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Johnson: More wins needed for Blue Raider fan base

Friday, August 29, 2008

(Photo)
Middle Tennessee's Desmond Gee struggles to find space to run near the end zone.
(T-G Photo by Danny Parker)
Being an alum, I'm a huge Middle Tennessee fan and really enjoy covering the Blue Raiders from the press box and sidelines. But I've often wondered why the support and attendance at home games isn't better.

The university has really undergone a lot of changes since I graduated in the late 1980s.

MTSU's enrollment has more than doubled and, even though it's always been known as a "suitcase college," I assume that's changed somewhat with the growth of Murfreesboro and the university.

The powers to be have attempted to create more interest and support in the program, and I believe things are headed in the right direction.

MTSU has changed to a Division I program, joined the Sun Belt Conference, upgraded facilities, scheduled quality non-conference teams as well as land some well known teams to play at Johnny "Red" Floyd Stadium.

They've even ventured out to play on different nights of the week instead of your traditional Saturday game day.

This year the Blue Raiders will play games on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

They opened the season Thursday night at home against conference rival Troy with the announced attendance of 22,307, the sixth largest in Floyd Stadium history. Under current head coach Rick Stockstill, the Blue Raiders have produced five of the top 11 highest-attended games.

About the only ingredient left for Middle Tennessee to help increase the attendance of home games is to start winning consistently.

There are a lot of football fans in Murfreesboro, Rutherford County and the surrounding area.

I know it will always be hard for Middle Tennessee to compete with the powers of the Southeastern Conference, but it's amazing how everybody always loves a winner.

The Blue Raiders are improving even though it might not be showing in the win and loss columns.

They played in the Motor City Bowl a few years back and currently have a very young team with two-thirds of the players being underclassmen.

Middle Tennessee only dressed out 61 players against Troy. That's unheard of for a college football team playing at home. Eight of those players made their first collegiate start, including 15 that competed in their first game as Blue Raiders.

Other than beating Vanderbilt a couple of times, Middle Tennessee is still looking for that signature win over a big-name program.

They almost got it when the took visiting Virginia to the buzzer last year.

In the postgame press conference after their loss to Troy, Stockstill said he believes that his team is closing the gap between the top teams in the conference.

With the talented number of underclassmen on the team, there's bound to be real bright days ahead for the Blue Raider football program.

Gary Johnson is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be contacted at gjohnson@t-g.com.

Gary Johnson
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