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2007 Middle Tennessee Preview

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 8, 2007


Middle Tennessee dominated the Sun Belt race throughout last year ... up until a late collapse against Troy. With several stars, like FS Damon Nickson, the Blue Raiders should be one of the league's premier teams again.


Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Preview 200
7

By Pete Fiutak

- 2007 MT Offense Preview | 2007 MT Defense Preview
-
2007 MT Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Middle Tennessee Preview 

Just when it seemed like Middle Tennessee had finally turned the corner and had the Sun Belt title won in Rick Stockstill’s first season, things went horribly wrong starting with a late drive and a 21-20 loss to Troy, and then closed out with a blowout loss to Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl.

Now the program has something to shoot for.

Expected to be the league’s top team since the start of the Sun Belt five years ago, the Blue Raiders had been a perennial disappointment. Finally, this appears to be the star it was supposed to be, and there’s no stopping now that Stockstill has had a full year to recruit and make the program his.

Head coach: Rick Stockstill
2nd year: 7-6
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 14, Def. 17, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best MT Players
1.
FS/KR Damon Nickson, Sr.
2. DE Erik Walden, Sr.
3. OT Franklin Dunbar, Jr.
4. DE Tavares Jones, Sr.
5.
DE Sean Mosley, Sr.
6. CB Bradley Robinson, Sr.

7.
NG Trevor Jenkins, Jr.   
8. WR Bobby Williams, Jr.
9. RB/WR Desmond Gee, Soph.
10. C Brandon Nix, Sr.

Middle Tennessee
CFN Prediction:
6-6

Sept. 1

at Florida Atlantic

Sept. 6

at Louisville

Sept. 15

at LSU

Sept. 20

Western Kentucky

Sept. 29

FIU

Oct. 6

Virginia

Oct. 13

at Memphis

Oct. 20

Arkansas State

Oct. 27

at North Texas

Nov. 3

at UL Monroe

Nov. 10

UL Lafayette

Nov. 20

at Troy

2006 Schedule
2005 Record:
7-6

8/31 FIU W 7-6
9/9 at Maryland L 24-10
9/14 Tenn. Tech W 44-0
9/23 at Oklahoma L 59-0
9/30 at North Texas W 35-0
10/6 Louisville L 44-17
10/21 at UL Monroe W 35-21
10/28 at UL Lafayette W 34-20
11/4 Florida Atlantic W 35-14
11/11 at Arkansas St W 38-10
11/18 at South Carolina L 52-7
11/25 Troy L 21-20
12/26 Motor City Bowl
Central Michigan L 31-14

By far the league’s best team up until the Troy gaffe, now there’s hope for even more production with eight starters returning on defense and enough good players on offense to hope for an overall improvement.
 
This is the one Sun Belt team that has the potential to have a sharp passing attack with Joe Craddock, a good-looking replacement for Clint Marks, taking over and with the top four receivers, led by Bobby Williams, already in place.
 
The defense loaded up on good prospects in the recruiting class to add to an already solid base. This was one of the Sun Belt’s better defenses last year, and now it should be positively dominant with all eight players from the defensive front four rotating in and a talented back seven, even without some top linebackers, behind them.
 
Last year might have been just the beginning to a tremendous run and the start of Middle Tennessee being the program it’s always wanted to be. To get there, it needs to finish the drill and finally win the Sun Belt title all by its self. This is the team that should be able to do it.

What to watch for on offense: There should be as much variety as any offense in the Sun Belt. Stockstill likes to run different styles and isn’t afraid to mix things up a bit to generate points. Despite ranking a paltry 286 yards per game, the Blue Raiders led the Sun Belt in scoring. Now the offense should start to be more consistent and more productive, even without the starting quarterback and leading rusher.

What to watch for on defense: A return to 2005. The Blue Raiders had the league’s best defense two years ago helped mostly by being a brick wall against the run. Now sophomore tackles of last year are experienced juniors, the sacks should come by the boatload, and this should once again be one of the five best teams in the nation when it comes to generating tackles for loss.

The team will be far better if … the passing game shows up. Under Stockstill, it’s a shock MTSU was as awful throwing the ball as it was. While it relied on the good ground game to carry the offense, the passing attack wasn’t efficient enough. Craddock, or whoever turns out to be the quarterback, doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards, but he does have to scare a defense at some point.

The Schedule: It’s nasty right out of the gate with a far, far tougher than it looks road opener against Florida Atlantic to kick off the Sun Belt season followed up by road games against Louisville and LSU. Then things get far easier with four home games in five weeks before finishing up with three road trips in the final four games. Playing on the road Troy to close things out might make a Sun Belt title tough, but playing Arkansas State and UL Lafayette in Murfreesboro helps.

Best Offensive Player: Junior OT Franklin Dunbar. Just scratching the surface of how good he can become, the 6-5, 320-pound junior is already and all-star. As long as he’s in good shape and can prove he can handle the faster pass rushers, he might get a long look from the NFL types.

Best Defensive Player: Senior FS Damon Nickson. Able to star just about anywhere in the secondary as well as on special teams as one of the nation’s best kick returners, Nickson is a great playmaker on a defense full of playmakers. He’s a home-run hitter every time he gets the ball in his hands.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Joe Craddock. Clint Marks was the starter for what seemed like 14 years, and while he was good, his biggest strength was his ability to manage a game. Craddock is more mobile, has a better arm, and has the potential to make the passing game a positive again.

The season will be a success if ... the Blue Raiders win the Sun Belt title. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it technically won last year, but it was really Troy’s season. Now the program has to finally take the next step and become the dominant champion is appeared to be up until the late collapse to the Trojans.

Key game: Sept. 1 at Florida Atlantic. The season ender at Troy will obviously mean plenty to the Sun Belt race, but Florida Atlantic has a decent team returning and it’ll be looking to make a home statement right off the bat. Remember, FIU, who finished 0-12, pushed Middle Tennessee 7-6 in the 2005 season opener.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- Red zone scores: Middle Tennessee 33 of 36 (92%) – Opponents 35 of 44 (80%)
- Penalties: Middle Tennessee 72 for 552 yards – Opponents 53 for 456 yards
- Tackles for loss: Middle Tennessee 105 for 436 yards – Opponents 84 for 317 yards

   

Related Stories
2007 Middle Tennessee Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 8, 2007
2007 Middle Tennessee Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 8, 2007
2007 Middle Tennessee Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 8, 2007








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