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Middle Tennessee has a ceiling

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MTSU has a good location, a fickle fan base, and a history of peaking before reaching the big time.

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When Middle Tennessee made the jump to the FBS and joined the Sun Belt Conference in 2001 and watched the conference expand again in 2004, it looked as if Middle Tennessee would be an also-ran as conference rivals FAU, FIU, North Texas, and Troy all had better recruiting bases.

That came to fruition as Middle Tennessee went 50-38 in conference play with two Sun Belt Conference championships from 2001-2012.

In 2005 they hired Rick Stockstill and just over ten years later in a different conference Middle Tennessee is still at a disadvantage compared to FAU, FIU and North Texas in regards to location and facilities (minus FIU). However, due to hiring what appears to be a G5 lifer in Stockstill, the Blue Raiders are in a much better position than their former Sun Belt foes in Conference USA.

But in the ten years Stockstill has been in Murfreesboro he has one ten-win season, five winning seasons, and just one conference title. Suffice to say, Middle Tennessee is solid, but that's it, and that probably has more to do with the program than their head coach.

PROS

  • It isn't Miami or San Antonio, but Murfreesboro is a nice area. Just outside the Nashville area, P5 teams will come to Murfreesboro with their eyes set on trying to mine the area for talent as Middle Tennessee has hosted Maryland, Minnesota, and Georgia Tech in recent years. The location is also close enough to other recruiting hotbeds which is a plus seeing as how a lot of the state's best players tend to go elsewhere.
  • The patience displayed by the athletic department during Stockstill's tenure shows that the next coach shouldn't be too worried about his job security if he has a few down seasons. These guys don't have a quick trigger.

CONS

  • Fan support is pretty meh as the Blue Raiders, despite fielding a solid product, always have trouble filing up Johnny "Red" Floyd stadium. Not to mention the current fan base seems to have an inflated opinion of itself in regards to where MTSU should be in the CUSA food chain.
  • Hard to get any love from local media as the University of Tennessee is always the focal point. If the local media isn't talking about the Power T, then they are talking about Vanderbilt.
  • Its a cash-strapped athletic department. If the coach is willing to delay his bonus in order to help out, things can't be going too well.
  • Facilities aren't the greatest even by G5 standards.

Making the case for why Middle Tennessee should be higher: Jeremy Adcock, UDD Editor

Middle Tennessee has the ability to attract great opponents, has a built in and extremely bitter rivalry with WKU, and gets a surprising level of talent on a yearly basis. There have been several very good players to come through the Blue Raiders pipeline from Kelly Holcomb to Bennie Cunningham to Kevin Byard.

I had a discussion with a very passionate MTSU supporter a few months ago and he was of the belief that fans would show up when the product was good. While finishing at 7-6 (not that great) last fall, the Blue Raiders had one of the more exciting teams in the nation on offense. That netted them just over 17,000 fans per game, a huge disappointment.

This job will never be on the tongues of the Nashville media in football, but it is good for a coach who has somewhat thick skin and can ignore the negative talk when things go bad. Having said that, a CUSA title in 2016 or beyond could be that one thing needed to send MTSU to the upper level of CUSA jobs in the future.

If you were playing NCAA Football in an online dynasty...

You choose Middle Tennessee because the roster features good players which could give you a good chance at the rare one-and-done season at the G5 level as you aim to be the first among your friends to land a P5 job first.

Because your mind is squarely focused on the next job, recruiting is an afterthought.  You believe the roster you inherited is good enough for you to win now.

If you only muster nine wins the first year but don't get any offers you like, don't sweat it, the second year you should be even better as an undefeated season could definitely be on the table as Brent Stockstill and Richie James should be no worse than an 87 overall rating, giving you the ability to put up gaudy numbers against CUSA defenses.

If you choose this job in real life...

You see Middle Tennessee as a place that has underachieved. If Western Kentucky can bring home the conference title then you surely think MTSU can do the same, and the fan base agrees.

Anything less than a conference title during your tenure will be a disappointment. You won't mind fighting with Tennessee and Vanderbilt for attention and thus will take a blue collar approach on the trail and on the field.

Verdict

Assessing where the MTSU job ranks in CUSA is pretty tricky. Due to the longevity of the Stockstill era it's hard to pinpoint whether he has underachieved or overachieved. I'm leaning towards the latter.

Before Stockstill there was Andy McCollum, who oversaw Middle Tennessee's transition from the FCS to the FBS. He went 34-45 in seven years with one conference title. At the FCS level MTSU had sporadic success in the 80s and early 90s to the tune of seven playoff appearances but never appeared in the championship game.

Although this job offers a lot of opportunity to succeed, history suggests that this job has a ceiling. Once you've won big you should be on the lookout for another job or fear Glen Mason territory.

Best Jobs in CUSA Countdown:

14. Rice

13. Charlotte

12. Middle Tennessee