Middle Tennessee Preview 2006

Posted Aug 8, 2006

MTSU has been among the most maddening teams in college football.

Offense | Defense | Depth Chart | Further Analysis

While the Blue Raiders haven't been a disappointment on a big time scale, they've had the talent and production to not just win a Sun Belt title, they've had everything in place to win several. 

Instead, there have been four straight losing seasons with no New Orleans Bowl appearances in the five years as a Sun Belt member. The program started off its conference life on a strange note going 8-3 in 2001 only to miss out because it lost to a North Texas team that went 5-6.

How frustrating was last season under former head coach Andy McCollum? All four Sun Belt losses last season were by a touchdown or less. MTSU lost to UL Monroe in the final :43 and to UL Lafayette with 1:04 to play. There was a 45-7 pasting of eventual league champion Arkansas State, and a win at Vanderbilt that would turn out to be the bowl killer for the Commodores. The defense only allowed 18.73 points per game, but the offense often couldn't take advantage struggling to average just 19 points per outing.

Head coach: Rick Stockstill
1st year
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 23, Def. 21, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best MTSU Players
1. QB Clint Marks, Sr.
2. LB J.K. Sabb, Sr.
CB Bradley Robinson, Jr.
RB Eugene Gross, Sr.
5. WR Bobby Williams, Soph.
6. TE Stephen Chicola, Jr.
7. OT Germayle Franklin, Sr.
8. OT Franklin Dunbar, Soph.
9. FS Jonathan Harris, Jr.
10. NG Trevor Jenkins, Soph.

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: coming

8/31 FIU
9/9 at Maryland
9/14 Tennessee Tech
9/23 at Oklahoma
9/30 at North Texas
10/6 Louisville
10/21 at UL Monroe
10/28 at UL Lafayette
11/4 Florida Atlantic
11/11 at Arkansas State
11/18 at South Carolina
11/25 Troy

2005 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2005 Record: 4-7

Preview 2005 predicted wins

9/3 at Alabama L 26-7
9/10 North Texas L 14-7
9/17 Akron  L 17-7
10/1 at Vanderbilt W 17-15
10/15 at Fla Atlantic  W 35-14
10/22 UL Lafayette  L 13-10
11/5 Arkansas State  W 45-7
11/12 UL Monroe L 34-31
11/19 at NC State L 24-3
11/26 at Troy W 17-7
12/3 at Florida Intl L 35-31

All the frustrations and all the near misses meant the end of the McCollum tenure and the beginning of the Rick Stockstill era in what'll be an interesting experience until the new coaching staff gets its feet wet. This is Stockstill's first head coaching gig after spending time as an assistant at Clemson, East Carolina and South Carolina over the past several years. He's known for being a top recruiter and a nice developer of offensive talent, and he has some good prospects to work with.

Senior QB Clint Marks has been the starter for two years and has more than enough experience to handle himself well and be just the type of leader to carry the offense between coaching staffs. Bobby Williams, if he gets out of the doghouse after being suspended for spring ball, should be one of the Sun Belt's best receivers. Eugene Gross leads a small, quick backfield running behind a big, decent offensive line.

The defense won't be the killer it was last year after losing seven top starters, but it's not going to fall off the map with several good prospects ready to step in and linebacker J.K. Sabb and corner Bradley Robinson to build around. If the offense comes though with a better season, the D will be good enough to win the Sun Belt title with.

And that's the measure of success for Stockstill ... Sun Belt championships. The league is even, but it's not good enough to not be taken by storm if a program get hot. A little more luck in close games and a few better bounces here and there and MTSU will be the league's new star.

The Schedule: It's tough with the biggest games on the road. North Texas, UL Monroe, UL Lafayette and Arkansas State should be among the Sun Belt's best teams, and all four are away from Murfreesboro. The non-conference slate isn't going to be fun playing at Maryland, at Oklahoma and at South Carolina to go along with a home date with Louisville and a layup against Tennessee Tech, so there will be little margin for error if MTSU wants its first winning season since 2001.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Clint Marks. The left-handed senior saw his production dive last year with no running game to balance things out. There should be a 50/50 split of the workload, and that'll only help Marks by giving him more options to work with. If MTSU wins the Sun Belt title, Marks will likely be the Player of the Year. 

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB J.K Sabb. The former JUCO All-American came in and rocked right away leading the team in tackles and tackles for loss. He's a great sized playmaker on the weakside and a fearsome pass rusher.

Key player to a successful season: Junior CB Roy Polite. The secondary was one of the rocks of last year's team, and it will be again as long as Polite has a big year. The junior has been a quality reserve with good size and nice skills. Now he'll have to be a big producer with everyone looking to stay away from Bradley Robinson on the other side.

The season will be a success if ... MTSU wins the Sun Belt title. Finishing second means nothing in this league. It needs to get by a nasty conference draw and has to survive three two-game road trips, but the team should be good enough to beat anyone on the slate outside of Maryland, Oklahoma, Louisville and South Carolina.

Key game: Sept. 30 at North Texas. The Mean Green is better than last season's 2-9 disaster. One of those wins was a 14-7 clunker against the Blue Raiders pushing the record between the two to 5-0. MTSU needs this Sun Belt road opener coming off an almost certain blowout at Oklahoma and a near-certain blowout against Louisville coming up the following week.

2005 Fun Stats: 
- First quarter scoring: MTSU 48 - Opponents 19
- Fourth down conversions: MTSU 9 of 12 (75%) - Opponents 3 of 15 (20%)
- Interception return average: Opponents 24.4 yards on seven interceptions - MTSU 9.1 yards on 14 interceptions

The Last Time MTSU…
…played in a bowl game…1964 (Grantland Rice Bowl vs. Muskingum)
…missed a bowl game…2005
…pitched a shutout…2004 (Utah State)
…was shutout…2000 (Florida)
…scored 50 points…2005 (UL-Lafayette)
…went undefeated…1965
…won a conference title…2001 (tie, Sun Belt)
…had a 3,000-yard passer…never
…had a 1,000-yard rusher…2002 (Dwone Hicks)
…had a 1,000-yard receiver…2004 (Kerry Wright)
…had a first-round draft choice…never

Related Stories
Middle Tennessee Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006
Middle Tenn. Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006
Middle Tennessee Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006

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