Heading into his eighth year as the leader of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, Head Coach Rick Stockstill has to be proud of what he has built in Murfreesboro. After all, Stockstill’s team did make Rant Sports Top 100 College Football Teams in 100 days for 2013 at No. 99. What else could be better, right?
Well actually the great news for the Blue Raiders and their fans is that they all should have a lot to look forward to in 2013.
The Blue Raiders are returning 46 overall and lost only five starters from the 2012 team that finished 8-4 overall and 6-2 Sun Belt Conference (second-place in 2012) including the utter destruction of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta.
Leading the charge in 2013 will be QB Logan Kilgore on offense and LB Craig Allen on defense. Kilgore was 212-335 for 2571 yards, 16 touchdowns and only six picks. Allen was a beast on defense leading the team with 84 total tackles.
But the most important player is one that hasn’t one a starting position as of yet. Freshman kicker Canon Rooker will no doubt battle red-shirt sophomore Zachary Lopez and red-shirt freshman Cody Clark to replace the departed Carlos Lopez. Lopez was the leading scorer for the Blue Raiders in 2012 with 87 points on a 17-22 field goal performance and a perfect 36-36 extra point effort.
Special Teams will be a key if Middle Tennessee State wants to continue its growth and make it to a bowl game in 2013. And the other person to watch here is the explosive Reggie Whatley who picked up almost 1000 yards in 2012. He is simply a one-man game changer.
Besides the leadership of Kilgore as the signal caller, the Blue Raiders are going to have a lot of explosive experience on offense in 2013. Overall, Middle Tennessee returns nine starters and 19 players overall who contributed to a team that averaged 27 points per game and 394 yards per game. The ground attack will be led by Jordan Parker, who set the the Blue Raiders’ freshman rushing record in 2012. Look for him to have a 1000+ rushing season if he stays healthy. Add top receivers Christian Collis and Kyle Griswould back alongside TE Jacob Corbaley and Middle Tennessee will have the potential to be a very explosive team.
But its biggest strength in 2013 offensively has to be the offensive line. With Isaiah Anderson, Jadareius Hamlin, Darius Johnson and Josh Walker all returning, this is a deep and experienced line who dominated games last season. The key to another successful season will be finding the replacement for C Micah James. Nick Nunez will get the nod entering the season.
The Blue Raiders defense is not one to overlook as well heading into 2013 as they have eight starters returning led by linebackers Allen, T.T. Barber and Roderic Blunt. Red-shirt seniors are loaded on the roster on the defensive side of the ball, and that will bode well for Middle Tennessee as the season progresses.
And one major area the linebackers and defensive line must improve on is in pressuring the quarterback. The Blue Raiders finished with only 14 sacks as a team in 2012 and seven of those came in two games. This is simply an area that must improve in 2013.
There is no doubt Middle Tennessee has the talent to win C-USA this season and there are two important games the Blue Raiders have circled on the calendar. The first comes on September 7 as they travel to battle the North Carolina Tar Heels. Can Middle Tennessee knock off another ACC Football power on the road? The second game happens on October 5 and will go a long way in deciding the conference champion as the East Carolina Pirates come calling to Murfreesboro. This will be an epic battle and one to watch if you’re a College Football fan.
August 29 – Western Carolina
September 7 – @ North Carolina
September 14 – Memphis
September 21 – @ Florida Atlantic*
September 27 – @ BYU
October 5 – East Carolina*
October 12 – @ North Texas*
October 19 – BYE
October 24 – Marshall*
November 2 – @ UAB*
November 9 – FIU*
November 23 @ Southern Miss*
November 30 – UTEP*
December 7 – CUSA Championship
M Shannon Smallwood is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association.
Follow him @woodysmalls.