When you take a look at the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, they check off many of the boxes for a team to watch in 2016. They have an explosive offense with one of the best quarterback to receiver tandems in the nation, a stable of running backs to help ease the offensive load, young talent on defense, and a top 25 rated recruit in Tennessee.
Wait, that last one seems a bit out of left field. While it may be a bit odd to add into the rest of the list, recruiting in Tennessee has become much more important than ever before. It was clear this offseason as MTSU grabbed their first player ranked in the top 25 in the state in over seven years. (247 ratings are used) while landing six total players from the state.
The top 25 in-state recruits must all be going to the SEC, ACC, and other power conferences, right? Well, that is not exactly the case. Going through the Tennessee recruiting rankings since 2010, Tulsa, Appalachian State, Harvard, UAB, Wake Forest, Memphis (3), Cincinnati, Arkansas State (2), Marshall, and Tulane have nabbed at least one top 25 Tennessee player.
Middle Tennessee was completely blanks until finally getting on the board with defensive tackle Rakavian Poydras out of Clarksville this most recent signing period.
The most often used excuse for the Blue Radiers struggling to land the top talent from in-state is the width of the state. Is that really a good excuse though? In a state like Texas, a player on the opposite side of the state can seem like he is on another planet. Tennessee is a wide state, but can be driven.
Let's look at the 2017 projected top 25 recruits in Tennessee. Of the top 25 players, 15 are from Middle Tennessee. The farthest recruit in that radius is from Clarksville, a distance of just under 80 miles. There is no reason that the Middle Tennessee coaching staff has only signed one top 25 player in the last seven seasons.
The second excuse tends to be that they are out of Middle Tennessee's class. The star rankings alone keep them from being involved in the recruiting process for that player. That may be true at the very top, but only eight players in 2016 were ranked four-stars or higher.
Again, let's look at next year's recruiting class. Seven players are ranked four-stars or higher. Many are offered from the majority of the SEC and may not be worth the fight, but there are 18 players that should be all over MTSU's radar. Among them, Princeton Fant, Gentry Bonds and Kaleb Oliver are three-star recruits that are in MTSU's back yard. They must be high priority recruits for the 2017 class.
Then there is the story of Brent Stockstill making his way to the Blue Raiders. Stockstill was a highly-valued three-star recruit and the son of head coach Rick Stockstill. He was not recruited by MTSU with his father assuming that he would not want to stay in Murfreesboro for college. The younger Stockstill then signed with Cincinnati.
A few months later, he just flat out told is dad that he wanted to be at MTSU the whole time. After sitting as a redshirt in 2014, Stockstill set multiple school records and should leave MTSU as the most decorated quarterback in school history.
They nearly missed out on Stockstill by assuming that he would not be interested in the program. That cannot happen.
The coaching staff will strike out more than they connect on highly rated local recruits, but they must use the momentum of being one of the trendy picks with an explosive offense to land a few of these players. If they land just a few, the chance of landing more in the future expands exponentially.
If the Blue Raiders want to be more than the up and down team that can never sustain success, they have to dominate the mid-state, especially Murfreesboro in the future.