Welcome to C-USA: Middle Tennessee State

Conference-USA has changed before our eyes in the last week or so. Middle Tennessee State University is just one of the teams hopping from the Sun Belt Conference to C-USA, but one that enters the new league with some momentum.

After a dominant final season in 2012-2013, the Blue Raiders are poised to shake things up in C-USA.

Ruling the gridiron

After posting a 2-10 record in 2011, Middle Tennessee surprised many by finishing second in the Sun Belt the following season.

The Blue Raiders improved to 8-4, finishing with their third bowl-eligible record in four seasons. Their six-win improvement is right up there with Kent State and Ohio State for the best turnarounds in the nation.

The team finished in the middle of the pack in terms of points per game (26.6) and points against (28), but it has excelled consistently in one aspect—protecting the quarterback. After allowing only .68 sacks per game in 2011, Middle Tennessee again finished second in the nation for fewest sacks with only 7 the entire season.

A major driving force in their improvement from the last season was minimizing turnovers. When the Blue Raiders beat Southern Miss 42-32 in the 2009 New Orleans Bowl – their last bowl win – they finished with the eighth-best turnover margin in the nation.

Since then, they lost a step or two. MTU's turnover margin didn't even break the top 100 and their record showed it. It wasn't until they got a handle over their turnovers this past season (19th in the nation) that the Blue Raiders finished with a record above .500.

Basketball, too

Middle Tennessee's basketball team has seen plenty of success in recent years, too. After not seeing too much success for nearly two decades, the Blue Raiders became a force in 2011.

Remarkably, they've only suffered three conference losses since then—including only a single loss this past season.

The Blue Raiders fell to Arkansas State, but put up an unbelievable fight en route to their sole conference loss. Marcus Knight led Middle Tennessee with 23 of the team's 60 points, but Tweety Knight stole the show when he hit a last-second three-pointer to send the game into overtime tied at 52-52.

Middle Tennessee's brand of on-court dominance should fit right in with the structure of C-USA basketball. With Memphis departing for the American Athletic Conference, the Blue Raiders won't get much trouble from the reigning C-USA champions. That's not to say they'll go unchallenged. With 22 wins and a CIT championship, ECU's basketball team also had its most successful season this past year. The Blue Raiders will also meet the likes of Southern Miss, who also made the NCAA tournament this year, and the UAB Blazers, who handed them one of their seven losses in 2011.

Famous Blue Raiders

Middle Tennessee has yielded some notable politicians—one being Al Gore. However, the Blue Raiders' athletics have an impressive professional repertoire.

Erik Walden was a sixth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He traveled from team to team before being picked up by the Green Bay Packers. He made an impact with three sacks and 16 tackles in a January 2011 game against the Chicago Bears. He went on to win a Super Bowl ring with the team a month later. He now plays for the Indianapolis Colts.

Kelly Holcomb is another Blue Raider that went on to find success in the NFL. The veteran quarterback played for six teams throughout his 15-year career. Most of his success came during his three years with the Cleveland Browns, despite being regularly outshined by 1999 first-overall pick Tim Couch.

In a 2003 Wild Card game against rival Pittsburgh Steelers, Holcomb threw for an astounding 429 yards—becoming just the third player in NFL history to throw for over 400 yards in a single game.

Background

Middle Tennessee is a public university located in Murfreesboro, TN. It is attended by over 21,000 undergraduates.

The nickname "Blue Raiders" was coined by football player Charles Sarver in 1934. Before that, the teams went by the "Teachers," "Normalities" and "Pedagogues."


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