Overview: Rick Stockstill enters his eighth season as the Blue Raiders’ head coach after winning eight games in 2012 to bounce back from a dreadful 10-loss 2011 campaign. Middle Tennessee State’s most memorable performance last season was its 49-28 victory at Georgia Tech, gaining 510 offensive yards and scoring seven touchdowns on the Yellow Jackets. Despite the six-game improvement in wins, the team ended the season on a low note with a 45-0 loss to Gus Malzahn’s Arkansas State squad, losing out on a Sun Belt Conference Championship.
In 2012, the Blue Raiders ranked 66th nationally in total offense with 392 yards per game. They leaned heavily on the rushing attack (176 ypg) led by senior running back Benny Cunningham, who scored 11 touchdowns. Jordan Parker led the team with 873 yards as a freshman and he’ll be expected to produce once again in 2013. Quarterback Logan Kilgore led the 77th-ranked passing offense last season (216 ypg) and returns as a third-year senior starter to give Stockstill a veteran slinger to rely on. Eight offensive starters return creating a stir of promise with the talent and experience needed to put points on the board.
The major question revolves around the defensive development of the 2013 unit. The passing defense ranked 90th nationally last season, allowing 252 yards per game. The rushing defense wasn’t much better, ranking 84th nationally and allowing 188 yards per game. Co-defensive coordinators Steve Ellis and Tyrone Nix return and hope to provide some stability on their side of the ball. The Blue Raiders are joining Conference USA in 2013 and hope to build on last season’s momentum to become bowl eligible status yet again.
Historic Breakdown: This is the first-ever meeting between North Carolina and Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders have a solid football history, producing NFL talent such as linebacker Chris McCoy and linebacker Erik Walden. UNC head coach Larry Fedora’s first offensive coordinator job came at Middle Tennessee from 1999-2001. The Blue Raiders averaged 424 yards of total offense and set 43 school record under Fedora’s direction. MTSU joined the FBS in 1999 and went to its first bowl game as an FBS team in 2006. The program’s lone bowl victory came in 2009 against Fedora’s Southern Mississippi team in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
Offseason Issues: Defensive tackles James D. Jones and Marcus Robinson along with cornerback Rodney O'Neal were suspended on July 20th after confessing to breaking the law. Jones was charged with two counts of domestic aggravated assault, while Robinson and O’Neal were charged with aiding and abetting.
"This is not the reflection of our football program we want at Middle Tennessee and we will react accordingly after gathering all pertinent information,” Stockstill said in a release. “The three players are suspended immediately from the football team. We always try to represent our University to the highest standards and matters like this are taken very seriously.”
"There are really dual feelings right now about the pending move. One is just the sense of excitement and the notion of progress being made in making the move to Conference USA. The other is a sense of anticipation of getting it started and let's go see what we have. There is still that total sense of excitement, but now the competitiveness is starting to creep into the equation a lot more and a feeling of let's go see how we are going to do." – MTSU athletic director Chris Massaro on the program’s move to Conference USA
UNC’s Bryn Renner vs. MTSU’s Pass Defense:
The Blue Raiders struggled mightily in the secondary in 2012. The defense ranked 90th nationally in pass defense, allowing 252 yards per game, and stood 103rd nationally in pass efficiency defense, which should bode well for Renner. The Tar Heels ranked 8th nationally in scoring offense (40.8 ppg) in 2012 and 26th in passing offense (291 ypg).