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Middle Tennessee proved last year that you could be successful with a freshman quarterback. The Blue Raiders went 6-2 in conference play, but finished just 7-6 due to a tough non-conference slate and a loss to Western Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. With the needed pieces returning from that team, expect them to fight for the C-USA East this year after finishing two games behind Western Kentucky in 2015.
The offense welcomes back former coordinator Tony Franklin and there's no reason the group will look any different with coach's son Brent Stockstill at quarterback with fellow sophomore receiver Richie James. Those two were dominant last year, Stockstill completing 66.7% of his passes for 30 TDs and 9 INTs and James catching 108 passes for 1,346 yards and 8 TDs. It was an incredible season for the two freshmen. But outside of them, the receivers are a question with Terry Pettis (612 yards, 4 TDs), Demetrius Frazier and Shane Tucker in more prominent roles.
The biggest boost in the offense will hopefully be at running back where they were one of the worst in the conference a year ago. The Blue Raiders brought in former Ole Miss back I'Tavius Mathers and that success should change right away. Sophomore Desmond Anderson (378 yards, 4 TDs) joins Mathers in the backfield. The offensive line has its questions, but having three returning starters should keep the group in check.
Defensively, MTSU was actually pretty good last year, in terms of Conference USA at least, allowing 26.6 points per game. Outside of games against higher-scoring offenses (WKU, La. Tech, Western Mich.), they dominated opponents. Unfortunately, a lot of those pieces are gone with five of their top six tacklers missing.
The line will probably be the best unit on the defense with the most experience, highlighted by four seniors that are expected to start and three returning starters. Corner is a similar situation with Mike Minter and Jeremy Cutrer one of the better duos in the conference. However, that's where the experience ends. Linebacker and safety is mostly filled with fresh faces, which is a main reason they lost all of their top tacklers. Getting production from new guys will be important in MTSU not falling off from last year and competing for the C-USA title game.
The Blue Raiders may be a little better overall than a year ago, but due to schedule, it may be tough for them to reach more than eight wins. They'll need to upset a team like Vanderbilt or Bowling Green on the road to surpass last year's total. Beating either WKU or La. Tech at home will also be important. But outside of those games (and one at Missouri later on), Middle Tennessee has a workable schedule with teams like North Texas, FIU and Charlotte on the road.
Six wins will be automatic for this team and they should be able to pull off one or two upsets at the minimum. Their over/under at 5Dimes is at 8 wins with the under at -140 in July so oddsmakers are on the same page. However, that also includes a conference championship and a bowl game, so those eight wins will definitely be more than attainable with Stockstill in charge.
2016 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Alabama A&M
Sept. 10 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 17 at Bowling Green
Sept. 24 vs. Louisiana Tech
Oct. 1 at North Texas
Oct. 15 vs. Western Kentucky
Oct. 22 at Missouri
Oct. 29 at Florida International
Nov. 5 vs. UTSA
Nov. 12 at Marshall
Nov. 19 at Charlotte
Nov. 26 at Florida Atlantic
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