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MTSU's longtime head coach replaced his QB with his son, and it's working

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The Blue Raiders have cause for optimism in 2016, having established themselves as one of the country's steadiest mid-majors.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. A long-term story in a short-term sport

In late-January 2010, coming off of a breakthrough 10-3 season that was the best in school history, Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill turned down an opportunity to jump up. Having already turned down the Memphis job, he said no to the East Carolina job that eventually went to Ruffin McNeill, choosing to remain in Murfreesboro.

It was late in the recruiting game for the class of 2010, and he told local media, "I could not look in the eyes of these recruits and their families and tell them the things I believe in and what I want them to believe in and then leave Middle Tennessee with only two weeks left in the recruiting process."

Stockstill and MTSU proceeded to go 8-17 over the next two seasons. It was in some ways a lesson in striking when the iron is hot. The name of UL-Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth was tied to a lot of job openings in recent years while he was ripping off four consecutive nine-win seasons, but that disappeared after a 4-8 campaign. About 15 years ago, WMU's Gary Darnell was tied to quite a few major-conference jobs after winning 31 games in four years; he stayed at WMU, then won 15 games in four years.

But after Stockstill showed loyalty to MTSU, MTSU showed loyalty to him. And after collapsing to 2-10 in 2011, Stockstill and his Blue Raiders have reassumed strange consistency. They were basically a league-average Sun Belt team in 2012, jumped to Conference USA and played at the league average there, too. And in 2015, while most of the conference was beset by injury, youth, and any number of other symptoms, MTSU took a step forward, and with a freshman quarterback named Stockstill, no less.

Earlier in February, Stockstill signed what was, according to the 247Sports Composite, the third-best recruiting class among active C-USA members. (UAB technically ranked second but needed 45 commitments to do so.)

Stockstill has found his groove, and at age 58, with his son probably starting at QB for the next three years, the former Florida State quarterback will likely finish an MTSU lifer. Obviously MTSU fans would love another 10-win breakthrough, and I'm not sure that's in the cards. Marshall is established near the top of the league, and WKU and Louisiana Tech appear to have strong foundations.

But WKU doesn't have an FBS history any better than MTSU's, and Southern Miss just made the C-USA title game after a few years in the wilderness. So such a breakthrough is possible.

Regardless, the Blue Raiders are playing consistently solid football, and the school has stumbled into the rarest of mid-major commodities: a long-term hire.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 82 | Final S&P+ Rk: 82
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Jackson State N/A 70-14 W 49% 100% +32.6
12-Sep at Alabama 1 10-37 L 11% 0% +9.0 +8.0
19-Sep Charlotte 124 73-14 W 97% 100% +49.5 +39.5
26-Sep at Illinois 65 25-27 L 43% 52% +13.6 +4.0
3-Oct Vanderbilt 83 13-17 L 19% 16% -4.8 -5.0
10-Oct at Western Kentucky 15 28-58 L 8% 0% -15.4 -22.0
17-Oct Florida International 112 42-34 W 58% 86% -4.0 -1.0
24-Oct at Louisiana Tech 57 16-45 L 3% 0% -18.2 -21.5
7-Nov Marshall 58 27-24 W 69% 76% +11.2 0.0
14-Nov at Florida Atlantic 96 24-17 W 62% 87% +8.6 +1.5
21-Nov North Texas 126 41-7 W 66% 100% +8.1 +10.0
28-Nov at UTSA 111 42-7 W 91% 100% +29.6 +23.0
24-Dec vs. Western Michigan 51 31-45 L 23% 10% -5.7 -10.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 29.0 64 31.3 87
Points Per Game 34.0 35 26.6 60

2. Always defying expectations, one way or another

I often talk about my S&P+ ratings like they're human. I'm not sure that's healthy, but it helps in conversation. S&P+ simply could not get a read on MTSU in 2015. It completely underestimated the Blue Raiders in September, overshot and overestimated them in October, and then gave up and went back to underrating them in November. Vegas also had no idea.

  • First 4 games
    Average percentile performance: 50% | Performance vs. S&P+: +26.2 PPG | Performance vs. spread: +17.2 PPG
  • Next 4 games
    Average percentile performance: 22% | Performance vs. S&P+: -10.6 PPG | Performance vs. spread: -12.4 PPG
  • Next 4 games
    Average percentile performance: 72% | Performance vs. S&P+: +14.4 PPG | Performance vs. spread: +8.6 PPG

The shifts came mostly because of the MTSU defense. The offense struggled against power-conference opposition (4.2 yards per play against Alabama, Illinois, and Vanderbilt) but stayed remarkably consistent when punching its own weight: The Blue Raiders averaged between 5.7 and 6.8 yards per play in eight of their other 10 games, going over once and under once.

The defense, though, fell into a funk. After allowing just 4.7 yards per play and 23 points per game in September (despite games against Bama and Illinois), the Blue Raiders allowed 6.1 and 38.5, respectively, in October. They allowed 37 points to Alabama ... and 34 to FIU.

But in November, they rallied, moving back to 4.8 yards per play and 13.8 points per game. They knocked off Marshall, survived a visit to FAU, and rocked North Texas and UTSA to qualify for the Bahamas Bowl. (They gave up nine yards per play and 45 points to WMU in Nassau, but we'll overlook that because apparently playing in the Bahamas makes defenses run in slow motion -- two Bahamas Bowls have produced 173 combined points.)

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.32 38 IsoPPP+ 114.2 29
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.8% 40 Succ. Rt. + 107.0 40
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 33.5 120 Def. FP+ 34.7 124
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.8 38 Redzone S&P+ 114.2 25
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 27.6 ACTUAL 29 +1.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 32 30 40 29
RUSHING 99 73 82 74
PASSING 15 22 18 27
Standard Downs 44 58 42
Passing Downs 14 29 14
Q1 Rk 12 1st Down Rk 49
Q2 Rk 33 2nd Down Rk 64
Q3 Rk 69 3rd Down Rk 20
Q4 Rk 81

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Brent Stockstill 6'0, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8105 327 490 4005 30 9 66.7% 17 3.4% 7.6
Austin Grammer 6 9 45 1 1 66.7% 0 0.0% 5.0
John Urzua 6'3, 170 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859
Kyle Banks 6'2, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8081

3. Faith paid off

In 2014, sophomore Austin Grammer threw for 2,557 yards and, not including sacks, rushed for 614. He seemed like a strong fit for an offense that both likes to wing the ball around and get a little bit of rushing from the QB position.

In 2015, Grammer was replaced by the coach's son. Awkward.

It had to take a leap of faith for Stockstill to install his redshirt freshman son Brent as the starting QB, and he had to know how it would look if Brent struggled. But any sense of unease vanished because the young QB was a revelation.

In 13 games, Brent Stockstill finished with a passer rating of at least 140 10 times, and two of the times he didn't were against two of the nation's better pass defenses: Alabama and Vanderbilt. He completed at least 61 percent of his passes in 11 games, and he finished the season with 4,005 passing yards and 30 touchdowns to only nine interceptions.

Again, he was a redshirt freshman. And now he returns five of his top six targets. Okay, that's misleading. He had two primary targets -- Richie James and Ed'Marques Batties -- who accounted for nearly 60 percent of his passes last year, and Batties is gone. Still, he will see plenty of familiar faces when he lines up behind center this coming fall. And between two three-star JUCO transfers, three three-star freshmen, and a three-star redshirt freshmen, he will be surrounded by qutie a few high-ceiling athletes.

(And yes, Grammer saw the writing on the wall and transferred.)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Shane Tucker RB/WR 6'0, 204 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8167 127 413 2 3.3 2.8 28.3% 4 3
Jordan Parker RB 106 470 6 4.4 4.8 34.0% 2 2
Desmond Anderson RB 5'10, 174 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7200 83 378 4 4.6 2.4 43.4% 3 3
Jeremiah Bryson RB 46 198 3 4.3 2.7 34.8% 0 0
Brent Stockstill QB 6'0, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8105 43 205 2 4.8 3.1 41.9% 5 3
Kamani Thomas RB 5'9, 198 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8494 23 156 3 6.8 3.8 60.9% 1 1
Austin Grammer QB 18 70 1 3.9 4.4 22.2% 0 0
Richie James WR 5'9, 171 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8200 12 146 1 12.2 11.7 66.7% 1 1
Ruben Garnett RB 5'9, 175 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8503 10 45 1 4.5 1.8 60.0% 0 0
Jordan Willis FB 5 37 0 7.4 2.0 100.0% 0 0
Chase Pennycuff FB
J'Vonte Herrod RB 5'11, 231 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8348
Terelle West RB 5'10, 185 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8289

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Richie James WR-H 5'9, 171 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8200 146 108 1346 74.0% 29.8% 9.2 67.1% 51.4% 1.64
Ed'Marques Batties WR-X 131 82 1048 62.6% 26.7% 8.0 55.0% 42.7% 1.76
Terry Pettis TE 6'5, 228 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 45 29 612 64.4% 9.2% 13.6 46.7% 51.1% 2.53
Demetrius Frazier WR-H 5'10, 198 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7800 32 28 191 87.5% 6.5% 6.0 56.3% 43.8% 1.10
Shane Tucker RB 6'0, 204 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8167 28 16 133 57.1% 5.7% 4.8 67.9% 35.7% 1.28
Rod Ducksworth WR-Z 6'0, 167 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7800 25 12 159 48.0% 5.1% 6.4 56.0% 48.0% 1.18
Christian Collis WR-Z 21 16 217 76.2% 4.3% 10.3 66.7% 57.1% 1.63
Jordan Parker RB 17 15 68 88.2% 3.5% 4.0 35.3% 17.6% 1.62
Derek Barnes WR-X
14 8 84 57.1% 2.9% 6.0 57.1% 50.0% 0.96
Austin Grammer QB
13 9 111 69.2% 2.7% 8.5 38.5% 61.5% 1.26
Sean Smith TE 6'7, 243 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7656 4 2 23 50.0% 0.8% 5.8 25.0% 25.0% 2.18
Tristan Walker WR 5'9, 161 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 3 2 12 66.7% 0.6% 4.0 100.0% 33.3% 0.86
Ty Clemons WR 5'11, 176 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256 3 1 2 33.3% 0.6% 0.7 66.7% 0.0% 0.00
Lucas Hamilton TE 6'5, 262 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7983
Isiah Upton WR 6'0, 185 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000
Ricky Blair WR 6'3, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056
Jermel Walker WR 6'1, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7933
Ty Lee WR 5'9, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8289
CJ Windham WR 6'2, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8133
Reginald Henderson WR 6'2, 205 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8123

4. Receivers want to play in this offense

James and Batties made for one hell of a receiver duo. They combined for 201 receiving yards against Jackson State, 316 against Illinois, 177 against Vanderbilt, 185 against WKU, 184 against Louisiana Tech, 234 against FAU, and 214 against WMU. James was typically the possession guy, while Batties made a few more big plays, but the roles reversed frequently. And with Batties gone, there's no guarantee that someone will effectively step into his role.

The next two wideouts on the returnees list -- Demetrius Frazier and Rod Ducksworth -- combined to average just 6.1 yards per target last year, and the Blue Raiders will rely on quite a few newcomers.

That might not be a bad thing. JUCO transfers Ricky Blair (three-star per the 247Sports Composite) and Jermel Walker (three-star via Rivals) signed in February, as did the freshman trio of Ty Lee, CJ Windham, and Reginald Henderson. Isiah Upton, a three-star redshirt, could also join the rotation.

In the absence of known quality, you want quantity. It increases the likelihood that a couple of reliable weapons will emerge. MTSU has it in the receiving corps, and I haven't yet mentioned big-play tight end Terry Pettis, who averaged 21 yards per catch and torched Marshall (five for 126) and Charlotte (four for 167).

Now ... if only MTSU could run the ball. Brent Stockstill didn't have a lot to offer (3.3 non-sack carries per game), and the trio of Shane Tucker, Jordan Parker, and Desmond Anderson managed to combine a paltry per-carry average (4.0) with nine fumbles. [UPDATE: Tucker is out for the season with injury.]

Youngsters J'Vonte Herrod (sophomore) and Terelle West (redshirt freshman) were well-regarded recruits. Maybe someone will blossom.

MTSU's lack of rushing success (73rd in Rushing S&P+) held back a wonderful passing game (22nd in Passing S&P+). Will that be the case again?

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 90.6 2.69 2.71 37.9% 67.9% 17.7% 197.4 0.9% 5.6%
Rank 109 100 106 82 52 38 11 3 27
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jaylen Hunter LG 12 15 2015 1st All-CUSA
Darius Johnson LT 6 43
Daniel Stephens C 6'2, 304 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433 13 25
Josh Chester LG 6'3, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 5 20
Maurquice Shakir RT 6'3, 322 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7444 12 12
Chandler Brewer RG 6'6, 310 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8057 11 11
David Adams LG
2 6
Carlos Johnson LT 6'3, 300 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026 3 3
Hunter Rogers RT 6'7, 328 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 1 1
Robert Behanan LT 6'3, 285 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7659 0 0
Conner Trent RG 6'5, 306 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433 0 0
Deandre Ford OL 6'6, 378 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 0 0
Josh Fannin OL 6'3, 310 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8226

Angelo Owens OL 6'4, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793

Ty Watkins OL 6'1, 307 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000

Treyton Peters OL 6'6, 315 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8250

5. Keeping defenders out of the backfield

As the nine fumbles suggested, running backs were responsible for a lot of MTSU's struggles. The Blue Raiders were able to keep defenders out of the backfield for the most part (38th in stuff rate) and were decent in getting a short-yardage push (52nd in power success rate), but they were unable to get backs downfield with regularity (82nd in opportunity rate).

It seems the line was at least solid, and that was despite quite a bit of shuffling, nine players starting at least one game, and freshmen accounting for 14 starts.

Despite losing all-conference guard Jaylen Hunter and 2014 all-conference tackle Darius Johnson (who played only half the season), I wouldn't expect too much of a dropoff. The quick-passing nature of the offense keeps pressure off of the quarterback, and the line's size is spectacular for the C-USA level (average size of those with starting experience: 6'4, 311). So it's up to the backs to take advantage.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.25 65 IsoPPP+ 85.6 116
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.9% 83 Succ. Rt. + 87.9 108
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.0 61 Off. FP+ 28.4 95
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.6 15 Redzone S&P+ 105.5 46
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 25.3 ACTUAL 25.0 -0.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 74 116 108 116
RUSHING 48 100 121 79
PASSING 96 118 88 120
Standard Downs 116 102 117
Passing Downs 104 106 100
Q1 Rk 116 1st Down Rk 115
Q2 Rk 105 2nd Down Rk 84
Q3 Rk 27 3rd Down Rk 113
Q4 Rk 116

6. Whatever you did in the third quarter, do it more

Defense is usually the bigger issue in Murfreesboro.  MTSU has ranked higher in Off. S&P+ than Def. S&P+ in five of the last six years, and while some have been pretty close (114th vs. 115th in 2011, for instance), the last couple of years have seen the same structure: an offense that ranks in the 60s and a defense that ranks in the 80s or 90s.

After slipping to 98th in 2014, Derrick Nix's defense improved to 87th last year. And the September and November renditions of this unit were even better.

Still, the No. 87 ranking was driven mostly by big-play prevention against the run, nice redzone defense ... and strangely awesome third-quarter performances. Opponents had a passer rating of 143.5 in the first half and 84.0 in the third quarter. They moved the ball at will, then got outflanked coming out of halftime. In the fourth quarter, opponents figured things out again.

Halftime adjustments don't mean nearly what we think -- coaches are adjusting all game, and by the time guys get down the elevator from the press box to the locker room, the coaching staff only has about five minutes -- but apparently MTSU was the exception. The Blue Raiders were spectacular at making halftime adjustments and mediocre at everything else.

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 96 2.63 3.46 39.7% 73.3% 19.3% 69.4 4.6% 3.6%
Rank 82 29 90 82 103 77 113 80 121
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Steven Rhodes DE 6'3, 248 Sr. NR NR 13 29.0 3.8% 6.0 2.5 0 0 1 0
Chris Hale DE 6'4, 266 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7578 12 23.0 3.0% 6.5 4.0 0 0 1 0
Raynard Felton DT 6'4, 278 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8054 13 20.0 2.6% 3.5 0.5 0 2 1 0
Shaquille Huff DT 6'1, 318 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8267 13 19.0 2.5% 6.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Alexandro Antoine DE 12 13.5 1.8% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Patrick McNeil DT 13 11.0 1.4% 2.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Jimal McBride DT 6'2, 319 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8151 13 10.5 1.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Justin Akins DE 6'4, 257 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8246 13 10.0 1.3% 2.0 1.5 1 0 0 0
Derious Bennett DT
10 7.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Peter Bailey DE 6'4, 252 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7994 12 5.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ykeem Wells DE 11 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Patrick Stewart DT 6'2, 266 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 6 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jahmal Jones DE 6'3, 238 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000
Darrius Liggins DE 6'4, 239 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8154
Malik Manciel DT 6'3, 265 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7933
Trae Philpots DE 6'4, 240 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7400
Rakavian Poydras DT 6'1, 280 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8403
Chris Myers DE 6'6, 235 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056
Jordan Gonzalez DE 6'5, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8019

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
T.T. Barber WLB 13 75.5 9.8% 11.5 4.0 1 3 0 0
Cavellis Luckett MLB 13 58.5 7.6% 5.0 0.5 0 1 1 0
Trey Wafford SLB 13 43.5 5.7% 7.5 3.0 0 3 0 0
D.J. Sanders SLB 6'0, 213 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956 13 36.5 4.8% 0.5 0.0 1 1 1 0
Darius Harris MLB 6'2, 224 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7583 13 34.5 4.5% 1.0 0.5 1 1 1 0
James Roberson WLB 13 13.5 1.8% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Chris Melton LB 6'1, 205 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7694 13 13.5 1.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Myles Harges LB 6'2, 228 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7874 2 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Kory Lamberts LB 6'2, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859
Detric Bing-Dukes LB 6'2, 250 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8241
Caleb Felton LB 6'1, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8033

7. Depth, at least

Compared to conference mates, MTSU did well in the department of defensive injuries. The nine linemen who averaged at least 0.7 tackles per game missed only a combined four games. Of the eight linebackers who averaged at least a tackle a game, only one missed any time. The secondary succumbed a bit -- of the 11 DBs averaging one tackle per game, only two played in all 13 games -- but the bar was low. Everybody in C-USA got wrecked to some degree.

But even without major injuries, MTSU still played a ton of guys in the front seven, and that could pay off in 2016. Quality matters more than experience, but even while losing two primary contributors on the line and four at linebacker, the Blue Raiders return a good amount of experience.

Now to find out if there are any play-makers. The loss of TT Barber at linebacker hurts, and Stockstill signed a pair of JUCO defenders (Kory Lamberts and Detric Bing-Dukes) to account for it. That all three linemen who logged at least six tackles for loss return is good, but six isn't a large number.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Quay Watt SS 13 61.5 8.0% 1 0 0 3 0 1
Kevin Byard FS 12 54.5 7.1% 1 0 4 6 0 0
Michael Minter CB 6'0, 184 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8033 11 49.0 6.4% 6 1 1 9 1 0
Jeremy Cutrer CB 6'2, 170 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8827 10 28.0 3.7% 3 1 3 13 0 0
Jamarcus Howard CB 12 25.0 3.3% 2.5 0 2 3 0 0
Xavier Walker SS 9 23.5 3.1% 0 0 0 5 0 0
Alex Dale FS 5'10, 192 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8088 13 18.5 2.4% 2 1 2 2 3 0
Dontavious Heard CB 6'1, 196 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8017 11 17.5 2.3% 1.5 0 0 3 0 0
Jared Singletary CB 9 12.0 1.6% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Chris Brown CB 6'1, 178 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8126 10 11.0 1.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darryl Randolph CB 5'11, 184 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8044 13 7.5 1.0% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Richie Bisaccia S 6'0, 193 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 4 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Houston Brown CB 8 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jovante Moffatt CB 6'0, 190 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7300 13 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Vernon Walker S 6'0, 175 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8074
Khalil Brooks CB 5'11, 190 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859
Charvarius Ward CB 6'1, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7711
Tyshawn Brown S 6'1, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8426
Kylan Stribling CB 5'11, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893








8. Got safeties?

Playing a lot of guys in the secondary wasn't a choice. The lineup of available bodies was ever-changing. That can mean good things; for instance, MTSU now returns five cornerbacks who made at least 7.5 tackles last year. Starters Michael Minter and Jeremy Cutrer are the best play-makers on the team (combined: nine tackles for loss, four interceptions, 22 break-ups), and there is lovely depth.

Safety is a different story. Five safeties averaged at least one tackle per game last year, but the top three are gone, leaving senior Alex Dale and little-used Richie Bisaccia.

Three-star freshman Tyshawn Brown was one of the jewels of a good recruiting class, and perhaps he's ready to contribute. But unless a corner or two changes position, one aspect of the secondary is a lot more seasoned than the other.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Matt Bonadies 6'1, 195 So. 31 41.3 3 4 10 45.2%
Trevor Owens 31 36.2 2 7 4 35.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Canon Rooker 5'11, 173 Jr. 78 60.6 19 2 24.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Cody Clark 56-56 8-10 80.0% 4-6 66.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Jeremiah Bryson KR 18 23.7 0
Ed'Marques Batties KR 11 22.6 0
Ed'Marques Batties PR 19 3.9 0
Jeremiah Bryson PR 2 12.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 111
Field Goal Efficiency 77
Punt Return Success Rate 38
Kick Return Success Rate 43
Punt Success Rate 125
Kickoff Success Rate 118

9. A special teams rebuild

If you have to rebuild your special teams unit, you might as well be rebuilding a bad one. You're less likely to miss the guys who left. Unfortunately, only the better aspects of the unit have to be replaced.

MTSU's return game, led by Jeremiah Bryson and Ed'Marques Batties, was solid and steady, and place-kicker Cody Clark had a nice leg even if he missed a couple of easy kicks. They're all gone. Meanwhile, punter Matt Bonadies and kickoffs specialist Canon Rooker are back; MTSU ranked 125th in my punting ratings and 118th in kickoffs. Granted, the legs weren't necessarily the problem -- Bonadies, for instance, averaged 41 yards per punt and had quite a few downed inside the 20 -- but MTSU ranked 86th in punt return average allowed and 105th in kick return average allowed.

Coverage will be difficult to fix, and now the Blue Raiders have to find new return men.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Alabama A&M NR 42.6 99%
10-Sep at Vanderbilt 69 -9.5 29%
17-Sep at Bowling Green 60 -11.1 26%
24-Sep Louisiana Tech 84 1.8 54%
1-Oct at North Texas 128 10.1 72%
15-Oct Western Kentucky 45 -6.4 36%
22-Oct at Missouri 47 -12.9 23%
29-Oct at Florida International 113 4.8 61%
5-Nov UTSA 116 12.4 76%
12-Nov at Marshall 75 -8.2 32%
19-Nov at Charlotte 123 7.2 66%
26-Nov Florida Atlantic 100 6.9 66%
Projected wins: 6.4
Five-Year F/+ Rk -21.1% (99)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 93 / 102
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -4 / -2.3
2015 TO Luck/Game -0.7
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 68% (80%, 55%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 7.3 (-0.3)

10. Challenges early, wins late

Special teams concerns aside, MTSU should feature a familiar recipe: The Blue Raiders should boast a consistently strong offense and a defense with questions. Last year, that meant an 0-3 record against Power 5 teams (with two close losses) and a 7-3 record against everybody else.

This year's schedule is interesting. It features a rugged set of September challenges (at Vandy, at BGSU, Louisiana Tech) and a back-to-back projected top-50 opponents in October (WKU, at Missouri). But it also features four games against teams projected 100th or worse in the final five games.

With an early upset or two, MTSU could be looking at a run at 10 wins. But a 2-6 start, with lots of pressure heading into November, is also on the table. This is easily the trickiest schedule of any C-USA team previewed so far, and it presents an interesting set of opportunities and threats for the best C-USA team I've previewed so far.