#101 Middle Tennessee Football 2014 Preview

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Overall Rank: #101
#7 Conference USA

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Middle Tennessee and Coach Rick Stockstill have put together two eight win seasons. Despite a 3-4 start, the Blue Raiders strung together five wins to close out the regular 2013 season. It ended on a sour note in the Armed Forces Bowl against Navy. But reaching a bowl was the goal and they did that. That will be the goal again in 2014, but a new look offense could have this team taking a step back.

2013 Record: (8-5, 6-2)
2013 Bowl: Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl vs. Navy (L 24-6)
Coach: Rick Stockstill (51-49 at Middle Tennessee, 51-49 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Buster Faulkner
Defensive Coordinator: Tyrone Nix, Steve Ellis

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jordan Parker, RB, 745 yards
Passing: Austin Grammer, QB, 190 yards
Receiving: Marcus Henry, WR, 549 yards
Tackles: T.T. Barber, LB, 119
Sacks: Leighton Gasque, LB, 5.0
Interceptions: Kevin Byard, S, 5

Other Key Returnees: RB Reggie Whatley, LB Christian Henry, OL Darius Johnson, CB Jared Singletary, S Xavier Walker, DT Patrick McNeil

Key Losses: QB Logan Kilgore, WR Tavarres Jefferson, WR Kyle Griswould, OL Josh Walker, P Josh Davis

While the offense retools, the defense will have to step up. With eight starters back, the potential is certainly there. The front four returns five players who earned at least one start in 2013. Tackle Patrick McNeil is a great piece to build around in the middle of the line. However, getting more production from ends Alexandro Antoine, Jiajuan Fennell and Shubert Bastien would be helpful. Linebacker T.T. Barber had an amazing sophomore season, tallying a team high 117 tackles and earning first team all-conference accolades. He also picked off three passes, forced three fumbles, recovered three fumbles and tallied three sacks. Barber will continue to make plays, especially with Christian Henry, James Roberson and Leighton Gasque by his side. The secondary does lose corners Kenneth Gilstrap and Sammy Seamster, but Jared Singletary, Kevin Byard and Xavier Walker form an experienced and talented group to build around. The pass defense did rank in the top 20 in the country last year. They may not be that good this time around, but they should not drop too far either.

Quarterback Logan Kilgore did not put up massive numbers during his senior season, throwing for 2,507 yards and 16 touchdowns, but he has been the offensive leader for this team for three years. The quarterback battle will likely come down to sophomore Austin Grammer and freshman Brent Stockstill. Grammer was Kilgore’s backup last year and at least has some experience. That experience, along with his ability to scramble, gives Grammer a leg up heading into the fall. Marcus Henry will be the leader of the receiver corps, yet MTSU must move on without Tavarres Jefferson and Kyle Griswould, who combined for 91 catches in 2013. If big receivers like Terry Pettis and Chris Perkins can step up, it would really help Grammer or Stockstill. But the quarterback has to be able to get passes off for that to even matter and there are three new faces on the offensive line. With Darius Johnson and Isaiah Anderson bookending the line, the pass protection should at least be decent.

The Bottom Line:
If the line can hold, the Blue Raiders will spend more time on the ground this season. With Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley, that is not a bad way to go. Parker is a bruiser who was slowed by injuries late last season. Despite those injuries, he rushed for 745 yards and six scores. Whatley, an explosive speedster, added 657 yards on 101 carries and three touchdowns. A solid defense and a prolific ground game is always a recipe for success, yet it remains to be seen how well the ground game will really be without the threat of Kilgore in the air.

Projected Bowl: None

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 199.3 (31st in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 208.2 (85, 6)
Total Offense: 407.5 (66, 4)
Scoring Offense: 29.0 (68, 5)
Rushing Defense: 199.3 (96, 9)
Pass Defense: 203.4 (19, 3)
Total Defense: 402.7 (63, 7)
Scoring Defense: 26.2 (60, 7)
Turnover Margin: 0.9 (12, 1)
Sacks:  2.08 (59, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 1.23 (17, 3)


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