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The big 2015 Middle Tennessee football guide: Expect bowl eligibility again

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The 128-team countdown checks in with one of the country's steadiest programs.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. A mid-major institution

Larry Blakeney's retirement left an opening. Troy's head coach since 1991, Blakeney had long owned the "dean of the mid-majors" title, but with him out of the picture, that title goes to one of two men: either UCF's George O'Leary (hired in 2004) or Middle Tennessee's Rick Stockstill (2006). It's hard to call UCF a mid-major -- the Knights won the Fiesta Bowl and belonged to a BCS conference barely more than a year ago -- so until that sinks in, I'm giving Stockstill the crown.

It's rare for someone to end up a long-serving coach at a school in one of FBS' second-tier conferences. On one hand, it's hard to win at a sustained level, and on another, if you win big, you're probably getting a power-conference job offer. Either you succeed and leave, or you fail and leave.

To end up at the same place for a while, you have to have dark spots on your résumé (Blakeney's involvement in the Eric Ramsey scandal, for instance, or O'Leary's literal résumé issues) or you have to master the art of succeeding, but not succeeding too much.

Stockstill appears to personify the latter. A Florida State quarterback for Bobby Bowden, Stockstill bounced from Bethune-Cookman to pre-FBS UCF before landing on Clemson's staff in 1989. He served various roles under Danny Ford, Ken Hatfield, Tommy West, and Tommy Bowden. He coached for a year under John Thompson at ECU and spent two more at South Carolina before landing the MTSU gig at age 48.

Now 57, Stockstill has found a nice groove. In his first seven seasons, he finished in the Sun Belt top two four times (with one conference co-title), achieved bowl eligibility four times, and won 10 games in 2009. He reportedly spurned the advances of a couple of other mid-major programs to stay in Murfreesboro, and his success helped position MTSU for when Conference USA was getting raided by the Big East and looking for new members.

The Blue Raiders joined C-USA in 2013 and have gone 11-5 in conference and 14-11 overall. They've been bowl eligible twice, though they missed out on a trip at 6-6 last fall. (Almost every bowl-eligible team makes a bowl, but MTSU's been left out twice in the last three years.)

At this point, Stockstill's probably too old to be considered for a power job even if he rips off a series of 10-win seasons, but really, this has turned into a pretty nice arrangement. He's survived and thrived in the wake of an awful 2-10 campaign in 2011, winning 22 games in the next three seasons. Plus, according to the 247Sports Composite, his last two recruiting classes have ranked a solid fifth and eighth in the Conference USA.

The Blue Raiders aren't threatening to become a conference power, but they're winning, and they boast one of the conference's more proven rosters.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 6-6 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 87
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Savannah State N/A 61-7 W 77% 17.6 100%
6-Sep at Minnesota 37 24-35 L 11% -28.3 1%
13-Sep Western Kentucky 50 50-47 W 43% -4.3 38%
20-Sep at Memphis 41 17-36 L 18% -21.8 0%
26-Sep at Old Dominion 108 41-28 W 68% 11.2 93%
4-Oct Southern Miss 110 37-31 W 45% -2.8 87%
11-Oct at Marshall 17 24-49 L 31% -11.7 1%
18-Oct UAB 79 34-22 W 82% 21.8 98%
1-Nov BYU 46 7-27 L 15% -24.6 1%
15-Nov at Florida International 96 28-38 L 26% -15.2 31%
22-Nov Florida Atlantic 100 35-34 W 38% -7.2 63%
29-Nov at UTEP 90 21-24 L 44% -3.4 53%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 29.2 61 33.5 98
Points Per Game 31.6 49 31.5 96

2. Symmetry!

Beyond money, there is really little reward for playing too tough a non-conference schedule. (But hey, money's probably enough.) MTSU took on an incredibly challenging slate, visiting Minnesota and Memphis and welcoming BYU. Granted, thanks to Minnesota's and Memphis' rises, that schedule ended up a lot more difficult than it seemed it would be when the games were scheduled. Still, those opponents ranked in the F/+ top 50, and all three beat MTSU relatively comfortably.

The Blue Raiders went 6-3 against everybody else and 5-3 in Conference USA, but the losses knocked them down the bowl totem pole, and they were home for Christmas.

There are volatile teams, and there are teams designed to punch in a certain weight class. Like UTEP, MTSU belonged in the latter camp. The Blue Raiders played poorly in losses to good teams but looked great in taking down the lesser teams on the slate.

  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ No. 1-49): 19% (record: 0-4 | avg. score: Opp 37, MTSU 18)
  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ No. 50-99): 49% (record: 2-2 | avg. score: MTSU 33, Opp 33)
  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ No. 100+): 57% (record: 4-0 | avg. score: MTSU 44, Opp 25)

As long as your schedule isn't too top-heavy, playing your best games against your worst opponents is a good way to finish .500 or better while pulling off no particularly memorable victories. But while this is symmetrical, one other thing cost MTSU a bowl bid: shoddy November performances.

Even against three iffy teams to finish the season (FIU, FAU, UTEP), the Blue Raiders went 1-2 with one narrow win and two narrow losses. Knock off UTEP instead of losing a tossup, and you're probably bowling. But the defense suffered letdowns, allowing 5.8 yards per play to a one-dimensional UTEP offense, 5.9 to a no-dimensional FIU offense, and 7.1 to efficient FAU.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.87 49 IsoPPP+ 101.6 65
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.7% 38 Succ. Rt. + 102.2 60
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.6 102 Def. FP+ 98.0 92
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.5 61 Redzone S&P+ 101.9 61
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.2 ACTUAL 24 +6.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 46 58 54 65
RUSHING 32 51 48 52
PASSING 76 67 67 67
Standard Downs 73 63 80
Passing Downs 36 51 29
Q1 Rk 37 1st Down Rk 53
Q2 Rk 66 2nd Down Rk 86
Q3 Rk 79 3rd Down Rk 43
Q4 Rk 46

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Austin Grammer 6'2, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8025 221 338 2557 17 12 65.4% 26 7.1% 6.6
Brent Stockstill 6'0, 199 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8105 2 3 41 0 1 66.7% 0 0.0% 13.7
A.J. Erdely
0 1 0 0 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 0.0
John Urzua 6'3, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859

3. Just cut down on the picks, Austin

On paper, Austin Grammer seems like the perfect quarterback for the system Stockstill and offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner want to run. The Blue Raiders attempt balance with a slight lean toward the run game, and Grammer is both mobile enough to add another dimension to the backfield (6.3 yards per non-sack carry) and efficient enough to spread defenses from side to side and prevent them from ganging up on the run.

Plus, he's got some play-maker genes -- he's able to produce nice bailout plays on passing downs. MTSU had a top-75 offense on standard downs and a top-40 offense on passing downs.

That Grammer was able to produce these efficiency numbers in his first year as a starter speaks well about where this offense could be headed. But it's obvious where he needs to improve: the brain farts were devastating. Not only did he throw 12 interceptions, take 26 sacks, and fumble five times, he did so at awful times. Five of his interceptions came in the fourth quarter, and seven came inside his own 40. Granted, there's no good place to throw a pick, but most of his were basically guaranteed to set up scoring opportunities for his opponents. He threw three interceptions in an otherwise winnable game at Minnesota, and he threw three more against FIU in a 10-point loss to what was on paper a lesser team.

You take the good with the bad, but hope experience generates fewer bad moments over the next couple of seasons. And if the bad moments don't cease, then backup and coach's son Brent Stockstill is waiting in the wings.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Jordan Parker RB 6'1, 222 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 128 546 2 4.3 4.2 31.3% 2 1
Reggie Whatley RB
113 767 7 6.8 8.4 42.5% 3 2
Austin Grammer QB 6'2, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8025 98 614 6 6.3 5.5 46.9% 5 2
Shane Tucker RB 6'0, 217 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8167 98 486 8 5.0 3.0 43.9% 3 1
Jeremiah Bryson RB 5'8, 191 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8287 42 221 6 5.3 4.2 42.9% 1 1
Tony Rowland RB
8 63 1 7.9 5.1 62.5% 0 0
A.J. Erdely QB
7 29 1 4.1 3.5 14.3% 0 0
Kamani Thomas RB 5'9, 200 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8494
J'Vonte Herrod RB 5'11, 215 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8348
Ruben Garnett RB 5'9, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8503







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Ed'Marques Batties WR-X 6'0, 197 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056 62 45 474 72.6% 19.3% 62.9% 7.6 -58 7.5 61.2
Marcus Henry WR-H
57 40 527 70.2% 17.8% 57.9% 9.2 51 9.3 68.1
Devin Clarke WR-Z
37 25 358 67.6% 11.5% 48.6% 9.7 59 9.4 46.2
Shane Tucker RB 6'0, 217 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8167 35 25 351 71.4% 10.9% 54.3% 10.0 55 10.1 45.3
Terry Pettis WR-Y 6'5, 232 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 27 15 241 55.6% 8.4% 55.6% 8.9 54 8.9 31.1
Demetrius Frazier WR-H 5'10, 212 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7800 19 15 165 78.9% 5.9% 78.9% 8.7 -10 10.1 21.3
Christian Collis WR-Y 6'0, 217 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 18 13 79 72.2% 5.6% 66.7% 4.4 -75 4.5 10.2
Shannon Smith WR-Z
16 9 73 56.3% 5.0% 50.0% 4.6 -39 4.6 9.4
Jordan Parker RB 6'1, 222 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 14 11 112 78.6% 4.4% 42.9% 8.0 -16 8.8 14.5
Chris Perkins WR-X
12 7 106 58.3% 3.7% 50.0% 8.8 20 9.7 13.7
Jeremiah Bryson RB 5'8, 191 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8287 12 11 64 91.7% 3.7% 83.3% 5.3 -61 4.3 8.3
Tyler Barron TE 6'4, 234 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7806 7 4 50 57.1% 2.2% 57.1% 7.1 1 7.2 6.5
Jevontey Smith WR 6'2, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8091
Ty Clemons WR 5'11, 179 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256
Richie James WR 5'9, 170 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8200
Max Linder TE 6'3, 242 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7806
Rod Ducksworth WR 6'0, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7800
Isiah Upton WR 6'0, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000
Terell West WR 5'10, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8289

4. No shortage of options

Grammer will find plenty of likable pieces. Three of last year's top four running backs return, and since all three are steady but unspectacular, there might be a place in the rotation for a three-star youngster, be it sophomore Kamani Thomas, redshirt freshman J'Vonte Herrod, or incoming freshman Ruben Garnett, damn near relatively a blue-chipper.

There's a bit more to replace in the receiving corps, where efficiency target Ed'Marques Batties returns but bigger-play threats Marcus Henry and Devin Clarke do not. Terry Pettis and Demetrius Frazier averaged almost nine yards per target as sophomores, however, which is exciting.

And between two three-star (according to 247) redshirt freshmen, two three-star freshmen, and JUCO transfer Rod Ducksworth, odds are good that at least one solid option will emerge. It's still possible that the explosiveness numbers go down, especially considering how large a role Pettis and Frazier played on passing downs.

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 104.9 3.18 4.1 40.5% 67.3% 17.0% 76.2 6.4% 9.9%
Rank 50 32 7 50 64 34 111 96 102
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Darius Johnson LT 6'3, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 37 2014 2nd All-CUSA
Isaiah Anderson RT
37 2014 2nd All-CUSA
Josh Chester C 6'3, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 15
Daniel Stephens RG 6'2, 303 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433 12
Adam Stickel RG 6'5, 312 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 6
David Adams LG 6'3, 297 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519 4
Jaylen Hunter LG 6'4, 296 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8093 3
Jonah Sells C
2
Patrick Hughes C
1
Hunter Rogers RT 6'7, 330 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 0
Maurquice Shakir OL 6'3, 318 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7444 0
Conner Trent LT 6'5, 316 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433 0
Carlos Johnson OL 6'3, 303 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026
Josh Fannin OL 6'3, 310 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8226
Chandler Brewer OL 6'6, 310 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8057
Deandre Ford OL 6'6, 340 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793

5. Good at what you need to be good at

The line was a concern for MTSU heading into 2014; the Blue Raiders had to replace all-conference guard Josh Walker and three others with starting experience, but the rearranged line produced two all-conference bookends at tackle, and while there was plenty of shuffling on the interior (mostly among four sophomores), the line held up.

MTSU kept defenders out of the backfield on the rush and created opportunities for its backs. The sack numbers were pretty awful, but a lot of that probably had to do with Grammer's play-maker tendencies.

And now MTSU gets to reap the benefits of experience. Three-year starting left tackle Darius Johnson is back (though he could apparently move to guard), as are five others who had racked up 40 career starts by the end of 2014. Stockstill has signed some big prospects over the last couple of classes, but they probably won't be needed just yet. There are lots of juniors and seniors atop the depth chart.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.84 56 IsoPPP+ 95.9 83
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 45.4% 106 Succ. Rt. + 93.0 98
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.0 44 Off. FP+ 100.0 65
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.4 72 Redzone S&P+ 88.5 109
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.3 ACTUAL 20.0 -2.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 108 90 100 83
RUSHING 82 95 111 78
PASSING 114 85 68 90
Standard Downs 66 83 53
Passing Downs 113 113 115
Q1 Rk 65 1st Down Rk 105
Q2 Rk 76 2nd Down Rk 71
Q3 Rk 84 3rd Down Rk 68
Q4 Rk 125

6. Always be closing (drives, games)

MTSU's defense was not without its strengths. The Blue Raiders were efficient against the pass, boasted a solid pass rush, and did reasonably well in short-yardage situations. They played at a top-75 level in the first half, too.

But as with Grammer's picks, the defense's breakdowns came at all the wrong times. Despite playing a ton of players -- nine linemen, nine linebackers, and six defensive backs had at least 10 tackles each -- and suffering few key injuries, the defense got worse in each progressive quarter, starting at No. 65 in first-quarter S&P+ and finishing 125th in the fourth. And while the standard downs defense was alright, MTSU ranked 113th in Passing Downs S&P+ and 109th in Redzone S&P+. They couldn't close drives or games. And considering the defensive output in November, they couldn't close the season either.

That they went 3-1 in one-possession games is actually rather surprising, though these breakdowns caused close games to become less close. MTSU was outscored by seven points in the second half against Memphis, by 20 points against Memphis, and by 14 against FIU.

Ten of last year's top 11 linemen, seven of nine linebackers, and four of five defensive backs all return to a defense that will likely boast a large number of senior starters. That probably spells improvement, but it doesn't automatically mean the Blue Raiders will hold up better late in games.

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 92.3 3.23 3.56 43.2% 68.0% 14.6% 99.8 4.9% 7.2%
Rank 97 108 86 114 69 120 66 57 68
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Shubert Bastien DE
12 31.5 4.2% 10.0 5.5 0 1 1 0
Shaquille Huff DT 6'1, 320 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8267 12 23.5 3.2% 5.0 2.0 0 1 1 0
Jimal McBride DT 6'2, 325 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8151 12 21.0 2.8% 4.5 2.5 0 1 0 0
Steven Rhodes DE 6'3, 256 Jr. NR NR 12 19.5 2.6% 3.0 2.0 0 0 1 0
Raynard Felton DT 6'4, 286 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8054 12 13.0 1.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Alexandro Antoine DE 6'1, 241 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 9 11.5 1.5% 1.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Patrick McNeil DT 6'1, 320 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7889 11 11.5 1.5% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jahmal Jones DE 6'3, 238 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 12 11.0 1.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Chris Hale DE 6'4, 274 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7578 10 10.0 1.3% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Derious Bennett DT 6'1, 315 Jr. NR 0.7700 10 5.5 0.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ykeem Wells DE 6'0, 258 Sr. 2 stars () 0.7000 7 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
O'Shae Bridges DT
11 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ismael Aurismond DE 6'3, 241 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7988
Todney Evans DE 6'3, 228 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7944
Darrius Liggins DE 6'4, 234 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8154
Peter Bailey DE 6'4, 255 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7994
Malik Manciel DT 6'3, 265 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7933
Trae Philpots DE 6'4, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7400

7. Packing on the pounds

Most of MTSU's defensive strengths were related to pass defense; the run defense was pretty awful. Looking at this year's listed weights, we might conclude that MTSU thought a lack of beef was an issue. Shaquille Huff was listed at 294 points a year ago and is now listed at 320. Jimal McBride went from 281 to 325! Steven Rhodes went from 240 to 256, Raynard Felton from 275 to 286, Derious Bennett from 305 to 315, Chris Hale from 253 to 274.

Adding weight doesn't solve a problem -- it has to be good weight, otherwise you solve a size problem and create a quickness problem and perhaps a different kind of conditioning issue. But if Huff and McBride in particular put on good weight and retained a little bit of play-making ability (they combined for 9.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks in 2014), making them unmovable boulders (645 combined pounds!) could pay off.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
T.T. Barber WLB 6'1, 229 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 61.0 8.2% 7.5 1.0 2 1 2 0
Christian Henry MLB
12 57.0 7.6% 0.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Cavellis Luckett MLB 6'0, 254 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 12 52.0 7.0% 3.0 2.0 0 4 1 0
Trey Wafford SLB 5'10, 202 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7667 12 45.5 6.1% 1.0 0.0 0 2 0 1
Quay Watt WLB 6'0, 214 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 12 30.0 4.0% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
James Roberson LB 6'0, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 12 20.0 2.7% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
D.J. Sanders SLB 6'0, 209 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956 12 13.0 1.7% 0.0 0.0 1 1 0 0
Leighton Gasque LB
12 12.0 1.6% 6.0 6.0 0 3 2 0
Anfornee Stewart LB 6'1, 211 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 4 12.0 1.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Myles Harges LB 6'2, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7874








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Xavier Walker FS 6'4, 212 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7333 12 58.0 7.8% 1 0 1 4 1 0
Kevin Byard SS 5'11, 226 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 12 54.5 7.3% 3 0 6 4 2 0
Jared Singletary CB 5'8, 173 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 12 46.5 6.2% 2 0 2 6 1 0
Khari Burke CB
10 34.0 4.6% 1 0 0 10 0 0
Chris Brown FS 6'1, 188 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8126 12 21.0 2.8% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Shon Akins CB
11 14.5 1.9% 0 0 1 3 0 0
John Kelly CB
12 8.0 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Frost-Dixon CB 5'11, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519 12 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jamarcus Howard CB 6'0, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8263 8 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Sharpe CB
5 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darryl Randolph CB 5'11, 183 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8044 2 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Patrick Martin S
1 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Minter CB 6'0, 182 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8033
Richie Bisaccia S 6'0, 193 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000
Dontavious Heard CB 6'1, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8017
Nick Beasley S 6'0, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7806
Vernon Walker S 6'0, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8074
Khalil Brooks CB 5'11, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859

8. No lack of senior leaders

The two-deep will likely boast five seniors at linebacker and up to five in the secondary. Considering the pass defense was indeed a strength, and considering that list of seniors includes some serious play-makers in linebacker T.T. Barber and strong safety Kevy Byard (combined: 10.5 tackles for loss, eight picks, five break-ups, four forced fumbles), this can only be considered a good thing, at least for 2015. (2016, not so much.)

If the pass defense holds steady as I assume it will, and the extra girth up front helps in defending the run, then this defense is set to improve. And considering the offense probably won't regress, this speaks very well.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Zachary Lopez 34 39.6 2 11 6 50.0%
Sean O'Kane 22 40.9 3 5 7 54.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Cody Clark 6'1, 178 Jr. 67 57.0 7 3 10.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Cody Clark 6'1, 178 Jr. 46-46 7-9 77.8% 2-6 33.3%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Reggie Whatley KR 27 25.6 0
Ed'Marques Batties KR 6'0, 195 Sr. 4 23.8 0
Ed'Marques Batties PR 6'0, 195 Sr. 15 8.6 1
Jared Singletary PR 5'8, 171 Sr. 2 5.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 56
Field Goal Efficiency 109
Punt Return Efficiency 5
Kick Return Efficiency 39
Punt Efficiency 74
Kickoff Efficiency 102
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 47

9. Don't kick to Batties

Ed'Marques Batties wasn't a particularly explosive receiver in 2014, but he was one of Conference USA's more dangerous return men, and he should take over the full-time kick return duties from Reggie Whatley this year as well. Returns propped up an otherwise shaky special teams unit in 2014 and could do the same this year.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
5-Sep Jackson State NR
12-Sep at Alabama 2
19-Sep Charlotte NR
26-Sep at Illinois 78
3-Oct Vanderbilt 115
10-Oct at Western Kentucky 50
17-Oct Florida International 96
24-Oct at Louisiana Tech 35
7-Nov Marshall 17
14-Nov at Florida Atlantic 100
21-Nov North Texas 125
28-Nov at UTSA 109
Five-Year F/+ Rk -26.1% (108)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 94 / 99
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -4 / 5.1
2014 TO Luck/Game -3.8
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 16 (8, 8)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 5.7 (0.3)

10. Win at home

Two years ago, the now-54-year-old Stockstill was a hot name in the coaching world, reportedly spurning advances from East Carolina and Memphis to remain at Middle Tennessee. Now, he looks like the football version of Southern Illinois basketball coach Chris Lowery, a case study in striking while the iron is hot or risking an extraordinary cooling process.

Can the Blue Raiders recover from this rather stunning, precipitous fall?

I wrote that almost three years ago in my 2012 MTSU preview. The Blue Raiders recovered, and quickly, winning six games in 2012, moving to Conference USA, and winning 14 games in two years.

Some leave Murfreesboro full of wonder; Stockstill doesn't leave. Recruiting is stable, the coaching staff is pretty stable, and Middle Tennessee has rediscovered a rhythm despite missing bowls in two of the last three bowl-eligible seasons.

Despite the presence of Alabama in Week 2, the schedule eases up. If MTSU is decent against all teams outside of the top 50, the Blue Raiders should have opportunities for road wins against FAU, UTSA, and perhaps Illinois, and they could just about sweep at home, welcoming Jackson State, Charlotte, Vanderbilt, FIU, and North Texas, not to mention a depleted (but probably still dangerous) Marshall. That offers more than enough opportunities to not only reach bowl eligibility but clear the bar by a couple of games.

And if Marshall slips while replacing key pieces, MTSU or WKU could become the new C-USA East favorite. I figure WKU is first in line, but MTSU's got the experience to do some damage.