EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the 14th in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.
Checking them out
In this latest Conference USA makeover, Middle Tennessee was one of the two or three schools most excited to join (Louisiana Tech, possibly North Texas the others). With a 79-year-old stadium, the Blue Raiders are established as anybody.
The program enters its 15th season as a Division I-AA/FBS school, arriving with C-USA's new dean of coaches in Rick Stockstill. The Raiders have shown they're the No. 3 team in the state of Tennessee, spanking Memphis three times out of four in the Stockstill era.
From an experience standpoint, this squad is loaded. There's a veteran quarterback behind four returning starters on the offensive line, throwing to two returning wide receivers and a tight end. Throw in eight returning starters on defense and the Blue Raiders may be the best of the C-USA newbies.
Logan Kilgore has thrown for 5,348 yards and 37 TDs, and has weapons all around. Jordan Parker (851 yards, three TDs) set the school's freshman rushing record, and he is pushed by the speedy Reggie Whatley. Anthony Amos and his 992 receiving yards are gone, so Christian Collis and Houston Ellis will need to pick up the slack at the "X" position. But the reliable, strong Kyle Griswould is difficult to cover from the slot.
Former MU line coach Geep Wade inherits an accomplished offensive front that has allowed just 15 sacks over the last two years and helped the backs run for 2,120 yards last season.
The defense was good enough to hold Florida Atlantic and Memphis under 100 yards rushing, but wasn't good overall. Within Sun Belt play, the MTSU rush defense ranked eighth and the pass defense was ninth, but the Raiders led the league with 28 turnovers forced in those eight games.
The real failure came on Dec. 1 in the winner-take-all battle at Arkansas State: 274 yards rushing yielded, 512 total, zero takeaways in a 45-0 loss to the Red Wolves. That's a rough performance to live with for nine months.
Returnees on that side include eight of the top nine tacklers of a year ago. Leading the way are linebackers Craig Allen (82 tackles, one sack) and Roderic Blunt (75 tackles, 21/2 for loss) and safety Kevin Byard, who led with four interceptions. The team's sack total (14) could stand a boost.