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#93 Arkansas State Red Wolves





HEAD COACH: Blake Anderson, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Walt Bell, Glen Elarbee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Joe Cauthen

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 93 Arkansas State.

Previewing Arkansas State’s Offense for 2014

Recruited to run Gus Malzahn’s fast-paced system two years ago, junior quarterback Fredi Knighten appears poised to take the reins as ASU installs Blake Anderson’s version of the hurry-up offense. Knighten spent most of 2013 on the sideline but took over near the end of the season when senior Adam Kennedy was injured. Knighten earned GoDaddy Bowl MVP honors after engineering a last-minute touchdown drive to beat Ball State. While not a classic pocket passer at 5'11", Knighten is capable of spreading the ball around and is always a big-play threat with his speed.

Michael Gordon emerged as one of the Sun Belt’s best running backs as a sophomore, rushing for 754 yards and 10 touchdowns, but backfield depth is a concern, and freshmen could be in the mix. Anderson’s first recruiting class included three running backs.

ASU features one of the league’s most versatile players in J.D. McKissic, who was on the All-Sun Belt team as a wide receiver, all-purpose player and kick return specialist last fall. McKissic has caught 185 passes in his first two seasons. Graduation hit the receiving corps hard, however, and redshirt freshmen Dijon Paschal, Brandon Cox and Carl Lee Jr. got plenty of work in the spring.

The Red Wolves have all-conference talent at tight end in 6'5", 264-pound Darion Griswold, who figures to thrive in Anderson’s system. All-Sun Belt center Bryce Giddens retired from football in July, but Colton Jackson returns at right tackle and Alan Wright has experience at right guard. The Red Wolves have to replace the left side of the line.

Previewing Arkansas State’s Defense for 2014

The Red Wolves will still line up in a 4-2-5 system under new coordinator Joe Cauthen. Their personnel won’t change in many places, either, with eight starters returning from last year’s unit that ranked third among Sun Belt teams in scoring defense (26.2 ppg).

The greatest concern is the interior line, where the Red Wolves can no longer rely on Ryan Carrethers to stop the run. Dexter Blackmon, who sat out the spring with a back injury, and Darrius Rosser were key members of last year’s rotation. Recruits are likely to fill in behind them. At end, the Red Wolves can count on junior Chris Stone, who led the team with 9.5 tackles for a loss last year.

All-Sun Belt linebacker Qushaun Lee, a two-time GoDaddy Bowl Defensive MVP, is a punishing hitter who led ASU with 134 tackles in 2013. Senior Kyle Coleman and sophomore Xavier Woodson lead what should be a solid supporting cast at linebacker.

The Red Wolves were burned for big pass plays early last season but improved as the year progressed. Second-team All-Sun Belt free safety Sterling Young has started 33 games. Chris Humes and Money Hunter split time at strong safety last year, while second-team All-SBC selection Rocky Hayes, Artez Brown and Andrew Tryon return at cornerback.

Previewing Arkansas State’s Specialists for 2014

ASU improved dramatically in the kicking game last year, but the Red Wolves have to replace All-Sun Belt placekicker Brian Davis. Luke Ferguson, one of two punters used last season, could handle all kicking duties. McKissic averaged 30 yards on kickoff returns in 2013, tops in the Sun Belt and fourth in FBS.

Final Analysis

Coaching changes followed conference championships in each of the last three seasons at ASU. With a $3 million buyout in the first two years of his contract, Anderson figures to have a longer stay than immediate predecessors Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin. The former North Carolina offensive coordinator inherits more than expectations, too. The Red Wolves figure to experience some of the typical transition issues, and there are key players to replace on both sides of the ball, but they have enough talent to contend for another Sun Belt title and bowl bid.


#91 FAU Owls





HEAD COACH: Charlie Partridge, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Wright | DEF. COORDINATOR: Roc Bellantoni

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 91 FAU

Previewing FAU’s Offense for 2014

Offensive coordinator Brian Wright took over as FAU’s head coach with four games remaining last season and led the team to four wins and bowl eligibility for the first time since 2008. Wright was passed over for the permanent head coaching job but remained at FAU and will be the Owls’ offensive coordinator for a third year. The continuity should be evident in 2014.

FAU returns two quarterbacks who saw action last year and will battle for the starting job deep into — or perhaps through — preseason camp. Junior incumbent Jaquez Johnson is the reigning Conference USA Newcomer of the Year after accounting for 22 touchdowns (12 passing, 10 rushing). Sophomore Greg Hankerson, who played in eight games last year, starting one, had a stellar spring camp to re-ignite the battle.

Both quarterbacks will have the luxury of throwing to senior wideout William Dukes, who — despite double- and triple-teams — caught six touchdowns and averaged 15.8 yards per catch last season.

Sophomore Jay Warren, who became the starter at the end of the 2013, will be the Owls’ feature back in 2014. He rushed for 340 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season.

FAU enters the season needing to replace its starting left tackle and center. Instead of flipping to the left side, right tackle Braden Lyons will be at center in 2014. Vinny Davino and true freshman Reggie Bain (who had a stellar spring) will compete for the starting left tackle spot.

Previewing FAU’s Defense for 2014

FAU returns four of its five best defensive players in cornerback D’Joun Smith, strong safety Damian Parms, defensive tackle Brandin Bryant and middle linebacker Andrae Kirk. Despite a new defensive coordinator in Roc Bellantoni, no radical changes are expected to be made to a unit that finished 11th nationally in total defense (325.9 ypg).

Bryant had 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2013 but tore his ACL in the final game of the year. His return, along with that of defensive tackle Trevon Coley, who has started every game of his two-year career, should help FAU control the run game in 2014.
With Smith leading the way (seven INTs, 13 breakups in 2013), FAU should have Conference USA’s best secondary. Injury forced Christian Milstead to play corner last season, but he’ll be moving to free safety for his senior season. Add in the do-it-all Parms as the linchpin, and it’s going to be difficult to pass on FAU in 2014.

Linebacker could be a concern. Kirk returns a team-leading 84 tackles, but he’ll be flanked by inexperience. Junior Freedom Whitfield and sophomore Robert Relf are the favorites to start at outside linebacker, though FAU has experimented with Parms as a ‘star’ linebacker/safety in a nickel set.  

Previewing FAU’s Specialists for 2014

FAU signed one of the nation’s top kicking prospects, Landon Scheer, in Partridge’s first recruiting class. He’ll be the Owls’ top kicker from the first day he steps on campus in the summer. Sean Kelly was one of the top punters in Conference USA last season, but he transferred from the team in June. It's uncertain who will replace Kelly. The Owls will likely go with a returner-by-committee system with Cre’von LeBlanc, Smith, Lucky Whitehead and DJ Juste splitting time on both punt and kick returns.

Final Analysis

If the offensive line can find cohesion, FAU has the weapons to put up a lot of points in 2014. The defense lacks depth but boasts an outstanding secondary and a defensive tackle rotation that should limit big gains by opponents via the ground game. FAU should make a bowl for the first time in six years and could gain some national notoriety with an upset in Week 1 at Nebraska. But the season will be defined in back-to-back weeks in October, when FAU hosts Western Kentucky and then travels to C-USA favorite Marshall.


#87 Rice Owls





HEAD COACH: David Bailiff, 40-48 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Billy Lynch, Larry Edmondson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Thurmond

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 87 Rice.

Previewing Rice’s Offense for 2014:

The Owls may have lost last year’s top rusher, Charles Ross, and quarterback Taylor McHargue, but they still have plenty of firepower available this season. New offensive coordinator Larry Edmondson is quite comfortable at Rice, since he has spent the last three seasons directing the passing game and coaching the quarterbacks.

That’s good news for quarterback Driphus Jackson, who missed most of last year with injuries. The junior can pressure defenses by running and throwing, and if he becomes a more consistent passer, Rice will be in good shape. “He had a good spring,” coach David Bailiff says of Jackson. “It was important for his growth that we kept the continuity in the offense. Driphus was consistently able to work on getting better. He’s a tremendous leader of our football team and is courageous.”

Expect several backs to get carries, including Jowan Davis (476 yards), Darik Dillard (396) and Luke Turner. They’ll work behind a line that has three returning starters, although left tackle remains a question mark. Jordan Taylor caught 55 passes and scored eight times last year, making him a top target, and Dennis Parks averaged 17.5 yards on his 29 catches.

Previewing Rice’s Defense for 2014:

The Owls didn’t shackle opponents last year, but they were pretty solid most of the time and held six opponents under 20 points. There is reason to believe that the unit will be even better this year.

Bailiff calls the linebacking corps “the depth of the defense,” but Rice’s defensive front will be pretty good, too. Junior tackle Christian Covington was a first-team all-conference choice last year. Nose guard Stuart Mouchantaf tore his knee last October and was expected to be ready for the opening of preseason camp. However, Mouchantaf was ruled out for the 2014 season in early June. The end positions feature new starters.

Senior weak-side linebacker James Radcliffe has good speed and can find the football, while sophomore Alex Lyons showed he was a sure tackler in space on the strong side in 2013. Expect junior Nick Elder and a pair of redshirt freshmen, Nick Uretsky and DJ Green, to see time at linebacker, also.

Although the Owls return three starters to their five-man secondary, Bailiff acknowledges that the departure of cornerback Phillip Gaines is “a big loss.” But there is a lot of reason for optimism in a secondary that allowed rival passers to complete only 51.7 percent of their throws last year. Senior safety Julius White was third on the team in tackles and picked off two passes, while seniors Bryce Callahan and Malcolm Hill, a converted safety, provide a strong pairing on the corners.

Previewing Rice’s Specialists for 2014: 

Junior James Farrimond had a solid season in 2013, averaging 42.1 yards per punt, but he could be better. Hill and Callahan are serviceable return men, but the Owls need to find a new kicker.

Final Analysis 

The Owls won 10 games last year and took the C-USA title by whipping Marshall in the championship game. Two years ago, Rice fans wondered whether Bailiff was the man to run the program. Now, they are convinced of his ability to lead. The Owls are in a position where they can redshirt just about all their freshmen. That’s huge.

But Rice will be tested this year. The schedule features seven road games with four of the first five away from home. If Jackson can return to the form he flashed at the end of the 2012 season, Rice will be dangerous on offense, thanks to a strong supporting cast around him. The defense is deep and experienced. Another C-USA title may be asking too much, but the Owls should be bowling, for sure.


#88 UConn Huskies



American Athletic PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Bob Diaco, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Cummings | DEF. COORDINATOR: Vincent Brown, Anthony Poindexter

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 88 UConn.

Previewing UConn’s Offense for 2014:

Three quarterbacks split the starting duties at UConn in 2013, each making four starts. Spring camp ended with the same three in the running for the starting job again. Casey Cochran, Chandler Whitmer and Tim Boyle will enter preseason practice battling it out for the No. 1 spot, but first-year coach Bob Diaco wants the situation settled no later than two weeks before the Aug. 29 opener against BYU. Cochran directed the Huskies to victories in the last three games of 2013, including a record-breaking 461-yard, four-touchdown performance against Memphis.

The starting quarterback will be blessed with a talented group of wide receivers who should form the strength of this offense. The most prolific of the bunch is senior Geremy Davis, who last season became the first 1,000-yard receiver at UConn in the FBS era. Davis will be joined by Deshon Foxx, who could be an impact player in his final season. Diaco hopes to have his tight ends heavily involved in the offense. Sean McQuillan and Tommy Myers headline another deep position.

Tailback Lyle McCombs, who ranked fourth all-time at UConn with 2,681 rushing yards, won't return to the team in 2014. UConn ranked No. 119 in the nation in rushing offense last season and needs production from backup Max DeLorenzo and incoming freshman Arkeel Newsome, as well as fullbacks Jazzmar Clax and Matt Walsh, to help replace McCombs.

The Huskies essentially are starting from scratch on the line, where senior center Alex Mateas is the only returning starter. One of the most pleasant surprises of the spring was sophomore Andreas Knappe, who made the switch from defense and could earn the starting nod at right tackle.

Previewing UConn’s Defense for 2014: 

Any success the Huskies had after upgrading their program and joining the Big East was built on defense. That reputation took a bit of a hit in 2013 when UConn slipped to No. 51 in the nation in total defense after a No. 9 ranking in 2012. The Huskies still shut down the rush but ranked 70th in turnover margin and 107th in team sacks.

Diaco, who built his reputation as a defensive coordinator at Cincinnati and Notre Dame, will have a nucleus of five returning starters and four talented defensive backs. The problem is depth behind the starters — corners Byron Jones and Jhavon Williams and safeties Obi Melifonwu and Andrew Adams. True freshman Jamar Summers could develop into a contributor.

Starters Angelo Pruitt and Julian Campenni return to anchor the defensive line. Senior tackle B.J. McBryde had a good spring, highlighted by an impressive spring game. Yawin Smallwood, UConn’s leading tackler, departed for the NFL, leaving questions at the linebacker spot. Jefferson Ashiru and Marquise Vann bring the most experience, but Graham Stewart could emerge as an impact player.

Previewing UConn’s Specialists for 2014:

Redshirt sophomore Bobby Puyol has waited patiently in the wings and finally gets his chance to handle the kicking duties, replacing consistent and reliable Chad Christen. There’s a new punter as well. Justin Wain will take over for Cole Wagner. Diaco may go against tradition at the holder spot, opting for a skilled ball-handler to bring the threat of fakes into play.

Final Analysis 

Diaco is working tirelessly to change the culture of UConn football, which has won a total of 13 games in the last three seasons — down from 24 in the previous three. He inherits a team that likely will reside in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference. Diaco hopes to build off the brand created by the men’s and women’s national championship basketball teams, but this is not a one-year job. That’s why Diaco was given a five-year contract worth $8 million.


#85 Wake Forest Demon Deacons





HEAD COACH: Dave Clawson, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Warren Ruggiero | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Elko

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 85 Wake Forest.

Previewing Wake Forest’s Offense for 2014:

With four-year starter Tanner Price gone, sophomore Tyler Cameron was the only quarterback on the roster until Kevin Sousa was moved from receiver. Sousa, who originally signed with Michigan as a quarterback, may have an edge, because his athleticism lets him make plays when things break down. Both quarterbacks could be passed in the fall by true freshmen Travis Smith (Mr. Football in Michigan) and John Wolford (Parade All-American).

The running back situation is scary with Dominique Gibson, who moved from the secondary last year, as the only returning back. Clawson moved Orville Reynolds from receiver and James Ward from safety to fill out the backfield. Reynolds is the shiftiest of the group — “He makes plays,” says Clawson — but at 5'9", 185 pounds, he might not be able to take a pounding.

While receiver Michael Campanaro was setting records out of the slot the last two seasons, the Deacons were desperately searching for someone to complement him. True freshman Tyree Harris finally emerged, and big targets Jared Crump (6'3") and Jonathan Williams (6'4") showed flashes as redshirt freshmen. The group will have to find some consistency. The Deacons should be good again in the slot, getting help from E.J. Scott, a graduate transfer from Virginia.

Most of the blame for Wake Forest’s recent offensive woes falls on the line. The Deacons averaged less than 100 yards per game rushing, and the passing game was limited to short routes because of poor protection.

Previewing Wake Forest’s Defense for 2014:

Wake Forest loses five starters along the line and at linebacker, but the new group should make the Deacons more explosive and deeper than they’ve been in years.

The young defensive linemen were the story of the spring. Sophomores Josh Banks and Shelldon Lewinson gave hope that All-ACC nose tackle Nikita Whitlock could be replaced, and Clawson’s move to a speed-rushing end provided an opening for former linebackers Zachary Allen and Wendell Dunn. Along with Duke Ejiofor, they wreaked havoc off the edge.

Brandon Chubb, the team’s second-leading tackler, anchors the linebackers, and he’ll have an inexperienced group around him. Marquel Lee was a spring standout, and Steve Donatell will try to retain his starting spot after recovering from knee surgery.

The secondary doesn’t lack for experience or confidence. “I definitely believe that we can be the best secondary in the country,” says Kevin Johnson, who has teamed with fellow senior cornerback Merrill Noel for 60 starts and 11 interceptions. Safety Ryan Janvion is the coach on the field, leading the team in tackles as a redshirt freshman.

Previewing Wake Forest's Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Chad Hedlund is accurate but doesn’t have a big leg (only 1-of-3 from longer than 44 yards). Junior Alex Kinal already owns the single-season ACC record for most punts, and he could challenge for top five all time by the end of this season. Wake Forest’s return teams will need a boost from the new staff after having been at the bottom of the ACC for six years.

Final Analysis 

Jim Grobe led Wake Forest to five bowl games, but after five straight losing seasons, Grobe knew that the program needed new energy. Enter Dave Clawson, fresh off a successful stint at Bowling Green.

Clawson won’t have an easy time turning the program around. The offense was the ACC’s worst, and gone are the top passer, rusher and receiver. The defense should be the stronger unit, and he may have to rely on creating turnovers to help the offense. His biggest task so far has been to wipe away the losing culture:

“It’s definitely a higher standard that they are setting for us, and we couldn’t be happier,” Janvion says.


#100 Temple Owls



American Athletic PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Matt Rhule, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Marcus Satterfield | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Snow

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 100 Temple.

Previewing Temple’s Offense for 2014

The Owls, who’ve been looking for a long-term solution at quarterback for what feels like forever, appear to have finally found their guy in P.J. Walker. He took over as a true freshman last October, and the offense gradually improved as the year progressed. Walker averaged 330 passing yards with a combined nine touchdowns and three interceptions in the last three games.

Now, Temple must put more playmakers around him, especially since Robbie Anderson — who led the team with nine touchdown catches — is no longer around. Sophomore Khalif Herbin, who redshirted last year after playing as a true freshman in 2012, could be one of the answers. But there’s no shortage of candidates. Senior Jalen Fitzpatrick (38 receptions) is the leading returning receiver statistically.

A consistent running game would obviously ease the burden on Walker and the passing attack. The Owls had their issues there, particularly in short-yardage situations. Senior Kenny Harper and sophomore Zaire Williams combined for 1,146 yards and 12 scores, but this is far from an area of strength.

Coming up with a cohesive unit up front will be a work in progress, and bodies figure to get moved around as part of that effort. Junior Kyle Friend is the anchor at center. Redshirt freshman Leon Johnson is being counted on at left tackle. Depth is a concern.

Previewing Temple’s Defense for 2014

The most glaring needs — and these have been familiar themes in recent years — are developing a pass rush and improving secondary play, primarily at safety. Those deficiencies cost the Owls in several big spots last year. So Sharif Finch, who was a linebacker, is now an end on a line that has seven freshmen and sophomores listed among the two-deep. The coaching staff is high on newcomer Michael Dogbe on the edge.

Linebacker Tyler Matakevich led the nation in solo tackles (106) in 2013 as a sophomore. Nate D. Smith, who patrols the middle, was second on the team with 81 total tackles.

Cornerback Anthony Robey had his moments, but as a group the defensive backs have to do better than three interceptions. Several mid-year junior college transfers — most notably Shahid Lovett and Alex Wells — are being counted on to provide immediate help for the much-maligned back line.

Previewing Temple’s Specialists for 2014

Amazingly, the Owls made only 3-of-9 field goals. And two were in the final game. They also missed five extra points. Nick Visco, who hit all three of the team’s field goals, left the program after his freshman season. That means the job is sophomore Jim Cooper’s to lose. The Owls also have to replace dependable punter Paul Layton, who spent one season on North Broad as a graduate transfer. The return game could use a boost; the Owls ranked eighth in the league in both punt and kick returns.

Final Analysis

The Owls made the switch from Steve Addazio’s run-first philosophy to Matt Rhule’s more wide-open approach, and the transition was far from smooth. Temple slumped to 2–10, the program’s worst record since 2006. But it wasn’t a complete disaster: Seven of the losses were by 10 points or fewer and four by three or fewer, including three on long, late passes. The Owls led by 21 in two losses. A few defensive plays at the right time could have led to another win or two.

Rhule was on the staff when Temple won 26 games while in the MAC from 2009-11. He’s confident that it can happen again, perhaps even soon. A lot depends on Walker’s continued progress. And the defense, which ranked last — by a wide margin — in the league, must improve considerably for Temple to take a step forward in the American Athletic Conference.


#90 MTSU Blue Raiders





HEAD COACH: Rick Stockstill, 51-49 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Buster Faulkner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Ellis, Tyrone Nix

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 90 MTSU.

Previewing MTSU’s Offense for 2014:

A change at quarterback should have far-reaching effects. Pocket passer Logan Kilgore graduated after setting the school record for career TD passes, and a trio of dual-threat quarterbacks will compete for his job. Sophomore Austin Grammer, redshirt freshman AJ Erdely and true freshman Brent Stockstill (son of head coach Rick Stockstill) have staged a tight race, and all three could get their chance in 2014. Regardless of the starter, the offense will go toward a zone-read look with a mobile quarterback and four strong running backs returning to stock the deepest backfield in Conference USA. Downhill runner Jordan Parker and big-play sprinter Reggie Whatley lead the group, which helped MTSU rush for nearly 200 yards per game last season.

“It helps us so much more when the quarterback is a threat to run,” Stockstill says. “Anytime you have a quarterback that can buy some time in the passing game and get some first downs in the run game, it opens up so much more for your running backs and receivers.”

The receiving corps has traded in the experience and sure hands of last season’s seniors for more speed and athleticism. Marcus Henry (38 receptions, 549 yards) is the total package, but newcomers carry high hopes. Junior college transfer Ed’Marques Batties and redshirt freshman Shannon Smith should both make an impact.

Both offensive tackles return, but there are concerns in the rebuilt interior of the line with three new starters at center and guard. For the ground game to equal last year’s pace, the middle must be solidified.

Previewing MTSU’s Defense for 2014: 

Linebacker T.T. Barber and safety Kevin Byard are among the best at their positions in C-USA. Barber is a playmaker who had three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles in 2013. Byard is already the NCAA’s active career leader in interception return yards after only two seasons, and he has returned four picks for TDs. But the supporting cast carries questions.

Seven starters return for a defense that tied for fifth nationally in takeaways last season, but there are unproven players in both the defensive line and secondary. Defensive co-coordinator Tyrone Nix transformed the Blue Raiders into a turnover-forcing machine last season, but repeating that performance without a proven pass-rusher or shutdown cornerback will be a challenge. Third-down defense must also improve from a ranking of 119th last season.

Previewing MTSU’s Specialists for 2014: 

Placekicker Cody Clark lacks a big leg, but he is consistent at reasonable distances. He made 12-of-16 field goals as a freshman last season. Freshman A.J. Wells was signed specifically to take over punting duties in his debut season. Whatley is among the nation’s most dangerous kick returners, if he can avoid injuries.

Final Analysis

Almost always a contender but rarely a champion, MTSU has been bowl-eligible five times in Stockstill’s eight seasons but has earned only a share of one conference title. Back-to-back eight-win seasons in two different conferences (Sun Belt, C-USA) provide a good springboard for another bowl bid this year.

With East Carolina out of the league, MTSU likely must beat out Marshall, Florida Atlantic and old Sun Belt rival Western Kentucky for the C-USA East title. Finding a dependable quarterback and duplicating last season’s terrific turnover margin will be key if the Blue Raiders want to make a run at a conference title rather than just hang around .500.

“Each year your team changes, but you know we’re close,” Stockstill says. “We were a game out of winning it in our last year in the Sun Belt. And we were basically a game out from winning it this past year in Conference USA. Marshall will obviously be the favorite, but we’re close.”