#56 Middle Tennessee Football 2017 Preview

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Overall Rank: #56
#1 Conference USA
Middle Tennessee had another solid season under Coach Rick Stockstill. They won eight games, went to their second straight bowl game and stayed very competitive in Conference USA. The early conference loss to Western Kentucky in double overtime basically thwarted any hopes of a conference title and winning the bowl game would have been nice, but this is a program that will get another shot at a conference crown and a bowl victory in 2017.
2016 Record: 8-5, 5-3
2016 Bowl: Hawaii Bowl vs. Hawaii (L 35-52)
Coach: Rick Stockstill (72-66 at Middle Tennessee, 72-66 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tony Franklin
Defensive Coordinator: Scott Shafer
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Richie James, WR, 339 yards
Passing: Brent Stockstill, QB, 3,233 yards
Receiving: Richie James, WR, 1,625 yards
Tackles: Chris Melton, LB, 102
Sacks: Chris Melton, LB, 2.5
Interceptions: Michael Minter, CB, 2; DJ Sanders, LB, 2; Charvarius Ward, CB, 2
Other Key Returnees: WR Ty Lee, OL Chandler Brewer, LB Darius Harris, CB Darryl Randolph, S Alex Dale, K Canon Rooker
Key Losses: RB I’Tavius Mathers, WR Dennis Andrews, OL Daniel Stephens, OL Maurquice Shakir, DB Jeremy Cutrer, DL Steven Rhodes, DL Shaquille Huff, DL Jimal McBride
It is the offense that will carry Middle Tennessee to a bowl game. The unit ranked eighth in the country in total offense with 517.7 yards. Quarterback Brent Stockstill threw for 3,233 yards and 31 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. He completed an impressive 63.3 percent of his passes and with Richie James back at receiver, Stockstill should be in for a huge junior season. James caught 105 passes for 1,625 yards and a dozen touchdowns. The 5-9 speedster will be joined by sophomore Ty Lee who caught 63 passes for 699 yards and nine scores as a freshman. With Patrick Smith and youngsters Isiah Upton and C.J. Windham in the mix, the Blue Raiders are absolutely loaded at wide receiver. There are some questions to answer at running back though. I’Tavius Mathers is gone after rushing for 1,561 yards as a senior. Junior college transfer Maurice Gordon was expected to step into a starting role, but he has been limited by injuries during the offseason. Last year’s backup Terelle West could get the nod early due to his experience. With the potent passing game, the ground attack should be in pretty good shape even without Mathers. The potential problem there is on the line where three starters need to be replaced.
The bigger concern is on the defensive line. The rush defense was a problem last season and now all four starters are gone from the line. With less size on the line, Coach Stockstill and company will want to be more aggressive and hope that can help mask the lack of size and experience on the line. There is talent on the line though. Walter Brady played at Missouri as a freshman in 2015 where he tallied 7.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles-for-loss. His 7.0 sacks were most by a freshman in the FBS in 2015. Fellow underclassmen will likely man the middle of the line and that could be a big problem. The rest of the defense is in much better shape with six starters returning. Linebacker Chris Melton led the team with 102 tackles last season and Myles Harges, Darius Harris and D.J. Sanders all have starting experience at linebacker as well. The secondary needs to find a new cornerback to start opposite Mike Minter, but Darryl Randolph and Charvarius Ward have some experience. At safety, Jovante Moffatt and Alex Dale will look to emerge as playmakers this season who can help out the rush defense and the pass defense.
The Bottom Line:
If the aggressive defense works out and the defensive line can improve despite their lack of experience, the Blue Raiders have a shot at winning the Conference USA title. A trip to Western Kentucky on November 17th could be the deciding game in the East. A home game against Marshall a few weeks earlier will be a key contest as well. In September, MTSU will be consistently tested. Vanderbilt comes to Murfreesboro, but then the Blue Raiders head to Syracuse and Minnesota. Those games may not result in wins, but it should result in a better team that is ready to battle for a Conference USA title.
Projected Bowl: Boca Raton Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 191.8 (48th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 325.8 (8, 3)
Total Offense: 517.7 (8, 2)
Scoring Offense: 39.7 (12, 3)
Rushing Defense: 198.7 (85, 7)
Pass Defense: 250.8 (95, 7)
Total Defense: 449.5 (96, 9)
Scoring Defense: 35.8 (109, 11)
Turnover Margin: -0.15 (78, 8)
Sacks: 2.00 (68, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 1.08 (11, 1)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#62 Richie James