A couple of weeks ago, after watching Middle Tennessee miss out on a bowl win in the Bahamas Bowl, there was a debate that took place considering the merits of head coach Rick Stockstill and MTSU's spot in the FBS.
For that to truly take place, you have to go all the way back to the 1999 season. Among the turning of a century, the Blue Raiders started their transition to Division I-A from Division I-AA. Yes, us old folk did not call the divisions FBS and FCS.
Heading into the 1999 season, the Blue Raiders hired Andy McCollum to replace the legendary head coach James "Boots" Donnelly. McCollum took an MTSU squad that was a college nomad for the 1999 and 2000 seasons, turning them into an FBS program. Things were much easier back then and MTSU saw early success, going 6-5 in 2000 and 8-3 in 2001. With the Blue Raiders in the Sun Belt Conference, 8-3 in their first season, it all seemed like blue skies for the new kids.
Then the bottom dropped out.
McCollum struggled in the next four years, going 17-29 and looking more and more lost throughout his time. The Blue Raiders had to make a change based McCollum's 34-45 overall record with the program and ever constant slide down the pecking order. The change came in the form of former Florida State quarterback Rick Stockstill.
Stockstill, a longtime Clemson assistant that had worked at East Carolina and South Carolina, was one of the hot new coaching candidates. MTSU jumped at the opportunity and brought in Stockstill for the 2006 season.
Now that we have history out of the way, let's take a look at the Blue Raiders and how they have fared since his arrival.
At first glance, a career record that is three games above .500 is not all that impressive. But there is much more to the last 10 seasons in Murfreesboro than meet the eye.
The first season that Stockstill took over the program, MTSU was coming off of four straight losing seasons. Immediately, Stockstill made the Blue Raiders relevant with a 7-6 record and a share of the Sun Belt title. The season was capped by a loss in the Motor City Bowl, the first FBS bowl trip in school history.
After a pair of 5-7 seasons, Stockstill and company had their first 10-win season at the FBS level. They went 10-3, defeating Memphis and Maryland in route to the New Orleans Bowl. The Blue Raiders defeated Southern Miss, the first and only bowl win in school history.
Since then, Stockstill has led MTSU to three more bowl appearances (GoDaddy, Armed Forces, Bahamas). In two other seasons, the Blue Raiders were bowl eligible but there were no bowl available for them (2012 & 2014).
During the last ten years, MTSU has racked up several big wins over impressive programs. The Blue Raiders have defeated Maryland twice (home and away), Memphis five times, Marshall twice, Southern Miss three times, Georgia Tech once, and bitter rival Western Kentucky five times.
Conference Record: 49-28
In 10 years, Rick Stockstill has led the Blue Raiders in two different conferences: Sun Belt and Conference USA. During their time in the Sun Belt, MTSU finish outside the top four only once (2011). They went 32-21 during those seven years, finishing in the top two on four occasions.
Making the move to Conference USA, Stockstill went 17-7 with finishes inside the top two in the east division every year. The Blue Raiders have been bowl eligible during all three years, missing out in 2014 due to the lack of bowl affiliations.
MTSU currently has five players on active NFL rosters, more than seven other Conference USA programs.
Current NFL Players:
- Josh Walker OG, Green Bay Packers. Current backup right guard.
- Erik Walden, LB, Indianapolis Colts: 276 career tackles. 21 sacks. Super Bowl Champion with Packers.
- Sammy Seamster, CB, Buffalo Bills.
- Jamari Lattimore, LB, New York Jets 96 career tackles, 2 sacks.
- Benjamin Cunningham, RB, St. Louis Rams: 609 career rushing yards, 4 touchdowns, 74 catches, 627 yards, 1 touchdown. Led the NFC in average yards per return with 27.5 average yards per return in 2014.
Former NFL Players:
- Rod Isaac: Drafted in the fifth round in 2011. DB. Spent one year in the NFL with Jacksonville.
- Thomas Johnson: DL. Spent three years (2005, 2006, 2009) in the NFL. 31 career tackles.
- Jimmy Staten: DE. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 draft by Seattle. Currently on the Chiefs practice squad.
- Phillip Tanner: RB. Tanner was undrafted in 2011, but signed with the Cowboys. Rushed for 149 career yards.
I am from the Nashville area. I have been familiar with MTSU for my entire life. The rest of the nation has not been aware of them until recently. Recruits in the recent talent heavy Nashville area are staying at home more often and playing for MTSU.
The overall program recognition for the Blue Raiders is light years beyond what it was in the McCollum era and that is due to the leadership of Rick Stockstill.
Take a look at the MTSU roster. It is full of players that are young and skilled. Just start with Stockstill's son Brent. He was one of the best freshmen in the nation in 2015, only slightly out shined by teammate Richie James. The duo set fire to all passing and receiving records at MTSU and are going to be sophomores in 2016.
The roster, as a whole, is more talented than it has been... ever. The Blue Raiders will be one of the favorites to win, not only the east, but the entire conference next season.
I would say that gives fans a few reasons to have faith in Rick Stockstill moving forward.