Blue Raiders eager to show they can win in C-USA
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders have all sorts of motivation
for their first season as new members of Conference USA, and
competing for the league title is right there at the top.
Coach Rick Stockstill said that’s their goal from the start, and
he doesn’t want his Blue Raiders waiting until halfway through the
season realizing they have a chance to be pretty good and win the
”Are we good enough to do that? We’ll find out,” Stockstill
Middle Tennessee went 8-4 in its final season in the Sun Belt
Conference. The Blue Raiders already were on their way out when
snubbed for a bowl berth. That disappointment of not getting a bowl
berth remains very fresh for his players. Cornerback Kenneth
Gilstrap said he thought of the bowl snub just before the Blue
Raiders started August practice and feels disrespected.
”We handle our business this year we won’t have to worry about
it,” Gilstrap said. ”It’s a whole new year. You can’t live off
last year, and last year’s going to do nothing for us. I few want
to be good, we have to work hard.”
Stockstill has enough experience back from that team to make the
Blue Raiders’ debut in a new league go a bit smoother. He has nine
starters back on offense and seven on defense.
The offense is led by senior quarterback Logan Kilgore, who
completed 63.3 percent of his passes in 2012 while throwing for
2,571 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. The 6-foot-3
Kilgore is the only the second quarterback in Middle Tennessee
history to throw for at least 2,000 yards in consecutive
Kilgore lost receiver Anthony Amos to graduation and running
back Benny Cunningham now is playing in the NFL. Amos led the team
with 72 catches for 992 yards and nine touchdowns. Tavarres
Jefferson played only one game last season before redshirting, and
he’s now back as a senior trying to fulfill the promise of 2011
when he caught 51 passes.
”We’ve got more weapons outside for Logan at receiver than we
had from the halfway point on last year, so I’m excited about
that,” Stockstill said. ”And I think Logan has matured and
improved greatly as a quarterback going into his senior year. It
gives you a comfort level as a coach that you’ve got some senior
wide receivers out there.”
On defense, seven starters are back from a unit that ranked 53rd
nationally in pass efficiency defense.
”Our whole defensive unit has to improve in every area,”
co-defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said.
Here are five things to watch during Middle Tennessee’s upcoming
1. NO MORE BENNY: Benny Cunningham is in training camp with St.
Louis in the NFL. He ran for 600 yards in just five games before
being injured. But the Blue Raiders have leading rusher Jordan
Parker back, and he led the team with 851 yards as a freshman.
2. NO SACKS ALLOWED: The Blue Raiders ranked second nationally
in fewest sacks allowed in 2012, giving up only seven all
3. NONCONFERENCE UPSET?: The Blue Raiders routed Georgia Tech
49-28 last season, and they have two opportunities in 2013 for
headline-grabbing upsets. They visit North Carolina Sept. 7 and BYU
on Sept. 27.
4. EASY SCHEDULE: For moving to a new conference, the Blue
Raiders could not have drawn up a better schedule if they tried.
They host league favorite East Carolina on Oct. 5 and the East’s
other contender Marshall on Oct. 24. Their toughest league games
will be Oct. 12 when they visit North Texas.
5. BOWLING: Middle Tennessee has been bowl eligible in three of
its last four seasons, one of only two Sun Belt teams to do that in
that span. The Blue Raiders have been bowl eligible in four of the
past seven seasons under Stockstill.
Predicted finish in C-USA: Third in East
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker