Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Preview 2022: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Middle Tennessee season with what you need to know and keys to the season.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Preview
Head Coach: Rick Stockstill
17th year at Middle Tennessee, 101-98
2021 Preview: Overall: 7-6, Conference: 4-4
Keys To The Season
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Middle Tennessee Top 10 Players | Schedule
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Preview 2022
It got bleak for a little while.
Middle Tennessee had been chugging along under longtime head coach Rick Stockstill with winning seasons and bowl games the norm. And then came an off year in 2019 going 4-8, followed up by an 0-4 start in a 3-6 2020.
2-4 to start 2021, the program was saved by a lovely run of some of the easiest teams in the FBS to play, and the season turned around, there was a bowl appearance, and a slightly-stunning win over Toledo made it a 7-6 season with things starting to look back to normal.
But now it’s time to start doing more.
Conference USA was gutted by the Sun Belt – losing Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss. More will be bolting next year to the American Athletic Conference – Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, UTSA – and that leaves the league a shell of its former self for the 2023 season.
Middle Tennessee was on the verge of leaving for the MAC, but it’s staying around, and so is FIU, Louisiana Tech, UTEP, and WKU, to go along with the addition of Jacksonville State, Liberty, New Mexico State, and Sam Houston State.
What does this mean? It makes this a make-or-break season for the program.
Conference USA will be there for the taking, and Stockstill has to prove after 16 seasons going into 2022 that everything is on track for his Blue Raiders to be the star.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Preview 2022: Offense
The offense has to be far, far better. 12th in Conference USA and 96th overall, the Blue Raiders averaged just 362 yards per game, but cranked up the points against the bad teams averaging 30 per game. There was no running game, and the downfield passing attack didn’t exist. However …
The offense gets its guy back. Chase Cunningham was having a nice season throwing for over 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns with just three picks in eight games, but he was knocked out with a leg injury.
Nicholas Vattiato balled out and won three of the last four games – including the bowl – after giving up five picks in the loss to WKU. Now the Blue Raiders have a strong QB situation.
Leading receiver Jaylin Lane returns after rolling for 528 yards and four touchdowns on 42 catches, and Yusuf Ali is a nice midrange receiver who made 45 grabs. The transfer portal is bringing in help at tight end, and again, getting Cunningham back will make everyone better.
The Blue Raiders used a whole lot of parts for the running game, but leading rusher Martell Pettaway only gained 372 yards. He’s done, but sophomore Frank Peasant is experienced enough to take over. It’ll be a rotation of young, quick backs behind him.
The offensive line was decent in pass protection but now it has to start doing more for the ground attack. The problem is that the front five is all but starting over. There’s bulk around all-star center Jordan Palmer, but it’s going to take a little while.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Preview 2022: Defense
The defense might not have always been great, but that thing took the ball away in bunches. Middle Tennessee led the nation with 32 takeaways, led Conference USA in tackles for loss, and was decent enough to save the season.
However, there are some massive talent losses losing mainstay star safety Reed Blankenship, heart-and-soul LB DQ Thomas, and second-leading tackler Greg Grate. In all, the top four tacklers are gone and five-pick corner Quincy Riley is off to Louisville, but …
The defensive front should be okay on the inside. All four starters are expected back on the line – starting with all-star pass rusher Jordan Ferguson – and with a nice rotation at tackle.
The back seven will need more time. There’s no replacing what Blankenship and Thomas brought, but Johnathan Butler is a good tackler in the middle of the linebacking corps and Teldrick Ross should be among the best defensive backs in the conference when he comes back healthy.