STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (10 – offense, 7 – defense)
KEY PLAYERS: QB Dwight Dasher (5-10, 204), WR Patrick Honeycutt (5-9, 167), RB Phillip Tanner (6-0, 211), LB Danny Carmichael (6-0, 246), S Kevin Brown (6-1,203), DE Emmanuel Perez (6-1, 228)
INJURY UPDATES: Middle Tennessee has lost two wide receivers in the last two months, including Eldred King, who tied for the lead in receptions for the Blue Raiders a year ago with 51. King was dismissed from the team in late June. Senior wide out Michael Cannon (24 career catches) was also lost earlier this month when he tore his ACL for the second consecutive year.
PREVIEW: Clemson and Middle Tennessee square off for only the second time on gridiron on Sept. 5, 2009 in the season opener for both squads. Not surprisingly, the Tigers won the first meeting, 37-14 six years ago; just days after the passing of legendary Clemson play-by-play man Jim Phillips.
And while it's a far cry from last year's season opener against eventual SEC runner-up Alabama in the Georgia Dome, don't be fooled by the Blue Raiders. Remember it was just a year ago Middle Tennessee upset Maryland, the same team that beat Clemson at home, 20-17, sending the Tigers' season into a strange tailspin that would eventually lead to the resignation of Tommy Bowden.
This season the Blue Raiders will use a new-look spread offense, led by former Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. Clemson fans will remember how Franklin played keep away from the Tigers in his first game calling plays for Auburn in the 2007 Chick-Fil-A Bowl, after only being named to the position three weeks before kickoff.
"Tony is very passionate about coaching and very good fundamentally," said Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill this spring. "There is no doubt our quarterbacks will improve fundamentally under Tony and the offense will improve as well because of his attention to detail."
Dwight Dasher has solidified the starting quarterback position with the Blue Raiders with a solid preseason camp. (Getty Images)
Stockstill, of course, was Clemson's wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for more than 10 years, serving under Danny Ford, Ken Hatfield, Tommy West and Tommy Bowden in a variety of roles. Middle Tennessee also has former Clemson quarterback Willie Simmons coaching its running backs and former Clemson wide receiver Justin Watts coaching its wide receivers and serving as its recruiting coordinator as well.
While still in more of a building mode in Murfreesboro, Tenn. than anything else, Stockstill has assembled a reasonable amount of talent, but as you expect in the Sun Belt conference, there are depth issues and holes to fill.
The biggest hole was thought to be at quarterback, where Joe Craddock is gone after completing nearly 65 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
But Dwight Dasher has eased those concerns during pre-season camp and now he has the luxury of playing behind five returning starters on the offensive line. Six of Middle Tennessee's top eight wide receivers are also back in the fold as well but the offense has to get better establishing the run after averaging just 106 yards on the ground last year (102nd in the nation).
Defensively, the Blue Raiders have to replace two starters at linebacker but nearly everyone is back up front and in the secondary. One of the biggest keys will be the return of middle linebacker Danny Carmichael, who has to make plays for Middle Tennessee to be competitive against the bigger schools on its 2009 schedule.
BLUE RAIDER QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have to improve in every area and every position between now and September 5th but I like the improvement I have seen. Defensively we really have to concentrate on consistency at the linebacker position and on offense we need to get some guys back healthy on the offensive line." – Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill.