A quick look at Middle Tennessee

Murfreesboro, Tenn. Daily Journal beat writer Adam Sparks breaks down the Blue Raiders.

This is the last installment of our previews of OU's non-conference opponents through the eyes of the beat writers who cover those teams.

Here's a look at the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders from beat writer Adam Sparks from the Daily Journal in Murfreesboro:

Strengths A new coaching staff has bred new confidence in a team that still touts a strong veteran core. Senior quarterback Clint Marks has the nation's second best career completion percentage (68.18 per cent) among active quarterbacks. Senior Eugene Gross is a fourth-year starter and the school's all-time leading receiver among running backs with 82 career catches.

Senior linebacker J.K. Sabb was the team's leading tackler in his debut season, and junior cornerback Bradley Robinson is among the conference's best. Senior Colby Smith was ranked among the nation's top kickers two years ago and among college football's best punters in 2005. He should hold both roles this season.

Weaknesses

There is some experience scattered among most positions on both sides of the football, but no overwhelming majority anywhere. The new offensive coaching staff brings a wide-open passing mentality, but no wide receiver on the squad has more than 22 career receptions.

The defensive staff wants speed and depth to be the basis of its scheme, but the Blue Raiders have little of either, especially up front. The defense must replace four defensive linemen from 2005 who made up arguably the best front four in school history.

Concerns
Middle Tennessee has the cornerstones to compete in the Sun Belt Conference, but depth will be a major concern from week one and increasingly throughout the season.

By scholarship count, Middle Tennessee may have perhaps the thinnest depth chart in Division I-A football. Players on scholarship could number fewer than 70, and there may be only nine offensive linemen on scholarship for gameday use. Aside from tight end (Stephen Chicola, Clint Corder), virtually no position on either side of the ball has a proven backup entering the 2006 season. Almost any injury will put a tremendously inexperienced player in a starting role.


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