Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Middle Tennessee ran into injury issues at the wrong time last fall, as the Blue Raiders went 2-3 to finish the year 8-5 overall, with a 52-35 loss to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. Considering that the Blue Raiders lost QB Brent Stockstill for the final three regular season games, it's a strong indication of the talent that he had around him that the team was able to win two of those three games that they had won. He should be healthy and ready to go, but keeping him on the field all season will be a key in winning the CUSA East.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Stockstill is the leader of this offense, and returns holding the school record for TD passes (61), 300 yards games (14), and passing yards per game (303.3). He passed for 3233 yards and 31 scores to just seven INTs last season, while averaging 323.3 yards per game.
Stockstill's top target, and one of the best receivers in the nation, Richie James is back for more this fall as well, as he has over 200 receptions the last two seasons for almost 3000 total yards during that time period. One of the most exciting players in the nation, he also flies under the radar nationally more than most. He caught 105 passes last fall for 1625 yards and 12 scores, and averaged 15.48 yards per catch. Ty Lee is back as a sophomore, and was voted as a freshman All-America, and scored nine times on 63 receptions last fall. Patrick Smith rounds out the receiving group returning as starters, and caught 28 passes as a walk-on last season.
Chandler Brewer returns on the line, and was in for 980 snaps last season, while Carlos Johnson started 10 games, and was in on 756 snaps.
PK Canon Rooker returns after hitting 84.2% of his attempts last fall (16/19).
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The Blue Raiders lost a huge chunk of offense when I'Tavius Mathers moved on. He rushed for 1561 yards last season, and scored 17 times, and finished third on the team in receiving with 66 receptions. He was the first player in NCAA history to finish a season with 1500 yards rushing and 60 receptions (in one full season). Maurice Gordon comes in now to win the job and take over at RB.
While Carlos Johnson and Chandler Brewer are both All-CUSA candidates at LT and RG, the Blue Raiders will need to find three new starters up front. RS junior Angelo Owens is set to take over at LG, RS freshman Luke Harris is leading at C, and RS Robert Behanon is in the lead heading into fall camp at RT.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Darius Harris, Chris Melton, and DJ Sanders all return at LB this fall. Melton is an All-CUSA player who led the team with 102 tackles last fall, and he also finished with 6.5 TFLs. Harris finished with 74 tackles, and tied for the team lead with eight TFLs. Sanders finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles. This should be one of the better starting LB units in Conference USA in 2017.
The secondary is in strong shape as well, with three returning starters. Alex Dale and Jovante Moffatt are both back at the Safety spots. Dale hit a career high in tackles last fall with 61, and finished with five PBUs. Moffatt finished with 76 tackles and three PBUs. Michael Minter is back to start at CB, and finished with 10 PBUs and two INTs.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The main concern is up front, where every starter must be replaced on the defensive line, with two of those lost being honorable mention All-CUSA picks. That is a ton of production to replace on a team that allowed 35.8 points per game as it was last fall, and also allowed over 198 yards rushing per game. Much is expected of RS junior Walter Brady at LE, while the RE spot looks to be in the hands of Tyshun Render, a RS sophomore. Justin Akins and Malik Manciel have the lead for the DT spots.
Darryl Randolph, a RS junior, is expected to step in at the open CB position, and played a bench role last fall. It's time to see if he can step up to the main job.
The Punting situation is also a concern, as Matt Bonadies, a junior, only averaged 38.76 yards per punt last fall.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Vanderbilt, 9/9 at Syracuse, 9/16 at Minnesota, 9/23 Bowling Green, 9/30 at FAU, 10/7 FIU, 10/14 at UAB, 10/20 Marshall, 11/4 UTEP, 11/11 at Charlotte, 11/17 at Western Kentucky, 11/25 Old Dominion
Final Overview
Middle Tennessee has a solid roster on offense, and some nice pieces on defense, but if the Blue Raiders want to improve on an 8-5 mark in 2017, a few things have to happen. Stockstill has to stay healthy, the defense has to improve immensely, and thy need to avoid some trap games on the schedule, and probably steal win against Power Five opponents Vanderbilt and Syracuse, which are both highly winnable games for this team. The conference schedule lines up nicely, with the only two games that should be considerably worrisome come at the end of the year with a trip to Western Kentucky, and a home date with Old Dominion. If Middle Tennessee can do what I have layed out, they win the CUSA East, and likely win nine or even ten games this fall.

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