After enjoying their best season in Division 1-A last year going 7-6, the Blue Raiders went 6-1 in conference play and claimed both the Sun Belt title and a berth in the Music City Bowl.
This fall, the Blue Raiders will have to replace nearly half of the offense and defense if they hope to see the same success on the field they did a year ago, including the team's leading passer, rusher and top two tacklers.
On the upside for MTSU, this
season's schedule could lend to more gridiron success. Other than match-ups with
powers LSU and
As a team last year,
First and foremost on the offensive agenda this season is finding a new starter at quarterback to replace three-year regular Clint Marks. Topping the list of potential replacements at signal caller is junior Joe Craddock, who accumulated 75 passing yards in nine appearances last season.
A year ago, Williams led the receiving corps with 36 catches for 378 yards and one touchdown, while Henry recorded 16 receptions for 247 yards and a touchdown of his own, and Grigsby pitched in with 319 yards on 24 catches.
Senior tight end Clinton Corder also returns as a regular in the passing game. As a junior, Corder had eight catches for 78 yards.
On the ground, senior tailback DeMarco McNair will be looking to fill in for departed Eugene Gross, the team's leading rusher in 2006 with 882 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Though not the team's leading ground gainer during his junior year, McNair had plenty on experience handling the football in 2006, tallying 139 carries for 586 yards and seven scores.
Defensively, the Blue Raiders gave
up 23.2 points and 324.5 yards per game last year, though those numbers were
inflated by a pair of tough losses to
This year's squad will need to fill gaps at five positions from a year ago, including finding someone to take the place of linebacker J.K. Sabb, the team's leading tackler in 2006.
The most experienced of the potential new starters at linebacker is junior Lonnie Clemons, who accumulated 22 sacks and one interception last season. Also looking to fill the void at linebacker are seniors Chase Dunleavy and Derek Shropshire.
Last season, the duo combined for
three tackles, with
While the Blue Raiders will be short on experience at linebacker, they will be loaded with it on the defensive line, welcoming back all four linemen from last year's squad.
Leading the list of returning linemen is senior defensive end Erik Walden, who led the team with 11.5 sacks a year ago to earn all-conference honors and set the school's all-time sack record at 20.5.
Opposite Walden at the other end is senior Tavares Jones, who managed 38 tackles and 5.5 sacks as a junior.
In the secondary, half of the Blue Raider staff returns this fall, as MTSU welcomes back senior cornerback Bradley Robinson and senior free safety Damon Nickson. Nickson is the leading defensive returnee in tackles with 61 last season, when he also led the team with five interceptions.
Robinson had 37 tackles and two interceptions during his junior campaign.
Suber had 17 tackles in 11 appearances last season, while Stewart and Glover did not receive significant playing time.
On special teams, the Blue Raiders must find a replacement kicker this fall, with junior Matt King being the top candidate for the job, though he has yet to attempt a kick in college other than kickoffs.
The punter job will also be up for grabs in 2007, as unproven sophomore David DeFatta looks to get the nod to open the season.
Handling kickoff return responsibilities will be Damon Nickson, who managed a stellar 28.8 yard average for two touchdowns last season.
- Matt Dearman
All-Time Series: LSU leads 1-0
First/Last Meeting: 2001,
LSU 30, Middle
Location: Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Stadium: Floyd Stadium (30,788)
Conference: Sun Belt
Head Coach: Rick Stockstill, 7-6 at MTSU and Overall, 1 year
2006 IN REVIEW
2006 Record: 7-6, 6-1 Sun Belt (T-1st)
Final '05 Ranking: n/a
Returning Starters: 12; 6 offense, 6 defense
Last Bowl Appearance: 2006
Last Conference Championship: 2006
2006 STAT BREAKDOWN (Sun Belt/NCAA)
Total Offense: 285.54 ypg (6/104)
Rushing Offense: 131.15 ypg (4/59)
Passing Offense: 154.38 ypg (6/104)
Scoring Offense: 22.77 ppg (1/69)
Total Defense: 324.54 ypg (3/47)
Rushing Defense: 120.23 ypg (1/43)
Pass Defense: 204.31 ypg (7/63)
Scoring Defense: 23.23 ppg (23/63)
Rushing: DeMarco McNair – 139-586, 7 TD, 4.2 ypc, 45.0 ypg
Passing: Joe Craddock – 24-9, 75, 0 TD, 1 Int., 7.5 ypg
Receiving: Bobby Williams – 36-378, 1 TD, 29.0 ypg
Tackles: Damon Nickson – 60
Interceptions: Damon Nickson – 5
Sacks: Erik Walden – 11.5
Tackles for loss: Erik Walden – 14.5
Date Opponent '06 Result
S-15 at LSU ---
N-3 at Louisiana-Monroe W, 35-21
N-10 LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE W, 34-20
Offense at a glance:
One of the most efficient and disciplined offenses in the Sun Belt Conference last year, the Blue Raiders return six starters and 14 lettermen from that unit in 2007.
The biggest question marks for MTSU will be finding a replacement for quarterback Clint Marks, two new starters on the offensive line, and all-conference running back Eugene Gross who ended his career as one of the top scorers in school history.
Senior DeMarco McNair has been patiently waiting for his opportunity and 2007 will be his time to shine. Known for his tough running, McNair rushed for a career best 586 yards last year to go with seven touchdowns and 16 receptions.
The top five leading receivers from last year all return, including the trio of Bobby Williams, Taron Henry, and Jonathan Grigsby. Williams led the Blue Raiders with 36 receptions as a sophomore but suffered with inconsistency all season.
The Blue Raiders return three starters off last year's unit that helped produce the Sun Belt's highest- scoring offense and must find replacements for all-conference performer Germayle Franklin and the steady Marcus Gates and Paul Cantrell. Leading the way up front will be returning starters Franklin Dunbar, Brandon Nix, and Mark Thompson.
Defense at a glance:
The defensive line returns in tact. Last year's unit accounted for 22 sacks, 54 tackles for loss, and eight forced fumbles while leading the SBC in rushing defense.
Headlining the group is all-conference ends Erik Walden and Tavares Jones.
Walden is coming off a career year in which he totaled a school-record 11.5 sacks to rank 10th nationally, and 14.5 tackles for loss. Jones turned in a career season as well with 38 stops, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks.
All three starting linebackers from 2006 are back, including all-conference picks J.K. Sabb and Justin Rainey, will not return. Sabb and Rainey were the team's top two tacklers from a year ago.
Bradley Robinson, a three-year starter at corner with nine career interceptions, rates as one of the best at his position in the SBC. Senior Damon Nickson is back to man the free safety spot after registering the best season of his career in 2006.
- Matt Deville