MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill
The MTSU football program starts a new journey this season with the move to Conference USA.
It will include the Blue Raiders playing a mix of new and old conference foes in 2013.
“They picked us third in the Eastern Division. Somebody in there thought we would win it. I think there is great respect from within the coaches towards us,” MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill said.
He added the nation has much respect for C-USA too.
“I know C-USA is nationally perceived in a positive light. If it was not you would not have six guaranteed bowl slots or the TV packages with Fox and CBS,” he said.
That respect has translated into recruiting, as well as other areas.
“I think you are seeing a biggest impact now when you throw C-USA behind your name,” Stockstill said,
And now that C-USA is behind MTSU, the Blue Raiders are ready is take on new opponents this season.
This is a look at those teams MTSU will face hoping to win the Eastern Division and compete for a C-USA title.
The Blue Raiders caught a break by not facing the Western Division preseason pick and defending C-USA champion, Tulsa during the regular season. However, the two teams could meet in the C-USA title game Dec. 7.
Florida Atlantic (Sept. 21)
The Blue Raiders open up C-USA play with a familiar foe from its Sun Belt days. FAU comes into the season trying to improve under second-year head coach, Carl Pelini after a disappointing 3-9 season in 2012. Defense will be the focus during preseason practice for the Owls. Last season, FAU was only able to pick up 12 sacks.
“Last year was a great learning curve for everyone, but this spring you really saw the improvement on defense,” Pelini said during C-USA media day in July.
East Carolina (Oct. 5)
MTSU’s first ever C-USA home game will be a couple of weeks later against a Pirates team, who was picked to win the East division in the league’s preseason poll. Head coach Ruffin McNeal has a veteran team coming back this season with 16 starters returning from the New Orleans Bowl appearance last season.
“The sky is the limit for us, and we just got to keep improving each game,” East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden said.
Last season, the Pirates high-powered offense scored at least 34 points in five out of its last seven games. This will be the first ever meeting between the schools.
North Texas (Oct. 12)
A week later the Blue Raiders travel to another SBC holdover, North Texas. The Mean Green keeps making improvements under third-year head coach Dan McCarney. He hopes to turn around the North Texas program, which has had eight consecutive losing seasons, the same way he turned around Iowa State a few years ago.
Last season, MTSU defeated the Mean Green, 38-21.
Marshall (Oct. 24)
The Thundering Herd comes to Floyd Stadium for a special Thursday night match up Oct. 24. Last season, Marshall finished its last six games trading wins and losses and missed a bowl game at 5-7.
This season, the Thundering Herd will be lead by the defending C-USA Player of the Year, junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who threw for a Football Bowl Subdivision high 350.1 yards per game in 2012.
This will be the third ever meeting between the schools with the last one coming in 1994 during the Division I-AA playoffs.
University of Alabama, Birmingham (Nov. 2)
Last season, the Blazers had more than 5,000 yards in total offense.
However, the defense only picked off six passes, and UAB finished 3-9 on the season.
Head coach Garrick McGhee has focused this preseason to limit turnovers on offense and force more on defense.
“Everything, we did before practice, during practice, and after practice turnovers were the main focus,” Blazers linebacker Patrick Bastien said.
This will be the fourth meeting between the schools with the last one in 2000.
Florida International University (Nov. 9)
Another familiar face from the SBC returns to Floyd Stadium under new head coach Ron Turner. He brings a pro style offense to the Panthers from his previous coaching stop in the NFL. Last season, FIU ran the spread and finished with a 3-9 record. However, only three starters return on offense, and a few weeks ago, the team kicked off its leading rusher from last season, because of an off the field issue.
“We had to come together quickly, and the young guys have bought into it,” Panthers quarterback Jake Medlock said.
Last season, the Blue Raiders preserved a 34-30 win by stopping the Panthers at the one-yard line as time expired.
Southern Mississippi (Nov. 23)
After a week off, the Blue Raiders travel to Hattiesburg for the first meeting between the schools since the 2009 New Orleans Bowl, which MTSU won 42-32.
Since then, the Golden Eagles have had their share of ups and downs. In 2011, Southern Miss won C-USA with a 12-2 record, but last season it finished winless at 0-12. Now, the program has its third head coach in four seasons with Todd Monken taking over.
“We told the players they had to take ownership of the lack of success,” Monken said. “It’s going to take all of us to move forward and not look back.”
University of Texas, El Paso (Nov. 30)
The Blue Raiders end the regular season at home Nov. 30 against the Miners. Like many of the programs in the league, UTEP welcomes an old face, Sean Kugler, back to coach the team. Kugler played at the school from 1985-1988. He has changed the offense this season going to a two-back set instead of the spread, which was ran by the previous regime.
“Anytime, you change a system, there is going to be growing pains,” Kugler said. This will be the first ever meeting between the schools.