CFN: 2009 Middle Tennessee Preview

Now there are no excuses in Murfeesboro. A lousy academic progress report cost the program a few scholarships over the last few years, but now the talent level is high, there's depth,

Head coach: Rick Stockstill
4th year: 17-20
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 22, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 11
Ten Best MT Players
1. LB Danny Carmichael, Sr.
2. S Jeremy Kellem, Jr.
3. CB Alex Suber, Sr.
4. RB Phillip Tanner, Jr.
5. OT Mark Fisher, Jr.
6. WR Malcolm Beyah, Soph.
7. DT Dwight Smith, Jr.
8. WR Eldred King, Sr.
9. QB Dwight Dasher, Jr.
10. RB/WR Desmond Gee, Sr.
2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction: COMING
2009 Record:
9/5 at Clemson
9/12 Memphis
9/19 at Maryland
9/26 at North Texas
10/6 at Troy
10/17 Miss State
10/24 Western Kentucky
10/31 at Florida Atlantic
11/7 FIU
11/14 UL Lafayette
11/21 Arkansas State
11/28 at ULM

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 5-7

8/28 Troy L 31-17
9/6 Maryland W 24-14
9/13 at Kentucky L 20-14
9/20 at Arkansas St L 31-14
9/30 Fla Atlantic W 14-13
10/11 at FIU L 31-21
10/18 at Louisville L 42-23
10/25 at Miss State L 31-22
11/8 UL Monroe W 24-21
11/15 at WKU W 21-10
11/22 North Texas W 52-13
12/3 at UL Laf L 42-28

This will be one of the Sun Belt’s most interesting teams with ten starters returning, and that doesn’t count QB Dwight Dasher, one of the stars of the 2007 team, and seven starters return to the defense. Yes, there are concerns at outside linebacker and Dasher needs to prove he can handle being the full-time leader, but those are minor issues. Everything is in place to win the title.

The special teams got a boost with the addition of coach Steve Ellis, but the real noise was made on the offensive side with Tony Franklin coming in to run his offense after struggling at Auburn last year. The Blue Raiders have the personnel in place to not just take to the tweak in style quickly, but to blow up if Dasher and his speed and quickness are able to combine with more efficient passing.

The receiving corps should be the best in the Sun Belt, the O line is fantastic, the backfield is loaded with speed, the secondary will be among the league’s best, and the pass rush will be improved. It’s all there to go on the best run in the Rick Stockstill era, but that also means the program has to fight its past.

Every time Middle Tennessee appears to be ready to make a big jump, something goes wrong or there’s another Sun Belt team that turns into a star. North Texas became the league’s juggernaut when the Blue Raiders first got into the league in 2001. Troy took over the role, and then Florida Atlantic rose up. Middle Tennessee has been close, it had the 2006 title there for the taking before collapsing at home in the season finale against Troy, but now with so much veteran talent and the upgrade among the assistants, this needs to be the year the program wins the title.

What to watch for on offense: The spread. It’s not a night-and-day difference from what the Blue Raiders did in the past, but the offense will undergo a change with Franklin’s spread attack. With so much returning experience, the learning curve might not be all that steep, but the experience and the strengths of the team, like the solid receiving corps and the speedy running backs, has to translate into a bigger offensive year.

What to watch for on defense: Even more of a pass rush. The defensive front has been great at getting into the backfield and has been among the best in the Sun Belt at making tackles for loss. Now it has to do more when it comes to getting to the quarterback, and it will. With a talented, veteran secondary to rely on, the defense can take a few more chances to come up with the big play.

The team will be far better if … the running game improves. There’s no reason the ground attack should be so mediocre with speedsters at running back, a veteran line, and now, Dasher at quarterback. The passing game isn’t going to be as strong as it was last year, even though the receiving corps is loaded, so if the Blue Raiders aren’t running for close to 200 yards per game, there will be a problem.

The Schedule: The Sun Belt slate has a bad break with the two toughest games, Florida Atlantic and Troy, on the road. The Blue Raiders need to at least split those two to have a shot at winning the Sun Belt title. The bigger problem could be a nasty finishing kick with three road games in four weeks going to FAU, ULM and Troy wrapped around a home date against UL Lafayette. The non-conference schedule, as always, is tough with road trips to Clemson and Maryland, a revenge game for the Terps, along with home games against Memphis and Mississippi State. On the plus side, there’s a nice three game home stretch in October.

Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Phillip Tanner. The only question mark over his career has been durability. He didn’t get a ton of work last year, even though he led the team with 188 carries, but he finished with 16 total touchdowns and he showed off his home-run hitting ability enough times to keep feeding him the ball. While Tanner might be the best offensive player going into the season, it could be QB Dwight Dasher if everything goes well.

Best Defensive Player: Junior FS Jeremy Kellem. LB Danny Carmichael will be the team's leading tackler and CB Alex Suber should be considered in the talk of the team’s best defensive player, but it’s Kellem who does a little of everything for the defense with great range, big-time tackling ability, and good ball skills. He’s the all-star the veteran secondary will work around.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Dwight Dasher. With everyone back on offense, a fantastic receiving corps, speed to burn at receiver, and one of the Sun Belt’s best lines, all that’s missing is steady play from the quarterback. Dasher has the potential to either be a superstar in the new offense who carries the team to a huge season, or an inconsistent problem who needs time to get his feet wet handling the attack.

The season will be a success if ... the Blue Raiders win the Sun Belt title. Getting to a bowl game and coming up with a winning record would be a great step overall, but with all the returning experience and all the potential for greatness on both sides of the ball, it’s not a bad thing to think big. The program was close to getting over the hump a few years ago before blowing it late. This year’s team won’t have much of an excuse.

Key game: October 31 at Florida Atlantic. The Blue Raiders have to go to Troy in late November in what might be a make-or-break battle for the Sun Belt title, but they have to beat the Owls first. If all is going according to plan, the veteran team should be jelling in the new offense, and solid defensively, by Halloween. Also, if all is going well, the Sun Belt record should be 3-0 going into the showdown.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: Middle Tennessee 25 for 147 yards – Opponents 15 for 141 yards
- Average rushing yards per game: Opponents 153.5 – Middle Tennessee 106.9
- Punt returns: Opponents 38 for 384 yards – Middle Tennessee 13 for 81 yards Top Stories