Middle Tennessee authored one of the great stories in the NCAA Tournament last March when the 15th-seeded Blue Raiders stunned No. 2 seed Michigan State.
The school’s football team is continuing the storytelling this fall.
The Blue Raiders are (4-1, 2-0) going into Saturday’s crucial game with Western Kentucky. The winner will be in the driver’s seat in Conference USA’s East Division. The campuses are just about 90 minutes apart and it’s known as The 100 Miles Of Hate rivalry.
While the 4-1 start is the school’s best since starting 5-0 in 2001, the Middle Tennessee football story involves a rare father-son coaching combination. There are seven FBS programs where a dad is the head coach and his son plays, but Middle Tennessee arguably has the most successful.
Coach Rick Stockstill has been Middle Tennessee’s coach since 2006 and has compiled a 68-62 record that includes bowl eligibility in six of the last seven seasons. His son Brent, a 6-foot, 2005-pound sophomore, is the prolific trigger man for the Blue Raiders’ spread offense.
Middle Tennessee is scoring 37.6 points per game and has C-USA’s top passing offense (352.6 yards per game) and second-best total offense (528.4 yards per game). Stockstill is eighth nationally in total offense and 17th in passing yards.
Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, one of the top gurus of the spread scheme, says that Brent Stockstill is a “pull your eye sockets out to win” competitor.”
“Brent, if I had to guess, is the most-liked player on the team, is the most-respected player on the team and it has nothing to do with the fact that his father is the head coach,” Franklin said. “I like him. I can see myself being friends with him. I just like hanging around him.”
Last season as a freshman, Brent set an NCAA freshman record with 327 and was 53 yards short of breaking the freshman passing yardage record set by Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
“I really didn’t have any expectations,” he said of last season. “One of them was to make sure I made my dad right … People always say he’s going to be harder on you because you’re his son, but if you go ask any of those guys in there, he treats everyone like his son so he doesn’t have to treat me any different.”
“Maybe statistically I was surprised,” Rick said.
“But I know what he’s got inside of him and I’ve watched him compete. I’ve watched him cry as a six-year old getting beat in a baseball game. I watch him, how hard he works at everything so I knew what he had inside of him.”
Finally, a Memphis house call
Tony Pollard’s 95-yard kickoff return was significant in Memphis’ 34-27 victory over Temple last Thursday, but it was much more than a touchdown that contributed to a seven-point victory.
Pollard ended the longest streak in NCAA history. The Tigers had gone an FBS-record 233 games without housing a kickoff return. It had been 19 years, 10 months and 27 days (yes, Memphis was tracking the drought). The last kickoff return for a touchdown was also a 95-yarder. Kevin Cobb’s return on Nov. 9, 1996 helped Memphis upset No. 6 Tennessee, 21-7.
“All week, our coach stressed to us that this was going to be the big week,” said Pollard, a redshirt freshman, who was born on April 30, 1997.
Pollard had fumbled a first-quarter kickoff that Temple recovered and converted into a field goal, but that didn’t keep Memphis special teams coordinator Joe Lorig from his belief that the Tigers were going to end the streak against Temple.
“I don’t know why,” he said. “I just knew … when (Tony) fumbled in the first half, I knew that he was going to do something special in the game. “
Hurricane Matthew’s travel impact
Two Group of Five schools managed to play their games last week, but Hurricane Matthew still caused travel issues.
After losing to South Florida in Tampa, East Carolina’s flight back to North Carolina had to be diverted to Richmond, Virginia. The team was then going to bus the 170 miles back to campus, but that plan was detoured because I-95 was closed by flooding. After spending the night in two hotels (a Super 8 and a Sleep Inn), the Pirates were able to return home just before 1 p.m. Eastern time Sunday.
East Carolina was scheduled to play host to Navy Thursday, but the severe flooding in the state led to the game being postponed and rescheduled for Nov. 19, when both schools had an open date.
Massachusetts, an FBS independent, was scheduled to play at Old Dominion last Saturday, but concerns about flying back after the game led to the game shifting to Friday. That led UMass to make a number of last-minute scheduling changes.
In addition to changing dates for hotels, buses and catered meals, the Minutemen had to leave a day early. That meant having to find a different charter flight which wasn’t secured until Wednesday, the day before the scheduled departure. The date change cost UMass an estimated $40,000, but Old Dominion has agreed to share in that cost.
- Louisiana Tech, which faces Massachusetts in a non-conference game Saturday, has won 10 consecutive Conference USA games in October by an average margin of 16.7 points. The Bulldogs return to league play on Oct. 22 against Florida International.
- Western Michigan is 6-0 and ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll – the program’s first appearance in that poll. The Broncos have yet to commit a turnover. The record for fewest turnovers in a season is eight. Clemson in 1940, Miami (Ohio) in 1966, and Navy last season all share the record.
- North Texas’ Seth Littrell and Hawaii’s Nick Rolovich have already equaled or surpassed their programs’ previous win totals in their first seasons as coach. Both teams have three victories this season after winning Saturday. UNT went 1-11 last year, and Hawaii went 3-10.
- UTSA ran just 47 plays in its 55-32 victory over Southern Miss Saturday, but the Roadrunners made the most of those snaps. The offense had four plays that went 70-plus yards – a 92-yard run, an 80-yard run, a 77-yard pass and a 71-yard pass.
- Charlotte had to survive a Hail Mary pass that was overturned by instant replay to record its first Conference USA victory. The 49ers completed their FCS to FBS transition last season and went 0-8 in C-USA games. Florida Atlantic thought it had won with a last-play pass to the end zone, but the receiver was ruled out of bounds.
- New Mexico is very happy that Boise State wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck is a senior. In his last two games against the Lobos, he has 29 receptions for 479 yards and two touchdowns.
- Western Kentucky’s last possession in its 55-52 loss to Louisiana Tech ended when quarterback Mike White was sacked and fumbled. The Hilltoppers have lost six fumbles and have fumbled 14 times in six games.
USF coach Willie Taggart, explaining why his team was throwing long passes on the last four plays of its 38-22 victory over East Carolina:
“We want to be in attack mode … To take a knee for anybody, where in the rulebook does it say you have to do that?”