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The big 2014 MTSU football preview: Blue Raiders have two questions

Following a disastrous 2011 season, Rick Stockstill has put together back-to-back eight-win seasons at Middle Tennessee. A third straight is within reach if MTSU can avoid too much of a drop-off at quarterback and on the offensive line.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

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1. Another ascent is complete

In the business of coaching, you rarely get a chance to rebound at the same school at which you collapsed.

Rick Stockstill, head coach at MTSU since 2006, had led the Blue Raiders to their first three bowls in 2006, 2009, and 2010 and even had them earning poll votes after a 10-3 campaign in 2009.

But the win total fell from 10 in 2009, to six in 2010, to two in 2011. He probably needed a big season in 2012 to avoid the reaper in Murfreesboro, and with some luck, he got it. The Blue Raiders lost to McNeese State but whipped Georgia Tech and went 4-1 in one-possession games; they went 8-4 even though they didn't actually improve that much. And in 2013, they improved a bit more and won another eight games despite moving to a (marginally) more difficult conference.

Last fall, MTSU ranked 85th in the F/+ rankings, the second-best F/+ finish in Stockstill's tenure. The season ended with a dud of a bowl performance against Navy, one remembered more for the cheap shots an MTSU player delivered than anything else. But after teetering on the brink of collapse, the program has pulled off the rare re-ascension.

So what now? Longtime starting quarterback Logan Kilgore is gone, as are his top two receivers, and four offensive linemen with starting experience. The defense is experienced and could easily be the best MTSU has fielded since at least 2010, but will that matter if a new offensive identity lags?

Stockstill has faced bigger challenges than the ones he will face in 2014, but there are certainly questions for the Blue Raiders to answer.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 4-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 85
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
29-Aug Western Carolina N/A 45-24 W 20.6 - 49.6 L
7-Sep at North Carolina 38 20-40 L 28.2 - 33.8 L
14-Sep Memphis 83 17-15 W 22.3 - 28.0 L
21-Sep at Florida Atlantic 73 42-35 W 45.1 - 35.2 W
27-Sep at BYU 30 10-37 L 10.8 - 35.8 L -11.1
5-Oct East Carolina 40 17-24 L 32.2 - 25.5 W -3.9
12-Oct at North Texas 51 7-34 L 17.0 - 29.4 L -5.3
24-Oct Marshall 52 51-49 W 39.1 - 23.9 W -1.1
2-Nov at UAB 115 24-21 W 24.4 - 27.2 L -3.6
9-Nov Florida International 125 48-0 W 33.3 - 43.7 L -0.7
23-Nov at Southern Miss 120 42-21 W 27.8 - 32.1 L -3.0
30-Nov UTEP 119 48-17 W 34.7 - 27.2 W 1.0
30-Dec vs. Navy 58 6-24 L 23.3 - 27.4 L -2.8
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -4.9% 79 -4.5% 84 -0.4% 80
Points Per Game 29.0 67 26.2 61
Adj. Points Per Game 27.6 72 32.2 101

2. A last-second catalyst

Saying a single game or a single moment turned a season around is typically nothing more than a hindsight exercise. We don't know for sure that anything has changed in the present tense, but looking back, we can do some pinpointing.

That said, MTSU's 51-49 win over Marshall on a Thursday night in late-October turned the Blue Raiders' 2013 season around.

It came after three consecutive losses, two by 27 points. The Blue Raiders had fallen to 3-4 overall, and while the schedule was certainly going to ease up in November, a 1-3 start to conference play would have knocked them far enough down the Conference USA totem pole that a bowl bid would have become rather unlikely. They really needed this one. And they needed a whole 60 minutes to get it.

The first three quarters were back-and-forth. On three occasions, MTSU held a seven-point lead, and on all three occasions Marshall responded to tie the game. It was tied at 7-7, 14-14, 21-21, and 28-28, but the Blue Raiders took leads of 38-25 and 45-35 in the final 20 minutes. The Thundering Herd responded with two touchdown runs, one with eight minutes left and one with 2:30 left, to take a 49-45 lead, only their second lead of the game.

MTSU's game-winning drive seemed doomed on a few different occasions. Logan Kilgore found Tavarres Jefferson for 24 yards on third-and-12 from the MTSU 19, then found him for another 14 yards. The two connected on third-and-4 to keep the drive alive, then connected AGAIN on fourth-and-5 from the Marshall 27. With eight seconds left, Kilgore threw incomplete to Terry Pettis, but on the game's final play, he once again looked to Jefferson for the touchdown.

From a 3-4 start, MTSU finished 5-0, raising its quality of play by almost 10 adjusted points per game.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Opponent 33.9, MTSU 25.2 (minus-8.7)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): MTSU 31.9, Opponent 30.8 (plus-1.1)

Hindsight, sure. But that's a turning point.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.11 80 IsoPPP+ 97.0 81
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.6% 68 Succ. Rt. + 97.4 70
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.5 59 Def. FP+ 99.4 66
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.2 70 Redzone S&P+ 92.7 89
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.4 ACTUAL 22 +1.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 67 72 71 82
RUSHING 33 56 59 64
PASSING 87 86 79 83
Standard Downs 70 79 81
Passing Downs 68 60 66
Q1 Rk 65 1st Down Rk 89
Q2 Rk 110 2nd Down Rk 70
Q3 Rk 66 3rd Down Rk 57
Q4 Rk 55

3. A QB system

Some offensive systems are designed to protect a quarterback. Maybe you steal yards by throwing on first-and-10 to set up easy running situations; maybe you run a lot on third-and-8 to protect him (and yourself) from disaster.

Other systems, however, go in the opposite direction. Stockstill and offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner lean heavily on the quarterback position. At least, they did with Logan Kilgore behind center. The three-year starter was asked to hand off on most standard downs and throw on most passing downs; this does no favors to a quarterback's stat line, but Kilgore still completed 61 percent of his passes with minimal sacks. He was interception-prone -- 36 for his career -- but MTSU's offense was perfectly decent with him in charge, even considering the degree of difficulty.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Logan Kilgore 216 355 2507 16 13 60.8% 13 3.5% 6.6
Austin Grammer 6'2, 212 So. 3 stars (5.5) 21 45 190 1 2 46.7% 4 8.2% 3.6
A.J. Erdely 6'3, 207 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2)
Brent Stockstill 6'0, 190 Fr. 2 stars (5.3)

4. So is there a QB?

And does he have a line?

Those two questions will basically decide MTSU's season. This spring, three quarterbacks seem to be on even footing. Last year's backup, Austin Grammer, showed lovely potential with his legs, rushing for more than six yards per carry (non-sacks) and rushing for 106 yards against North Texas. But his passing left something to be desired, to put it kindly. Big-armed redshirt freshman A.J. Erdely and grayshirt (and coach's son) Brent Stockstill are also fighting for the job. Stockstill is, perhaps not surprisingly, said to have the best grasp of the offense; in a system that requires lots of quick passing and strong decision-making, perhaps that gives him the edge. Or perhaps Grammer's struggles over 49 pass attempts were too small a sample, and he has the overall skill set to take the job in an interesting direction.

Regardless, someone will need to play competent ball at this position.

Meanwhile, the line has some serious restructuring to undergo on the interior. Tackles Darius Johnson and Isaiah Anderson are back, but the three middle spots are all looking for new starters. MTSU was 41st in Adj. Line Yards and 13th in Adj. Sack Rate; the sack rate was aided by quick passing, but these are still strong numbers, and it will be interesting to see how a trio of sophomores and likely new starters (Josh Chester, Daniel Stephens, Adam Stickel) perform.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Jordan Parker RB 6'1, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 146 731 6 5.0 5.4 35.6%
Reggie Whatley RB 5'7, 171 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 101 657 3 6.5 7.1 40.6%
Jeremiah Bryson RB 5'8, 184 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 82 398 3 4.9 4.4 37.8%
Shane Tucker RB 6'0, 210 So. 3 stars (5.5) 44 241 5 5.5 5.3 38.6%
Austin Grammer QB 6'2, 212 So. 3 stars (5.5) 30 183 2 6.1 5.5 46.7%
Corey Carmichael FB 29 149 2 5.1 9.5 24.1%
Drayton Calhoun CB 27 83 0 3.1 2.8 25.9%
Logan Kilgore QB 22 96 2 4.4 2.2 45.5%
William Pratcher RB 21 110 2 5.2 6.3 33.3%
Kamani Thomas RB 5'9, 202 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
J'Vonte Herrod RB 5'11, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)




Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Tavarres Jefferson WR-Y 77 46 611 59.7% 20.3% 44.3% 7.9 32 8.2 68.4
Kyle Griswould WR-Z 74 45 465 60.8% 19.5% 54.0% 6.3 -96 5.3 52.0
Marcus Henry WR-H 6'0, 184 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 57 38 549 66.7% 15.0% 45.8% 9.6 97 10.1 61.4
Devin Clarke WR-Z 5'11, 160 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 34 18 318 52.9% 9.0% 48.1% 9.4 76 9.8 35.6
Christian Collis WR-X 6'0, 208 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 32 18 228 56.3% 8.4% 50.0% 7.1 -6 7.0 25.5
Chris Perkins WR-X 6'3, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 21 13 123 61.9% 5.5% 50.0% 5.9 -38 7.0 13.8
Terry Pettis WR-Y 6'5, 221 So. 2 stars (5.2) 19 9 122 47.4% 5.0% 13.3% 6.4 -7 5.8 13.7
Jordan Parker RB 6'1, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 17 14 31 82.4% 4.5% 0.0% 1.8 -120 1.0 3.5
Jeremiah Bryson RB 5'8, 184 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 16 13 69 81.3% 4.2% 30.8% 4.3 -72 5.1 7.7
Jacob Corbaley TE 11 9 89 81.8% 2.9% 100.0% 8.1 -8 4.4 10.0
Reggie Whatley RB 5'7, 171 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 9 5 5 55.6% 2.4% 55.6% 0.6 -60 0.6 0.6
Demetrius Frazier WR-H 5'10, 201 So. 3 stars (5.6) 7 5 74 71.4% 1.8% 66.7% 10.6 16 6.9 8.3
Ed'Marques Batties WR-Y 6'0, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Jevontey Smith WR-X 6'3, 195 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Tristan Walker WR-H 5'9, 160 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Shannon Smith WR-Z 6'2, 200 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Tyler Barron TE 6'4, 238 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)









Max Linder TE 6'3, 237 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

5. Plenty of explosiveness to go around

None of this really matters without a decent quarterback, but the Blue Raiders will certainly have their share of exciting skill position performers, especially at the running back position. Four exciting backs (of all shapes and sizes) return; all four had an opportunity rate (carries that went at least five yards) of at least 38 percent, and three of the four finished with an average of 5.3 highlight yards (the yards you get after the first five) per opportunity. Big Jordan Parker rushed for at least 100 yards in four games last year, explosive Reggie Whatley did so three times, and Jeremiah Bryson and Shane Tucker each did so once. If Grammer wins the starting quarterback job, MTSU will have one of the deepest, most exciting running games in the mid-major universe (if the line is decent, of course).

Depending on who emerges at wideout, it might not be a bad idea to go even heavier on the run. Tavarres Jefferson was steady with solid upside, and Kyle Griswould was a decent possession receiver. Marcus Henry and Devin Clarke, last year's No. 3 and 4 receivers, were quite explosive (15.5 yards per catch between the two of them) and could certainly be useful in play-action situations; we'll see what happens to their averages when they are given more targets. Junior college transfer Ed'Marques Battle and three redshirt freshmen should threaten to see plenty of targets as well.

There is a lot of potential on this offense, but potential has to turn into production quickly, especially at quarterback.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 106.7 3.17 3.67 37.2% 64.3% 18.0% 157.7 3.7% 3.3%
Rank 41 29 28 86 89 48 13 40 11
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Josh Walker LG 34 2nd All-CUSA
Darius Johnson LT 6'3, 293 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 25
Isaiah Anderson RT 6'4, 275 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 25
Jadareius Hamlin RG 19
Nick Nunez C 8
Jesse Grisham LT 6
Josh Chester C 6'3, 298 So. 2 stars (5.2) 3
Daniel Stephens RG 6'2, 295 So. 2 stars (5.2) 2
Adam Stickel LG 6'5, 291 So. 2 stars (5.2) 1
Patrick Hughes C 6'4, 292 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 1
Hunter Rogers RT 6'7, 313 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0
Jaylen Hunter RT 6'4, 269 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Dalton Ownby RG 6'3, 285 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Conner Trent RT 6'5, 311 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2)
David Adams OL 6'3, 282 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Maurquice Shakir LT 6'3, 313 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.96 3 IsoPPP+ 113.0 13
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.6% 101 Succ. Rt. + 83.9 114
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.8 74 Off. FP+ 98.5 77
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.0 47 Redzone S&P+ 84.4 107
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 25.8 ACTUAL 33.0 +7.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 64 99 114 90
RUSHING 96 102 115 102
PASSING 19 97 107 71
Standard Downs 95 117 7
Passing Downs 99 96 85
Q1 Rk 103 1st Down Rk 83
Q2 Rk 103 2nd Down Rk 115
Q3 Rk 94 3rd Down Rk 100
Q4 Rk 93

6. Bend ... bend ... bend...

Success Rate is basically an on-base percentage for football, a way to track efficiency play-for-play. IsoPPP, meanwhile, basically looks at the magnitude of the successful plays. Using these two measures, it's pretty easy to spot a bend-don't-break defense -- if your success rates were poor but your IsoPPP was strong, you were playing a conservative defense, sacrificing six-yard gains to prevent 60-yarders.

Perhaps no defense in the country utilized this style more than MTSU, which ranked 114th in Success Rate+ and 13th in IsoPPP+. The Blue Raiders attempted to raise the aggressiveness on passing downs (the result: a strong pass rush and a few big plays allowed), but conservatism was the goal early in the typical set of downs.

This approach paid off. Middle Tennessee's defense certainly wasn't good by any objective measure, but it was significantly better; the Blue Raiders ranked 116th in Def. F/+ in 2011 and 114th in 2013 but improved to 84th last fall. There are a couple of key holes to fill, but the depth here should ensure another decent showing and perhaps a little bit more improvement.

That said, a few more stops near the line on standard downs wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 90.4 3.24 3.46 39.7% 79.0% 13.7% 105.2 4.8% 8.8%
Rank 105 100 79 70 113 122 52 53 25
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Patrick McNeil DT 6'1, 310 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 27.0 3.3% 2.5 2.0 0 0 1 0
Alexandro Antoine DE 6'1, 244 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 22.5 2.7% 2.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Jimmy Staten DT 12 22.0 2.7% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jimal McBride DT 6'2, 281 So. 2 stars (5.2) 9 22.0 2.7% 5.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Shaquille Huff DT 6'1, 294 So. 2 stars (5.4) 13 21.0 2.5% 7.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Shubert Bastien DE 6'5, 246 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 17.5 2.1% 2.0 1.5 0 0 1 0
Dearco Nolan DE 10 17.0 2.0% 4.0 3.0 0 0 3 0
Jiajuan Fennell DE 6'3, 260 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 13 15.0 1.8% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Chris Hale DE 6'4, 253 So. 2 stars (5.2) 9 9.0 1.1% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Steven Rhodes DE 6'3, 240 So. NR 13 8.5 1.0% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Derious Bennett DT 6'1, 305 So. NR 11 7.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Raynard Felton DE 6'4, 275 So. 2 stars (5.4) 3 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
O'Shae Bridges DT 6'2, 259 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 12 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jahmal Jones DE 6'3, 210 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Ismael Aurismond DE 6'3, 225 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Todney Evans DE 6'3, 210 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)

7. A stellar pass rush, but...

When passing downs did come around, defensive co-coordinators Tyrone Nix and Steve Ellis were solid at varying and disguising their attacks. Only three Blue Raiders had more than two sacks last fall, but eight had at least 1.5, and seven of those eight return in 2014.

Of course, you can generate more pass rush opportunities if you have a prayer of stopping the run. MTSU did not last fall. The Blue Raiders ranked 102nd in Rushing S&P+, 105th in Adj. Line Yards, and 122nd in Stuff Rate (run stops behind the line). Lineback T.T. Barber had 8.5 non-sack tackles for loss, and tackles Jimal McBride and Shaquille Huff combined for 8.5 as freshmen, but that was about it. The ends provided minimal run support.

From a play-making perspective, MTSU is loaded at tackle with Patrick McNeil and the sophomore combo of McBride and Huff. But there's nothing saying you won't once again be able to push around MTSU's ends again.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
T.T. Barber WILL 6'1, 216 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 13 96.0 11.6% 11.5 3.0 3 2 3 1
Christian Henry MIKE 6'0, 224 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 13 64.0 7.7% 1.5 1.0 0 1 2 0
Stephen Roberts SAM 13 56.5 6.8% 4.0 1.0 2 1 3 1
Roderic Blunt MIKE 13 43.5 5.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
James Roberson SAM 6'0, 207 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 30.0 3.6% 3.0 0.0 0 2 2 0
Leighton Gasque SAM 6'2, 208 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 21.0 2.5% 7.0 5.0 0 0 1 0
Ykeem Wells WILL 6'0, 236 Jr. 2 stars (N/A) 13 10.5 1.3% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Anfornee Stewart WILL 6'1, 214 So. 2 stars (5.4) 6 8.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 2 1 0
Iman Smith MIKE 6'1, 217 So. 2 stars (5.4) 7 4.0 0.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Veion Robinson WILL 6'2, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3) 13 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cavellis Luckett MIKE 6'0, 244 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Quay Watt SAM 6'0, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Matthew Foster DE 6'3, 235 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2)
Darrius Liggins DE 6'4, 230 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)






8. An all-around star (T.T. Barber)

MTSU returns three potentially strong defensive tackles, a star blitzer in linebacker Leighton Gasque, and one of the nation's better ball hawks in safety Kevin Byard.

But the unquestioned star of this defense has to be box score-filler T.T. Barber at weakside linebacker. As a sophomore, Barber led the team in tackles and tackles for loss, recorded three sacks, defensed five passes (three picks, two break-ups), and forced three fumbles. In 2013, linebacker Roderic Blunt made a bit of a name for himself with his out-of-control play against Navy, which was a shame, both because that didn't necessarily reflect his normal character (he issued a public apology after the game), and because Barber is the MTSU linebacker casual fans should know. Perhaps that will change in 2014.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Kevin Byard SS 5'11, 216 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 83.5 10.1% 1 0 5 5 1 0
Xavier Walker FS 6'4, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 13 45.5 5.5% 0 0 1 3 2 0
Kenneth Gilstrap CB 13 41.0 4.9% 4 1 1 7 1 1
Jared Singletary CB 5'8, 168 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 28.0 3.4% 2 2 1 0 0 1
Sammy Seamster CB 13 27.5 3.3% 0 0 1 1 2 0
Chris Brown SS 6'1, 179 So. 2 stars (5.4) 13 12.5 1.5% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Reginald Farmer SS 9 12.0 1.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Khari Burke CB 5'8, 174 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 9.0 1.1% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
Chris Sharpe CB 5'11, 183 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 11 6.5 0.8% 1.5 1 1 1 0 0
Shon Akins CB 5'9, 170 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)








Richie Bisaccia SS 6'0, 185 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2)
Patrick Martin S 6'1, 211 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)








Trey Wafford FS 5'10, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)








Jamarcus Howard CB 5'11, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)








Jordan Frost-Dixon CB 5'11, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)







9. A little bit of injuries luck

One thing that does bear mentioning here: MTSU didn't suffer too many injuries on defense. That alone could have accounted for part of the Blue Raiders' improvement. Sure, there were injuries here and there -- Jimal McBride missed four games, pass rusher Dearco Nolan missed three, etc. -- but compared to the norm, MTSU escaped relatively unscathed. Five regulars on the line played in all 13 games, along with the top seven linebackers and the top five defensive backs. There's nothing saying this can't happen again in 2014, but injuries luck certainly evens out over time, and the injury bug was relatively kind to MTSU last fall.

And if the bug bites the MTSU secondary in particular, things could get dicey. MTSU must replace two of its top three corners, including the aggressive Kenneth Gilstrap, and while Stockstill has had quite a bit of recruiting success here -- of the 12 players listed above, seven are former three-star recruits, and two more were high-two-stars -- but experience is minimal.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Josh Davis 65 41.8 6 10 20 46.2%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Canon Rooker 5'11, 169 So. 70 60.1 23 0 32.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Cody Clark 6'1, 180 So. 46-46 9-11 81.8% 3-5 60.0%
Canon Rooker 5'11, 169 So. 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Reggie Whatley KR 5'7, 171 Sr. 17 24.7 0
Kenneth Gilstrap KR 15 20.5 0
Kyle Griswould PR 17 6.1 1
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 80
Field Goal Efficiency 76
Punt Return Efficiency 37
Kick Return Efficiency 76
Punt Efficiency 63
Kickoff Efficiency 95
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 48

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Savannah State NR
6-Sep at Minnesota 65
13-Sep Western Kentucky 91
20-Sep at Memphis 95
26-Sep at Old Dominion NR
4-Oct Southern Miss 110
11-Oct at Marshall 59
18-Oct UAB 115
1-Nov BYU 32
15-Nov at Florida International 119
22-Nov Florida Atlantic 103
29-Nov at UTEP 117
Five-Year F/+ Rk -14.4% (101)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 89
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 11 / 5.4
TO Luck/Game +2.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (5, 8)

10. One major, obvious question mark

Following a disastrous 2011 season, Rick Stockstill has won 16 games in two years, and his MTSU program immediately established itself as a solid program in Conference USA. This is an impressive accomplishment, but Stockstill doesn't appear to be standing still. He signed eight junior college transfers, including four defensive backs and two offensive linemen. He's got a strong habit of redshirting and developing five-year players, but he certainly doesn't appear willing to forego the 2014 season for future development.

If a quarterback emerges and the offensive line doesn't stink, there are certainly wins to be found. Seven of MTSU's 12 opponents this fall are projected 100th or worse. Five of six home games are winnable (six if you don't think much of BYU), and of the road games, perhaps only Marshall and Minnesota are out of reach.

This could easily shape up as another eight-win season in Murfreesboro if the quarterback position is sound. If, if, if.

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