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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Johnson: MTSU takes another step forward

Monday, December 4, 2006

What a difference a year makes.

That, along with a new head coach and coaching staff.

After a very disappointing 2005 season in which Middle Tennessee finished 4-7, athletic director Chris Massaro decided to make a change at the top of the Blue Raider football program.

Out with former coach Andy McCollum, in with new coach Rick Stockstill.

Stockstill had been a very successful assistant coach for over 20 years and was also known as a great recruiter.

After Stockstill was hired in December 2005, he put together a very impressive coaching staff with a combined 148 years of coaching experience, including three Super Bowl rings, four NCAA national championships and over 60 bowl games.

It's fair to say that everyone anticipated a bright future for the MTSU football program when Stockstill took over. But the Blue Raiders' accomplishments this year really caught a lot of people, as well as me, by surprise.

Middle Tennessee claimed a share of the Sun Belt Conference title with an impressive 7-5 overall record, including a 6-1 mark in conference action.

Even though the Blue Raiders lost to Troy 21-20 in the final game of the regular season, the teams share the conference championship.

Troy represents the Sun Belt Conference in the New Orleans Bowl after the head-to-head win over the Blue Raiders, facing Rice on Dec. 22.

The Blue Raiders will be "bowling" as well.

MTSU accepted a bid to play in the Motor City Bowl against Central Michigan (8-4) on Dec. 26 at Detroit's Ford Field at 6:30 p.m. CST. The game will be televised live on ESPN.

I've really enjoyed covering my alma mater the past five years or so. The fact that I can be home in approximately 30 minutes once I leave the stadium is also a great feeling.

I remember attending games back when I was in college and MTSU was a member of the Ohio Valley Conference.

The crowds were small and the competition left a little to be desired.

Middle Tennessee took a huge step in the right direction when they became a Div. I program a number of years ago.

The schedule got a little tougher but the fans still didn't flock to the stadium.

For some reason, this year was different.

Attendance was better and the Blue Raiders were more competitive.

The tailgaters showed up in record numbers and there was a lot of excitement in the stadium.

Even though there's still plenty of room for improvement, MTSU broke its home attendance record with a single-game average of 22,037.

Is this a sign of great things to come?

One might say Stockstill has put MTSU football on the map in less than a year.

Who knows what might happen once the players buy into his system year in and year out and if he's able to bring a number of top notch recruits to Murfreesboro.

As for now, a win over Central Michigan in the bowl game would be another huge step in the right direction.

Let's hope the Blue Raiders ride home in a Cadillac instead of a Volkswagen.

Gary Johnson is a Times-Gazette sports writer.

Gary Johnson
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