if … the offense finishes more drives … with six points. Middle Tennessee will need to score in order to compete in the Conference USA East Division, and field goal attempts from one of the team's shaky placekickers aren't going to cut it. The Blue Raiders did a lot of moving up and down the field in 2012, but ranked 111th nationally in red-zone touchdown percentage. The program's D just isn't good enough on its own, putting the onus on the offense to finish its long drives in the opposing end zone.

The Schedule: The Blue Raiders have to win the Sun Belt games. Starting out against Western Carolina will be a much-needed scrimmage before going to North Carolina and hosting an improved Memphis. However, if they can beat Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA opener and get by North Texas on the road and FIU at home, this could be a decent season. It's going to take a few upsets – like UTEP in the regular season finale or on the road against UAB and Southern Miss – to have any hope of going bowling. It's going to be a hard fight no matter what to get to six wins.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Logan Kilgore. He is not sexy from a statistical perspective. He is, however, effective from behind center. Kilgore is about to begin his third full season as the Middle Tennessee quarterback, a heady player whose leadership and grasp of the system has helped earn him the respect of his teammates. laying the groundwork for what could be an all-conference finale the 6-3, 201-pound Bakersfield (Calif.) College transfer clicked on 212-of-335 passes for 2,571 yards, 16 touchdowns and six picks. Kilgore is also athletic enough for the staff to request that he scramble more this fall.

Best Defensive Player: Sophomore SS Kevin Byard. One year. That's all the time that Byard needed to emerge as Middle Tennessee's best—and most influential—defensive player. The staff loved his potential from the moment he signed, bit never could have expected the 5-11, 216-pounder to be so good, so fast. Sans any relevant college experience to call upon, he earned a spot on the All-Sun Belt Second Team by racking up 74 tackles, two forced fumbles and four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

Key player to a successful season: Junior C Nick Nunez. Face it. No single player is going to spare the defense in 2013. One individual, though, is capable of hampering an offense that hopes to carry the team in the fall. The lone newcomer to the offensive line, Nunez will be responsible for calling out assignments and making reads for the unit. If he fails to make the jump to the starting lineup, everyone else, from Kilgore to the receivers is going to feel it. The offense will be at the steering wheel for Middle Tennessee this season. And the Blue Raiders simply need their center to keep the vehicle on the road.

The season will be a success if ... the Blue Raiders earn payback for last season by participating in a bowl game. A complete team? No way. But Middle Tennessee has enough talent, especially on offense, and enough motivation to play in the postseason for the first time in three years. The non-conference schedule is tricky, with North Carolina and BYU at the forefront, but no other games should be considered out of reach for this program.

Key game: Oct. 5 vs. East Carolina. Just how smoothly will Middle Tennessee transition to its new league? A visit from East Carolina, one of the East Division contenders, will provide a pretty good indication. If the Blue Raiders can hold serve at Floyd Stadium, they're liable to join the mix along with Marshall as a threat in the conference. This one ought to be an entertaining game involving a couple of capable quarterbacks, Kilgore and Shane Carden, and a pair of defenses that don't stop many opponents.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Passing yards per game: Middle Tennessee 216.1 – Opponents 252.6
- Red-zone touchdown %: Middle Tennessee 49% – Opponents 67%
- Sacks: Middle Tennessee 14 - Opponents 7
- 2013 Middle Tenn. Preview | 2013 Middle Tenn. Offense
- 2013 Middle Tenn. Defense | 2013 Middle Tenn. Depth Chart