Finally, there is some real football to talk about. In about 72 hours the season will kickoff against Middle Tennessee State in Ross-Ade Stadium. I don't think I am alone in expecting a 4-1 start to the year, either. In fact, it will likely be very difficult to get to a bowl game without a 4-1 start, so there is little margin for error beginning Saturday.
So what do we know about the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders? Here are some quick facts:
- Their program started in 1999 on the FBS level with a 40-7 loss at Mississippi State
- They have been to three bowl games in the last five years
- They are in the Sun Belt, a conference Purdue has never played against.
- They have a history of beating BCS conference teams, beating Maryland twice.
- Connecticut (twice), South Florida, and Vanderbilt (three times), are among their BCS conference victims since 2000.
- They are 0-2 all-time against the Big Ten, losing to Illinois in 2000 and Minnesota last year.
- They have had close calls against Alabama, Missouri, Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Minnesota in terms of near upsets of BCS conference teams.
- They are just 1-2 in bowl games all-time, winning the 2009 New Orleans Bowl over Southern Mississippi
Think of the Sun Belt as the MAC for the SEC. Many of the schools in that conference share the footprint with the SEC, so like the MAC getting good players passed over by Big Ten schools, the Sun Belt gets a lot of players passed over by SEC schools. Therefore, this should be a fairly challenging opponent for our opener, which is needed. We need a game we should win, but we'll be pushed a bit so we can work on some things.
Let's break this baby down position-by-position in my new style of game preview:
Logan Kilgore will get the nod for the Blue Raiders, as he started a few games last season while Dwight Dasher was serving a suspension. He had 540 yards passing in three games with 3 TD's against five picks. Those aren't great numbers, but it is more experience than Caleb TerBush, who will be making his first career start and second appearance overall. Edge: Middle Tennessee State
D.D. Kyles and Ben Cunningham are the top two returning rushers. They combined for over 800 yards and eight touchdowns as season ago, but Phillip Tanner and Dasher provided more of the running offense. Yesterday's chat revealed that Kyles has been slowed a bit by injuries, and William Pratcher is ahead of him on the depth chart. On the other side, we have Ralph Bolden back and supposedly as good as ever. Akeem Shavers has also been playing very well, at least in practice. Major Edge: Purdue
Both teams will likely try to spread the ball around as much as possible. MTSU took that literally last year with 24 interceptions among three quarterbacks. Eight receivers had at least 100 yards receiving, but none had more than 400. MTSU had only nine passing TD's as a team. On our side we have Justin Siller and O.J. Ross returning from injury, plus Antavian Edison, Gary Bush, and a bunch of unproven receivers. Edison is the only one who put up significant numbers. Edge: Even
With Ken Plue on double secret probation we lose our biggest and possibly most talented lineman. That moves a lot of guys around and gives Justin Kitchens his first career start at right tackle. Four guys have starting experience, but Kitchens is not your typical hulking Big Ten lineman. MTSU has to replace three starters and two key reserves re listed as out. Almost everything I have read has them pretty terrified of Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston. Major Edge: Purdue
If we still had Ryan Kerrigan this would be an overwhelming advantage, but even then, we still should be fine with Gerald Gooden and Ryan Russell on the ends. I am very excited to see what Russell can do. I think he could be a special player for us. Look for Robert Maci and Antwon Higgs to rotate in as well. MTSU had 34 team sacks, but Jamari Lattimore with 11.5 of those is gone. MTSU has six new starters in the front seven. Major Edge: Purdue
Again, MTSU has to break in new starters with only Justin Jones returning in the front seven. There is major concern that they won't be able to hold up to our running game, especially if the blocking is solid. It makes me really wish Plue would get his head on straight because he was a major reason for Bolden's success two years ago. Jones himself is listed as out with a broken thumb, while projected starter Jonathon Brooks is out with a knee injury. On our side we get to start Will Lucas, Dwayne Beckford, and Joe Holland while true freshman Armstead Williams has impressed enough to crack the two deeps. Chris Carlion and Joe Gilliam should get some time as well. Edge: Purdue
Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson don't have a true #1 receiver to cover, so they should have an excellent day and allow the linebackers to play up against the run. Logan Link and Albert Evans must cover the middle of the field, especially on third down. MTSU starts three seniors back here, but only Arness Ikner was a starter last year. As long as the line can provide protection, TerBush should have time to throw. Edge: Purdue
If Carson Wiggs can see the goal posts he can make a field goal. Cody Webster was solid in his first year and should be even better. I am so excited to see Raheem Mostert and Allen on returns that it almost warrants a, "You're excited? Feel these nipples!" level of excitement. On their side Alan Gendreau was a steady kicker going 10 of 12 last year with a long of 55. Josh Davis is probably Webster's equal, so he is pretty good. Eric Russell is a dangerous kick returner who took one all the way back last year. Edge: Purdue (based on Wiggs alone)
Rick Stockstill is 33-30 in five years of coaching, has taken them to three bowl games, and somehow got them to a bowl when they had 38 turnovers. Danny Hope calls timeouts to help opposing offenses and is adamant about having a two QB system despite years of evidence around football that it doesn't work, so... yeah. Edge: Middle Tennessee State
We haven't shown we're good enough to expect a 30 point blowout merely by showing up, but we still should win this as long as we don't have an outbreak of injuries and we don't do anything ridiculously stupid. We also have more depth, which also comes into play in games like these. I think Bolden and Shavers should have a big day and I believe TerBush will be better than we think he is. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if he plays well enough to cement the starting job away even by the time Robert Marve returns. Purdue 31, MTSU 17