NEW ... 2010 MTSU Preview
MTSU DE Jamari Lattimore
MTSU DE Jamari Lattimore
Posted Jul 22, 2010 2010 Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

MTSU Blue Raiders

Preview 2010

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Rick Stockstill
5th year: 27-23
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 21, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 14
Ten Best MTSU Players
1. QB Dwight Dasher, Sr.
2. FS Jeremy Kellem, Sr.
3. DE Jamari Lattimore, Sr.
4. OT Mike Williams, Jr.
5. RB Phillip Tanner, Sr.
6. DT Dwight Smith, Sr.
7. PK Alan Gendreau, Jr.
8. OT Mark Fisher, Sr.
9. CB Rod Issac, Sr.
10. SS Kevin Brown, Sr.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 2 Minnesota
Sept. 11 Austin Peay
Sept. 18 at Memphis
Sept. 25 at Louisiana
Oct. 5 Troy
Oct. 16 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 23 ULM
Nov. 2 at Arkansas St
Nov. 13 North Texas
Nov. 20 at WKU
Nov. 27 Florida Atlantic
Dec. 4 at FIU

Really, what's the big deal about a Sun Belt title anyway?

Every preview we've written since 2001, when the Blue Raiders joined the Sun Belt conference, has said roughly the same thing; this was the year when the program would become the elite of the league. But North Texas owned the conference early on, and then Troy took over the controls and haven't let go (with a Florida Atlantic showing here and there). Middle Tennessee might not be winning conference titles, but it's getting the same results.

Last year a 31-7 loss to Troy turned out to mean a second place finish, but the Blue Raiders ended up going to the New Orleans Bowl, the normal place for the Sun Belt champion, beat Southern Miss, and closed out the season with a seven-game winning streak and a fantastic 10-3 record. But as good as last year was, that might be nothing compared to this year if the team plays up to its capabilities.

The offense should be even more explosive even after cranking out 31 points or more in nine of the 13 games. Dwight Dasher should be the Sun Belt's brightest star, even if there's a bit of a quarterback competition as head coach Rick Stockstill is giving hotshot JUCO transfer Logan Kilgore every shot to win the job. Speedy running back Phillip Tanner is back from a torn ACL, four starters return to a line that should be the best in the league, and the receivers, while a bit of an X factor, are big and fast.

The defense will be swarming once again, even if there are some coaching changes to deal with. The philosophy will still be attack, attack, attack after being among the best in the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. The Blue Raiders bring the noise from all angles and all positions, and while there are some big losses in the linebacking corps and on the line, there's speed and athleticism to burn. The secondary should benefit greatly from all the pressure in the backfield, and with three returning starters, led by all-star free safety Jeremy Kellem, the pass defense should be among the best in the conference.

Now the expectations are going to be sky-high, and yes, a title will be demanded from a team that returns 15 starters and 42 lettermen. Stockstill is in his fifth season and he has the program at a level where it can reload as well as any in the league, and with athleticism across the board, experience, depth, and a lot of talent and plenty of options, this will be the most dangerous team in the league. It's time to go win championships on a regular basis.

What to watch for on offense:
More running from the backs. New offensive coordinator Mike Shultz isn't going to change up much from an attack that was so successful last season, but one of the goals will be to get the backs more involved after Dasher spent so much time running from his quarterback spot. The offensive line should be the best in the conference and Shultz wants to take advantage of that by using Tanner and D.D. Kyles to carry more of the workload. But don't look for Dasher to become Peyton Manning; he's going to be taking off, too.

What to watch for on defense: How fast will the linebackers adjust? Part of the reason the Blue Raiders were so successful was because of all-stars Danny Carmichael and Cam Robinson cleaning up everything the line didn't get to. The front four was able to take a few more chances and pin its ears back to get to the quarterback and behind the line because of the talent and smarts at linebacker, and Carmichael and Robinson did their share of playmaking, too. Antwan Davis is a talented veteran who'll be fine on the outside, but the spotlight will be on very athletic, but very young players like Justin Jones and Stephen Roberts to shine right away. It helps that defensive coordinator, Randall McCray, also handles the linebackers.

The team will be far better if … the offense hangs on to the ball a bit longer. Time of possession is an occasionally meaningless stat (Cincinnati almost went to the BCS Championship and was last in the nation in time of possession and Oregon was 117th), but this really might make a difference for the Blue Raiders. This isn't a big defense, especially at tackle and linebacker, and since it relies on its athleticism and quickness, the last thing it needs is to be on the field. MTSU was 110th in the nation in time of possession holding on to the ball for just 27:30 per game, and that's on Dasher. As good as he was last season, he and the offense struggled at converting on third downs hitting on just 35.4% of their chances.

The schedule: It's very possible that the Blue Raiders will be underdogs in just two games all season long. The non-conference schedule isn't all that bad starting out the season hosting Minnesota and getting Austin Peay along with a road trip to Memphis, and while going to Georgia Tech will be nasty, the defense will get 11 days to prepare for the option after dealing with Troy. Ah yes, Troy. The Sun Belt game of the year will be at home against the Trojans, and it also helps to get Florida Atlantic in Murfreesboro. There are only two straight road trips once, and that comes early on with the Sun Belt opener at Louisiana-Lafayette after going to Memphis. Playing at Western Kentucky and FIU is a break, but facing Arkansas State on the road could be a problem.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Dwight Dasher. If he has a season like he did in 2009, he'll be the Sun Belt Player of the Year. After a brilliant freshman year he fell into a sophomore slump and was used sparingly. And then came last season when he was phenomenal rushing for 1,154 yards and 13 touchdowns while throwing for 2,789 yards and 23 touchdowns. He throws a bit too many picks and has to be smarter with his passes, but he's the type of player who can carry an offense.

Best defensive player: Senior FS Jeremy Kellem. Pass rushing star Jamari Lattimore could end up being the star of the defense, but it's Kellem who'll take on the role as the main man. A strong tackler for his size, he has made 178 stops in his career with eight interceptions. He has excellent range and isn't afraid to stick his nose in against the run. With a green linebacking corps in front of him, he'll have to do even more.

Key player to a successful season: Junior WR Sancho McDonald. The MTSU passing game spread around the wealth with ten players catching ten passes or more, and the top three targets only making 37, 35, and 35 grabs. Garrett Andrews made 35 for 530 yards and four touchdowns, and while he's a good target, McDonald needs to be the dangerous outside playmaker who makes teams worry about the deep ball. The 6-3, 200-pound junior has all the tools to be special, but he only caught 24 passes for 255 yards and two scores last season and has to be more involved.

The season will be a success if … the Blue Raiders win double-digit games again and pulls off the Sun Belt title. With Troy and Florida Atlantic at home, and with all the returning experience, anything other than a championship will be a major disappointment. Splitting the two big non-conference games against Minnesota and Georgia Tech would be nice, too.

Key game: Oct. 5 vs. Troy. The Trojans have become the league's gold standard, and this game could be a passing of the torch. The Blue Raiders will get a nationally televised home game in what should determine the Sun Belt title, and while it'll still be early in the year, the pressure will be on after losing four in a row by a total of 128 to 51.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: MTSU 38 for 253 yards – Opponents 19 for 159 yards
- Field goals: MTSU 18-of-22 – Opponents 15-of-24
- Fumbles: Opponents 28 (lost 14) – MTSU 25 (lost 6)

- 2010 MTSU Preview | 2010 MTSU Offense
- 2010 MTSU Defense | 2010 MTSU Depth Chart
- MTSU Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006