Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. The bad news first:
We've got good news and bad news. First, the bad: Middle Tennessee really wasn't a very good team last year. The Blue Raiders finished 8-4 and whipped Georgia Tech (I stand by my point that they should have been playing USC in the Sun Bowl instead of the 6-7 Yellow Jackets), but they lost to McNeese State, lucked (somewhat) into a 4-1 record in one-possession games, and fielded a pretty dreadful defense (114th in Def. F/+).
Yes, they kind of got screwed out of a bowl bid, but one can only muster so much outrage when a team that ranked 96th overall misses the postseason. That said...
2. A tremendous bounceback, considering
...96th is better than 115th, and 8-4 is better than 2-10. Rick Stockstill pulled off one hell of a bounceback season, switching his offense up and overcoming the loss of quite a few impact players from the skill position portion of the depth chart. With a terribly inexperienced team, he saved his job and pulled off enough of a rally that Conference USA came calling. MTSU may not have been a good team, but it was a much better team, and that is to be applauded.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-4 | Adj. Record: 5-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 96|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|30-Aug||McNeese State||21-27||L||18.8 - 59.5||L|
|8-Sep||Florida Atlantic||31-17||W||37.8 - 34.2||W|
|15-Sep||at Memphis||48-30||W||35.9 - 37.1||L|
|29-Sep||at Georgia Tech||49-28||W||42.5 - 28.3||W|
|6-Oct||UL-Monroe||17-31||L||31.9 - 28.0||W|
|13-Oct||at Florida International||34-30||W||34.1 - 36.6||L|
|20-Oct||at Mississippi State||3-45||L||16.7 - 42.2||L|
|27-Oct||North Texas||38-21||W||34.0 - 31.6||W|
|1-Nov||at Western Kentucky||34-29||W||30.3 - 39.0||L|
|17-Nov||at South Alabama||20-12||W||28.2 - 27.9||W|
|24-Nov||Troy||24-21||W||13.8 - 23.4||L|
|1-Dec||at Arkansas State||0-45||L||14.1 - 36.1||L|
|Points Per Game||27.4||73||28.0||62|
|Adj. Points Per Game||28.2||64||35.3||114|
3. When it didn't work, it really didn't work
As a whole, MTSU teetered between competent and good. But in three losses -- McNeese State, Mississippi State, and Arkansas State -- the Blue Raiders were perhaps the worst team in the country in that given week.
Adj. Points Per Game (eight wins and ULM loss): MTSU 32.1, Opponent 31.8 (plus-0.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (three other losses): Opponent 45.9, MTSU 16.5 (minus-29.4)
When injuries and youth combine, this is perhaps what should be expected. Sporting a new run-first approach, MTSU got rocked by attrition at the running back position, losing its top two guys for the year and giving 20 carries per game to a freshman (Jordan Parker) and a receiver-turned-cornerback (Drayton Calhoun). One of the team's top receivers (Tavarres Jefferson) was also lost for the season early on. And to gauge the youth on last year's defense, simply look at the number of returnees. The secondary was run by a freshman and a pair of sophomores, plus three of the top five linebackers and two of the top six linemen missed time. Stockstill had to do a lot of shuffling in 2012, and while he was able to keep the ship afloat for the most part and engineer vast, clear improvement after a two-year collapse, the Blue Raiders did find a few icebergs along the way.
|Q1 Rk||42||1st Down Rk||68|
|Q2 Rk||91||2nd Down Rk||96|
|Q3 Rk||98||3rd Down Rk||34|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Logan Kilgore||6'3, 194||Sr.||*** (5.6)||212||335||2,571||63.3%||16||6||6||1.8%||7.4|
|Shaun White||5'11, 210||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Austin Grammer||6'2, 200||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
4. Run-to-pass looks good on Logan Kilgore
The formatting is funky now, but go back and look at last year's MTSU stat profile. The Blue Raiders ran just 56 percent of the time on standard downs and just 21 percent of the time on passing downs. Logan Kilgore, then a sophomore, was done no favors by play-calling, facing a lot of "go out there and make a play on passing downs (with a pretty poor receiving corps)" situations. The result: a 59 percent completion rate, 12 interceptions, and a No. 107 Passing S&P+ ranking.
Enter Buster Faulkner. Despite his background -- before MTSU, Faulkner was Chris Hatcher's offensive coordinator at Murray State; Hatcher is an Air Raid disciple who served as a Hal Mumme assistant at Kentucky in the late-1990s -- Faulkner took the reins of the MTSU offense in his second year in Murfreesboro and actually doubled down on the run game. MTSU raised its run rates to 69 percent on standard downs and 35 percent on passing downs, making the Blue Raiders a pretty run-heavy team overall.
It suited the personnel well despite the injuries. William Pratcher and Benny Cunningham looked like a ferocious 1-2 combination of running backs, but Pratcher was lost for the season after three carries, and after a brief explosion, Cunningham was lost midway through the year. Faulkner ended up dipping further into the depth chart than intended, but for a freshman, Jordan Parker held his own pretty well. The run game was decent, but as importantly, it opened up the pass quite a bit. Despite the loss of Jefferson, 2011's No. 2 receiver, the top three receivers each averaged 8.0 yards per target or better. Receiver Anthony Amos departs, as does Cunningham, but Pratcher re-joins Parker in the backfield, and between senior Kyle Griwould, sophomore Christian Collis, and three junior college receivers, the supporting cast could be the best Kilgore has had at his disposal. A good offensive line is just icing on the cake.
|Jordan Parker||RB||6'1, 207||So.||** (5.4)||166||851||5.1||6.4||3||+1.9|
|William Pratcher (2011)||RB||5'7, 206||Sr.||** (5.2)||122||585||4.8||N/A||2||-5.6|
|Jeremiah Bryson||RB||5'8, 185||So.||*** (5.6)||39||150||3.8||2.1||0||-3.5|
|Reggie Whatley||RB||5'7, 175||Jr.||** (5.3)||39||172||4.4||3.9||1||-2.1|
|Logan Kilgore||QB||6'3, 194||Sr.||*** (5.6)||16||127||7.9||9.1||1||+7.1|
|Kyle Griswould||WR-H||5'10, 200||Sr.||** (5.2)||7||17||2.4||1.1||1||-1.6|
|Kamani Thomas||RB||5'9, 192||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Shane Tucker||RB||6'0, 208||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
5. Oh, Benny
For three years, Benny Cunningham was a decent backup; from 2009-11, he compiled 1,009 rushing yards (4.2 per carry) and 10 touchdowns: reasonably competent but far from spectacular. But the new offense gave him both freedom and opportunity, and he took full advantage. After carrying just 20 times for 91 yards in the first three weeks, Cunningham ripped off 217 yards and five touchdowns in the win over Georgia Tech, then rushed for 230 and two scores against Florida International two weeks later. Suddenly he was looking like a potential 1,500-yard rusher and all-Sun Belt performer. He made my Heisman column a couple of times. But late in the FIU game, he injured his knee and was lost for the season. A senior putting everything together in his final season, then going down with injury, is painfully disappointing.
|Kyle Griswould||WR-H||5'10, 200||Sr.||** (5.2)||67||45||547||67.2%||8.2||20.4%||56.7%||8.3||78.3|
|Tavarres Jefferson (2011)||WR||5'9, 207||Sr.||** (5.4)||69||51||398||73.9%||5.8||14.4%||59.4%||N/A||N/A|
|Christian Collis||WR-X||6'0, 210||So.||*** (5.5)||26||18||195||69.2%||7.5||7.9%||50.0%||8.0||27.9|
|Vincent Van Horne||WR-Y||20||9||121||45.0%||6.1||6.1%||55.0%||5.7||17.3|
|Jeremiah Bryson||RB||5'8, 185||So.||*** (5.6)||15||12||122||80.0%||8.1||4.6%||26.7%||7.0||17.5|
|Marcus Henry||WR||6'0, 188||Jr.||** (5.4)||14||9||182||64.3%||13.0||4.3%||57.1%||13.3||26.0|
|Jordan Parker||RB||6'1, 207||So.||** (5.4)||14||10||102||71.4%||7.3||4.3%||28.6%||5.0||14.6|
|Harold Turner, Jr.||WR-X||12||12||77||100.0%||6.4||3.6%||75.0%||7.1||11.0|
|Reggie Whatley||RB||5'7, 175||Jr.||** (5.3)||10||7||48||70.0%||4.8||3.0%||80.0%||4.1||6.9|
|Demetrius Frazier||WR||5'10, 190||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Devin Clarke||WR||5'11, 170||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Ed'Marques Battles||WR||6'0, 190||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Chris Perkins||WR||6'5, 215||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Jevontey Smith||WR||6'2, 189||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Micah James||C||13 career starts; 2012 1st All-Sun Belt|
|Josh Walker||LG||6'5, 319||Sr.||** (5.1)||21 career starts|
|Isaiah Anderson||RT||6'4, 274||Jr.||** (5.3)||12 career starts|
|Darius Johnson||LT||6'3, 280||So.||*** (5.5)||12 career starts|
|Jadareius Hamlin||RG||6'2, 291||Sr.||** (5.2)||9 career starts|
|Jesse Grisham||RG||6'3, 284||Sr.||** (5.2)||4 career starts|
|Roberto Loya||LT||6'5, 285||So.||** (5.4)||2 career starts|
|Patrick Hughes||C||6'4, 303||Jr.||** (5.4)||1 career start|
|Nick Nunez||LG||6'4, 273||Sr.||** (5.2)|
|Hunter Rogers||RT||6'7, 337||RSFr.||** (5.2)|
|Adam Stickel||RG||6'5, 317||RSFr.||** (5.2)|
6. MTSU should have one of Conference USA's best offensive lines
When two-year starting tackle Alex Stuart decided not to return for his senior season, an inexperienced line became one of the nation's most inexperienced lines. His unexpected departure, along with the losses of a one-year starting guard, a two-year starting center, a three-year starting guard, and a four-year starting tackle, could have absolutely destroyed a line that returned just 14 career starts. Instead, the line held form. The Blue Raiders improved from 76th to 69th in Adj. Line Yards and regressed only from fourth to eighth in Adj. Sack Rate. Kilgore was rarely touched (MTSU's quick passing certainly helps with that), and a line that was consistently shuffled during the season held up on the ground, too.
In 2013, then, the line comes with expectations. Seven players with starting experience return from a line that was a pleasant surprise. If the running backs stay healthy this time around, MTSU should have a rock solid running game.
|Q1 Rk||94||1st Down Rk||110|
|Q2 Rk||119||2nd Down Rk||100|
|Q3 Rk||109||3rd Down Rk||121|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Stephen Roberts||DE||6'3, 230||Sr.||** (5.4)||12||27.0||3.7%||2||0||0||1||1||0|
|Jimmy Staten||DT||6'4, 300||Sr.||** (5.2)||12||25.5||3.5%||1.5||1||0||0||0||0|
|Shubert Bastien||DE||6'5, 237||Jr.||** (5.4)||12||24.0||3.3%||6||3||0||1||2||1|
|Patrick McNeil||DT||6'1, 301||Jr.||*** (5.5)||10||18.5||2.5%||2||0||0||1||0||0|
|Dearco Nolan||DE||6'2, 242||Sr.||** (5.2)||12||16.5||2.3%||2||0||0||0||0||1|
|J.D. Jones||DT||6'2, 314||So.||*** (5.5)||12||9.5||1.3%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jiajuan Jennell||DE||6'3, 240||Jr.||** (5.2)||10||7.0||1.0%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Alexandro Antoine||DE||6'1, 243||So.||*** (5.5)||12||6.5||0.9%||1.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Raynard Felton||DE||6'4, 265||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Derious Bennett||DT||6'1, 301||RSFr.||** (5.2)|
|Shaquille Huff||DT||6'1, 312||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Kenderson Obas||DT||6'2, 275||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Devante Lee||DE||6'6, 230||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Ismael Aurismond||DE||6'3, 230||Fr.||** (5.4)|
7. Can star ratings save a dreadful line?
The positive spin: MTSU had twice as many sacks as its opponent in 2012!
The less positive spin: MTSU had just 14 sacks in 2012, worse than all but a handful of teams; the Blue Raiders were bad at geting to the quarterback on standard downs and awful at it on passing downs. Also: they got pushed around against the run, particularly in short yardage situations, and made next to no plays behind the line of scrimmage.
MTSU's offensive line must have just dominated the defensive line in practice, huh? The DL was pretty awful as a whole, and improvement in 2013 will rely mostly on former three-star recruits actually becoming three-star players. Recruiting rankings have been relatively kind to MTSU as a whole -- each unit has its share of three-star guys (except the OL, one of MTSU's best units) -- but that only matters if production occurs. Big, three-star tackles Patrick McNeil and J.D. Jones did next to nothing last year (same goes for end Alexandro Antoine), and while the depth of experience is impressive ... again, that only matters if results follow.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Craig Allen||LB||6'2, 230||Sr.||** (5.3)||11||70.5||9.7%||2||1||0||2||0||1|
|Roderic Blunt||MIKE||6'0, 228||Sr.||** (5.3)||12||55.5||7.6%||2.5||0||1||2||0||1|
|T.T. Barber||WILL||6'1, 215||So.||** (5.2)||9||35.5||4.9%||3.5||0||1||0||1||0|
|Christian Henry||MIKE||6'0, 228||Jr.||** (5.2)||12||33.0||4.5%||1||0||0||3||0||0|
|Justin Jones||SAM||5'11, 225||Sr.||*** (5.5)||9||31.5||4.3%||3||0||0||1||0||0|
|Leighton Gasque||WILL||6'2, 210||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||17.5||2.4%||4.5||4||0||0||0||0|
|James Roberson||SAM||6'0, 205||So.||*** (5.5)||12||9.5||1.3%||0||0||0||0||1||1|
|Ykeem Wells||MIKE||6'0, 230||So.||**||12||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||1||1|
|Iman Smith||LB||6'1, 224||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Jahmal Jones||LB||6'2, 227||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kevin Byard||FS||5'11, 220||So.||** (5.4)||12||61.0||8.4%||0||0||4||2||2||0|
|Khari Burke||CB||5'8, 176||Jr.||*** (5.6)||11||37.5||5.1%||2||0||0||1||0||2|
|Chris Sharpe||CB||5'11, 179||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||25.5||3.5%||1||0||1||1||0||1|
|Kenneth Gilstrap||CB||5'9, 181||Sr.||** (5.2)||10||23.0||3.2%||0||0||2||2||0||0|
|David Jones||SS||5'11, 197||Sr.||** (5.4)||10||17.0||2.3%||0||0||0||0||1||1|
|Sammy Seamster||CB||6'1, 201||Sr.||** (5.1)||12||15.0||2.1%||2||0||0||0||1||0|
|Reginald Farmer||FS||5'10, 188||Sr.||NR||11||4.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Herbert King||CB||5'10, 174||Sr.||NR||10||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jared Singletary||CB||5'8, 167||So.||*** (5.5)||6||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Drayton Calhoun||CB||5'11, 186||Sr.||**** (5.9)||11||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Anfornee Stewart||S||6'1, 203||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Chris Brown||S||6'1, 180||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Xavier Walker||DB||6'4, 205||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Shon Akins||DB||5'9, 168||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
8. Sacrificing safety for play-making
Perhaps by necessity, MTSU was conservative as a whole, preventing big plays better than it made them. The bend-don't-break attack can work, but the Blue Raiders bent way, way too much in 2012. The team took huge leaps on offense and special teams last year, but MTSU will have to make a few more plays on defense for that to matter too much in Conference USA. Can this personnel, which really does have quite a few three-star (and one four-star) recruits involved, begin to translate athleticism to quality now that the two-deep features much, much more experience?
|Josh Davis||5'10, 215||Sr.||42||40.2||3||11||14||59.5%|
|Zachary Lopez||5'11, 198||Jr.||4||37.2||0||1||2||75.0%|
|Reggie Whatley||KR||5'7, 175||Jr.||25||30.5||1|
|Kenneth Gilstrap||KR||5'9, 181||Sr.||9||23.8||0|
|Jared Singletary||PR||5'8, 167||So.||9||4.6||0|
|Kyle Griswould||PR||5'10, 200||Sr.||7||0.9||0|
|Special Teams F/+||8|
|Field Goal Pct||37|
|Kick Returns Avg||8|
|Punt Returns Avg||118|
9. All-or-nothing on special teams
Thanks mostly to place-kicking and kick returns, MTSU's special teams ratings were downright strong in 2012; knowing how much the field position battle matters in football, this was a huge boon to the Blue Raiders' 4-1 record in one-possession games. Star return man Reggie Whatley returns, which is great, but kicker Carlos Lopez does not. Can MTSU shore up its dreadful kickoff and punt return units to account for the loss of Lopez?
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|7-Sep||at North Carolina||32|
|21-Sep||at Florida Atlantic||116|
|12-Oct||at North Texas||112|
|23-Nov||at Southern Miss||87|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||103|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||109|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+10 / +5.4|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||18 (9, 9)|
10. How does a lucky-and-unlucky team handle a step up?
I keep calling the move from the Sun Belt to Conference USA a "step up," and it is, but only marginally so. If Middle Tennessee's offense indeed improves as I expect, and if the defense can become a bit less of a sieve, the Blue Raiders should be able to crawl into the 80s, or perhaps even the mid-70s, in the F/+ rankings. Do that, and there are quite a few wins to be found.
Aside from rough trips to North Carolina and BYU (neither of which will be unwinnable), every game is within reach here if MTSU can capitalize on last year's step forward with another one. The Blue Raiders were not as good as their record last year, but they were good enough to build optimism for what could be a pretty damn nice squad in Murfreesboro this coming fall. I love what Buster Faulkner did with this offense last year, and I think it could carry MTSU to a lovely 2013 season, defensive warts and all.