NCAA Football

2011 College Football Preview: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

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2010 Record: (6-7, 5-3 in Sun Belt)

Head Coach: Rick Stockstill (33-30, 25-12 in Sun Belt)

Last Bowl Game: 2010 Season Bowl: lost to Miami (OH) 35-21


9/3: at Purdue

9/10: Georgia Tech (2010 result: lost 42-14)

9/24: at Troy (2010 result: lost 42-13)

10/1: Memphis (2010 result: lost 24-17)

10/6: Western Kentucky (2010 result: won 27-26)

10/22: at FAU (2010 result: won 38-14)

10/29: Louisiana (2010 result: won 34-14)

11/5: at Tennessee

11/12: at Louisiana-Monroe (2010 result: won 38-10)

11/19: Arkansas State (2010 result: lost 51-24)

11/26: FIU (2010 result: won 28-27)

12/3: at North Texas (2010 result: lost 23-17)

2010 Offensive Statistics:

Scoring: 26.5 ppg (4th in Sun Belt, 62nd in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 181.62 yds/game (3rd in Sun Belt, 31st in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 190.3 yds/game (7th in Sun Belt, 84th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 371.9 yds/game (5th in Sun Belt, 69th in Nation)

2010 Defensive Statistics:

Scoring: 28.1 ppg (2nd in Sun Belt, 69th in Nation)

Rushing Yds/Game: 187.85 yds/game (7th in Sun Belt, 94th in Nation)

Passing Yds/Game: 199.0 yds/game (2nd in Sun Belt, 30th in Nation)

Total Yds/Game: 386.8 yds/game (4th in Sun Belt, 72nd in Nation)

2010 Misc Stats:

Turnover Margin: -1.46 per game (last in Sun Belt, last in Nation)

Penalties: 55.8 yds/game (4th in Sun Belt, 77th in Nation)

Returning Starters:

Offense: 7

Defense: 3

Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders:

Passing: QB Logan Kilgore, Jr (50 of 80 for 540 yds, 3 TD, 5 INT)

Rushing: RB D.D. Kyles, Sr (77 for 414, 5.3 ypc, 4 TD)

Receiving: WR Malcolm Beyah, Sr (29 rec for 388 yds, 2 TD)

Tackles: LB Darin Davis, Sr (81)

Sacks: LB Darin Davis, Sr (3.5)

Interceptions: LB Darin Davis, Sr (3)

2009 was a banner year for MTSU as they went 10-3 overall and 7-1 in the Sun Belt. After posting their best record since 1992, 2010 was a disappointment. Former DC Manny Diaz moved on to Mississippi State (he is now with Texas) and star QB Dwight Dasher missed four games and saw his TD to INT ratio flip-flop in a negative way. Will 2011 be a year that the Blue Raiders get back on track or will it be a season to re-build? We caught up with MTSU grad Matthew Tipton to find out his take on the 2011 season. Make sure you check out Matthew's Sun Belt blog Always Sunny in the Belt throughout the season for updates on Sun Belt football. Make sure to also follow them on twitter @Sunnyinthebelt.

MTSU went from 10-3 in 2009 to 6-7 in 2010. What were the major causes of this and what needs to be corrected to turn the ship around in 2011?

There were a few key factors that directly correlated with the setback the Blue Raiders faced this past season. The first issue that hurt the Raiders were turnovers. Middle Tennessee ranked last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in turnovers.  This problem was never more apparent than in the Bowl where Middle Tennessee turned the ball over five times eliminating any chance for a second straight winning season.

The second issue was the play of quarterback Dwight Dasher. Dasher hit a high note in the 2009 New Orleans Bowl where he ran Middle Tennessee to victory over Southern Mississippi. Big things were expected of him last season only to see mixed results at the best of times. He was suspended the first four games due to taking an improper loan and could never return to his 2009 form once reaching the field. He did play his best football of the season down the stretch yet was not quite able to play to the high expectations set by many people.

If Middle Tennessee is to be successful in 2011 they must limit the turnovers that crippled them in 2010. This has been a key issue for Head Coach Rick Stockstill over spring camp and should continue to be an emphasis during fall camp.

Who replaces Dwight Dasher at QB and will the offense change as a result of who will be taking the helm?

The two leading candidates to replace Dwight Dasher are Logan Kilgore and Jeff Murphy. Both saw limited time on the field in 2010 during the suspension of Dasher, yet both are relatively inexperienced after transferring in from the junior college ranks. It will probably be late into fall camp until a starter is named. Neither quarterback is as athletic as Dasher so look for less designed runs. Whoever is named the starter will be asked to protect the ball and be an efficient passer.

For those that don't follow MTSU that closely...who are the players to watch on this team?

On the offensive side of the ball look for running back Bennie Cunningham to emerge as a special player. He has a great work ethic and always plays hard.  He has great athletic ability and should be a explosive player out of the backfield. Two seasons ago Cunningham helped fill the hole left by Phillip Tanner due to injury and was a nice option behind Tanner last season. 2011 should be a coming out party for Bennie as he gets much more work and is able to shine.

Another guy set to have a great campaign in 2011 is Eric Russell. He is a explosive return man who has the ability to make people miss in the open field. He continues to improve on the defensive side of the ball which should help Middle Tennessee fill holes on that side of the ball. However his contributions in the return game should provide a huge boost this up coming season.

One final guy worth mentioning is kicker Alan Gendreau. He has a strong leg and has been almost automatic on field goals of any range. He should be a very valuable asset for Stockstill in 2011.

Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games for Middle Tennessee this year?

Middle Tennessee has many games to be excited about this upcoming season. Georgia Tech and Memphis both visit Floyd stadium this season, but the game that carries weight every year is the rival game against Troy. Stockstill has not beaten Troy since arriving at Middle Tennessee, a trend he and the Blue Raider faithful would love to see end this year. It will be a difficult task with the Raiders traveling to Alabama to face the Trojans. If the Raiders hope to win they must keep it close, with the games against Troy getting away from the Raiders the past few seasons.

Florida International should be a key game for Middle Tennessee as the Panthers visit Floyd stadium. They return many weapons and should challenge for the Sun Belt crown once again in 2011. Middle Tennessee beat the Panthers last season to become bowl eligible and sent FIU to Detroit to play in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. If the Raiders hope to be in contention for the Sun Belt title they must hope to split these two games and possibly win them both.

What is the one game on the schedule that you want to win the most this year?

Of course Middle Tennessee would love to beat Troy and run the table in Sun Belt play. However, there is a non-conference game that carries special importance to many Middle Tennessee fans.  Middle Tennessee travels to Knoxville to take on the University of Tennessee this season. If the Raiders could pull off the upset it would send shock waves throughout the state.  Since the transition to the FBS level the Raiders have always played in the shadow of the Volunteers. A victory would force the casual football fan to take notice that Middle Tennessee has arrived and should be respected.

What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?

With a young team a third consecutive bowl trip would have to be viewed as a successful campaign in 2011. Winning the conference crown will once again be the goal for the Raiders and is certainly possible in the Sun Belt. Middle Tennessee has a very young team and questions to answer on both sides of the ball. With a difficult schedule early the the Raiders will be tested, however Rick Stockstill will have his team answering the bell against any and all opponents. I believe that Middle Tennessee will continue to play well in conference and should finish 6-6 with a invite to a bowl being very likely.

Next Preview: Toledo

2011 Team Previews

C-USA- Houston

MAC- Bowling Green, Buffalo , Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Temple

MWC- UNLV, Wyoming

Sun Belt- FAU, North Texas, Troy

WAC- Idaho