Blue Raiders begin Conference USA era on Thursday

Host Western Carolina at 6:30 PM

August 28, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO - Rarely, if ever, has the first game of a new football season at Middle Tennessee been greeted with such fanfare as the Blue Raiders' game against Western Carolina on Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 6:30 PM in Floyd Stadium, and the football season that initiates competition in Conference USA will begin.

The game will be broadcast live over the Blue Raider Network with Chip Walters (play-by-play) and Kelly Holcomb (color analyst) in the booth. Live stats will be available at GoBlueRaiders.com. Live streaming of the game will also be available at GoBlueRaiders.com as no television is planned for the opener.

Story lines are abundant for this one. While Western Carolina is not a member of Conference USA, they will be the first football opponent of the C-USA era for Middle Tennessee.

They also figure prominently in a couple of interesting aspects of the game. MT and WCU have played four times in the past, each winning twice. Ironically, the home team has never won a game in the brief series.

Although considered a young team, there will be very few new faces in the starting lineup for Middle Tennessee for the first time. Redshirt freshman Josh Chester will likely start at center, and redshirt senior Corey Carmichael has moved from linebacker to fullback.

Redshirt senior Dearco Nolan and sophomore Alexandro Antoine will make their first career starts at defensive end. Cody Clark, a redshirt freshman, will be handling placekicking duties.

The rest of the Blue Raiders will have been battle-tested for at least a year.

Offensively, senior Logan Kilgore will begin his fourth season as the starting quarterback. In his three years as a Blue Raider, Kilgore has thrown for more than three miles and 37 touchdowns. His skills, experience and leadership will be a big factor in how well the season goes for Middle Tennessee.

A deep and talented receiving corps will give Kilgore plenty of targets. Despite the loss of standout wide receiver Anthony Amos to graduation, Kilgore still has Kyle Griswould, Marcus Henry and Christian Collis to throw to, and the offense will welcome back Tavarres Jefferson after missing last year with an injury.

Jefferson, one of Kilgore's favorite receivers, was injured early in last year's season opener, and took a redshirt year. Tight end Jacob Corbaley will give Kilgore a big target (6-3, 252) on possession downs.

This time last year, sophomore running back Jordan Parker was a backup with a slim possibility of red-shirting, but injuries to Benny Cunningham (now with the St. Louis Rams) disrupted that plan. Parker responded with 851 yards and three touchdowns, including 100-yard efforts in the last four games of the season when Cunningham did not play at all.

Defensively, there is a lot of talent in the front seven for the Blue Raiders, but the ranks of experienced players are thin. Avoiding injuries while playing a tough schedule will be a key for MT this season.
The defensive backfield features senior speedsters Kenneth Gilstrap and junior Sammy Seamster at cornerback, while sophomores Kevin Byard and Reginald Farmer will be the safeties. Byard was a freshman All-American last season, and was one of two Blue Raiders (kick return specialist Reggie Whatley was the other) to be named to the C-USA pre-season all-conference team.

Senior Josh Davis will handle the punting. He has a 41.7 yard average, which could be a lot higher had he not concentrated on placing kicks inside the opponent's 20-yard line, which he has done 37 times.

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