Team: Middle Tennessee
Play Western: Oct. 24, at Western
‘08 Record: 5-7
Coach: Rick Stockstill
Returning starters: 10 offense, seven defense
The Buzz: The Sun Belt Conference’s two most historically successful college football programs meet to continue a budding rivalry midway into the 2009 season, and to up until their Week Eight match-up, both will be battling to make this game mean something at all when the date finally arrives.
Middle Tennessee State has limped through two straight 5-7 seasons, but most experts speculate that this is the year the Blue Raiders return to the upper echelon of the Sun Belt thanks to 17 returning starters, 10 of them on offense.
Outlook: After a hiatus from coaching at the college level, offensive coordinator Tony Franklin ventured from Troy to Auburn and landed at MTSU for the 2009 season. At his disposal is an offense that has to replace only its signal caller, but after narrowly losing out on last season’s quarterback battle with Joe Craddock, junior Dwight Dasher doesn’t represent a downgrade in talent.
Close on Dasher’s heels is redshirt freshman quarterback Brent Burnette. Should Dasher not return to the same form that won him four games his freshman season, Franklin won’t hesitate to substitute a rookie for the veteran. Phillip Tanner is MTSU’s best threat on the ground and the Blue Raiders go five deep with veteran leadership at the wide receiver position.
And while the offense is full of returning stars, the defense is made up of few standouts. MTSU takes a hit a linebacker and will have to fill two spots with inexperienced replacements, but with safety Jeremy Kellem leading the defensive backfield, the rest of the Blue Raider defense should remain at last season’s level or better.
How Western can win: The Topper defense will need to step up and make MTSU’s attack one-dimensional. Tanner is a sure thing running the ball, but Dasher’s arm is often questioned, especially after a 17-of-44 effort last season that included three interceptions in limited playing time.
Should the senior quarterback struggle early on, Western should have little trouble containing a predictable running game.