Last week began the unofficial kickoff to the college football season as the SEC had its annual media days in Hoover, Ala.
This week, most of the other conferences, including Conference USA, will have their event at various locations around the nation. Once again, the Blue Raiders are picked near the top of the East Division, but most pundits believe it will have to go through Marshall to contend for a league title.
I know the players and coaches do not care about them, but the fans and media look forward to the release of the preseason polls during this time of year. For MTSU, it enters its second year in C-USA looking to prove it can be a front runner in a short amount of time. Last week, the conference released its 2014 C-USA Preseason Poll, and the Blue Raiders were picked to finish second in the East Division behind Marshall. North Texas was picked to win the West Division.
However, C-USA went through several changes to its membership during the offseason. Gone is Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina to the American Athletic Conference, but the league adds Old Dominion and Western Kentucky to the fold to make it 13 football playing members. Next year, Charlotte will join C-USA as it begins its football program.
As for the Blue Raiders, they are coming off an 8-5 record, which ended with a loss to Navy to the Armed Forces Bowl. This season, MTSU will return 13 starters, five on offense and eight on defense. But the biggest question heading into fall camp is who will replace four-year starter Logan Kilgore under center?
During the spring, it was a battle between Austin Grammer, Brent Stockstill and A. J. Erdely for the quarterback job. However, it will not be until the season opener against Savannah State on Aug. 30 when Blue Raider head coach Rick Stockstill names his starter for the first game.
On defense, MTSU will have to replace cornerbacks Kenneth Gilstrap and Sammy Seamster and defensive tackle Jimmy Staten, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Seattle Seahawks. However, it returns two of the best tacklers in the conference in linebacker T.T. Barber and defensive back Kevin Byard. Both players combined for 225 tackles last season, and each was rewarded for their efforts with a spot on the first team All-C-USA squad.
Even though the Blue Raiders defeated the Marshall last October on a last-second touchdown pass, 51-49, the Thundering Herd are the overwhelming favorite to win the league this season.
Marshall returns the offensive player of the year in 2013 in quarterback Rakeem Cato, who was just named preseason offensive player of the year this season. It also has the preseason defensive player of the year in defensive lineman James Rouse.
The Herd also has a favorable non-conference schedule with games against Miami (Ohio), Rhode Island, Ohio and Akron, while the Blue Raiders will face Savannah State, Minnesota, Memphis and BYU out of conference. If everything falls in place the two teams will meet in West Virginia on Oct. 11.
Let the preseason begin.