People of Murfreesboro: Last year this writer implored you to set aside a couple hours on Saturday to see your Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders play.
How did you respond?
You filled Floyd Stadium to a meager 55.9 percent capacity, which ranked 109th in the nation among 128 teams.
So, what did you miss?
You missed an offense that broke school passing records in every major statistical category. You missed a freshman quarterback in Brent Stockstill, who shattered nearly every school single-season passing record on his way to being named Conference USA Freshman of the Year and Second-Team Freshman All-American by Athlon Sports. You missed seeing a freshman wide receiver named Richie James shatter nearly every single-season receiving record on his way to being named to the USA Today Freshman All-America team. You missed senior wide receiver Ed Batties setting a new record for single-season touchdown receptions. Last, but not least, you missed Kevin Byard breaking the school record for career interceptions, which was capped off by his being drafted by the Titans in the third round of the NFL Draft.
Do you see how much you missed? Don’t make the same mistake this year.
While Byard and Batties are gone, Stockstill and James return for their sophomore seasons, and head coach Rick Stockstill, for one, is not concerned about a sophomore slump.
“I ain’t worried about that one bit. They say the same thing about Sports Illustrated,” Stockstill said. “Get your picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated you ain’t no good after that. Hell, Muhammad Ali was on it 68 times!”
With widely renowned offensive guru Tony Franklin taking the helm of the offense, it surely would give Coach Stock some peace of mind even if he did buy into the idea of a sophomore slump. Franklin briefly served as offensive coordinator for MT in 2009. He most recently served a three-year stint holding the same title at the University of California. During that stint, Franklin elevated the Cal offense from ranked in the bottom 30 nationally to a top 20 ranking.
With Franklin’s résumé, it is no surprise the Blue Raiders are favored to win the C-USA East.
While topping the statistical numbers from 2015 may be a high order, every player and coach echoes the same sentiment. They are more concerned about letters than numbers, and they have their sights set on 13 W’s this season.
Make no mistake, however, this team will move the ball.
If a high-powered offense isn’t enough to pique your interest, then how about a little hometown flavor? Brent Stockstill will share the backfield this season with fellow Murfreesboro native I’Tavius Mathers. Mathers starred at Blackman, where he achieved four-star status as a recruit. He spent his first three years at Ole Miss, where he was used sparingly but always produced in his spots.
“I think it’s pretty neat,” said the elder Stockstill. “With I’Tavius and Brent playing, come support your guys. Come to the game. You’ve watched these guys grow up. These are your homegrown guys, come support them!”
The MTSU Blue Raiders open the 2016 season at home at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3, against Alabama A&M; they will play road games the following two Saturdays against Vanderbilt and Bowling Green before returning to Murfreesboro for a Saturday, Sept. 24 contest against Louisiana Tech. For tickets and more information, visit goblueraiders.com.