Raiders Confident Before First Conference Game

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders defeated the Arkansas State Red Wolves by final score of 35-30 in the 2017 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. on Dec. 16, 2017. (Andrew Brown / MTSU Sidelines)

Story by Matthew Giffin / Contributing Writer

“One of your goals is to win the conference,” said Blue Raiders head football coach Rick Stockstill at a press conference on Monday. “There’s nothing more important than conference play.” For Stockstill and his players, the goal is clear and very optimistic.

Last season, Stockstill and MTSU went (3-6) overall and (2-4) in their conference, the program’s worst win-loss record since the switch to Conference USA in 2013. In pre-season rankings for this year, the Blue Raiders were picked to be 5th in the eastern division of C-USA.

But then MTSU beat Monmouth decisively in the first week, and they played competitively against No. 15 Virginia Tech for at least the first half of the game in the second week. A reliable throwing game has emerged in quarterback Bailey Hockman and receivers like C.J. Windham. It’s fair to say that the Raiders have exceeded the expectations of most.

So what does this mean for the Raiders’ first in-conference outing against the University of Texas at San Antonio on Saturday, and for conference play this season in general?

Coach Stockstill said at the same Monday press conference, “I’m confident with this team… We’re gonna be ready to play this game and get after it, and try to get back in the win column.” The optimism that Stockstill has is encouraging for both his team and for Blue Raider fans.

Senior safety Reed Blankenship acknowledged the challenges the defense would face against UTSA: “Just like last year, UTSA, they’re a fast team… Their quarterback, he can move around, he’s a good athlete.” The Roadrunners rushed for 217 yards against Illinois in week one and 106 yards against Lamar, with most of those coming from star running back Sincere McCormick. In pre-season rankings for the western division, UTSA was beat out only by last season’s C-USA champions, the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Last season, MTSU lost to the Roadrunners 35-37 in Texas.

Amir Rasul said the running backs are “in the film room more now than ever,” trying to elevate the Raiders’ underwhelming running game.

But the Blue Raiders are confident in themselves. The coaches believe in their players, and their players believe in each other. A true test of speed and grit that will challenge that optimism awaits them in the Alamodome.

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