Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 4/3/13
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. Rick Stockstill usually lets bygones be bygones. It's routine for a coach not to dwell too much on the past, good or bad. But rest assured, the Middle Tennessee football coach, his Blue Raiders and their fans still feel the sting of being snubbed for a bowl berth last season, despite having an 8-4 record that included a 21-point blowout of Georgia Tech, which played in the ACC championship. MTSU also beat and finished ahead of rival Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt Conference standings, but WKU went bowling for the first time during its FBS era. Adding insult to injury was Georgia Tech receiving an exemption to play against USC in the Sun Bowl, despite a 6-7 record heading into that game. "It is still in our craw," Stockstill said Wednesday in the midst of spring practice. "Its still there. I dont know if it will go away until we play that first game this year." Like the song says, there is always something there to remind you. "There is always something that comes up during these days that is kind of a reminder, especially now that we are in spring practice," said Stockstill, whose Blue Raiders depart the Sun Belt for Conference USA this season. They open Aug. 29 at home against Western Carolina. "(The snub) is still a driving force, a chip on our shoulder that we talk about all the time." Joining Conference USA is also a hot topic for MTSU, a long-desired destination for the schools athletic programs. Fellow Sun Belt members Florida Atlantic, Florida International and North Texas join C-USA this season, followed by Western Kentucky in 2014. In 2013, C-USA membership will also include East Carolina, Southern Miss, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Old Dominion, Rice, Tulane and Texas-San Antonio. Old Dominion and Charlotte aren't competing in football yet, while East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane depart next year for the to-be-renamed former Big East Conference. "It adds fuel to the fire," Stockstill said of the move. "It's the excitement of newness going into a new conference. I dont know how we will stack up. We know the former Sun Belt schools, but you really dont know until you start evaluating and playing those other teams how you are going to stack up." While the experience might be new for the team, those experiencing it are not new. The Blue Raiders return an experienced roster that includes 17 starters (nine on offense, eight on defense). And it is quite the luxury the most-experienced person on the roster is the quarterback, senior Logan Kilgore, who has started 25 games over three-plus seasons. He, too, feels motivated from the perceived bowl slight at the end of last season. "It burns in my stomach every single day," said Kilgore, who passed for more than 2,000 yards the past two seasons and has 5,342 yards for 37 touchdowns in a career. That ranks him fifth and fourth, respectively, career-wise in program history for those categories. Last season, he helped MTSU rebound from a 2-10 record in 2011 to the 8-4 stance. "I know that we got, well, whatever you want to call it, shafted, whatever," he added. "The culmination of all the hard work and coming back from the two-win season, it definitely burns to not get rewarded. With this team, we dont dwell on it all the time, but it is something that has not been forgotten." Kilgore leads an offense that returns four starters up front and quality depth at running back, led by sophomore Jordan Parker; and receiver, topped by senior Kyle Griswould, sophomore Christian Collis and senior Tavarres Jefferson, who sat out last season with a knee injury. After lead back Benny Cunningham was lost to injury five games into last season, Parker stepped up as a true frosh to lead the team with a freshman-record 851 yards on 166 carries, an average of 5.1 per attempt. Griswould and Collis were second and third in receiving yards, respectively. Defensively, the front this spring because of shoulder injuries is without two tackles, senior Jimmy Staten and sophomore J.D. Jones, allowing a slew of redshirt freshmen to show their wares. Senior middle linebacker Roderic Blunt leads an improving group, while the secondary is solid but can stand for the most improvement, too. Senior cornerback Kenneth Gilstrap is the bell cow, but he is out this spring with an ankle injury (last season against South Alabama). Even with a promising and experienced roster, Stockstill a quarterback during his playing days in the early 1980s at Florida State may appreciate having a veteran and talented QB above all. "Ive said it all my life," Stockstill said. "If you are in high school and have a good quarterback, you are probably going to have a good team. If you're in the NFL and have a good quarterback, you're going to have a good team. "Its the same thing in college, the experience that you have at quarterback, especially if he is a good player and good person." Stockstill likes what he sees from Kilgore this spring and beyond. "Just with his maturity, you can see the confidence that he has coming off last year," Stockstill said of Kilgore, a native of Rocklin, Calif., who played one season at Bakersfield (Calif.) College before transferring to MTSU in 2010. Because of a foot injury, he played only three games in 2010 and got an extra season as a medical redshirt. "It radiates throughout the whole team," Stockstill added. "With his confidence and his ability, he has made everybody around him better. I dont think you can put a price tag on having a good, experienced quarterback at any level." It's a role Kilgore not only accepts, but desires. "Everybody looks at you, not only just the underclassmen, but also my fellow seniors," Kilgore said of being a team leader. "We want to set an example like those who have come before us. I feel like the responsibility of the team is on me. "It is the territory of being a quarterback. It's something I have always cherished. It is something that I dont take lightly." The Blue Raiders will hold an open scrimmage Saturday morning. The annual Blue & White Spring Game at Floyd Stadium begins at 1 p.m. on April 13. "Everybody wants to come out of spring by getting better every day, improving fundamentally and staying healthy," Stockstill said. "You would like to know who your two-deep depth guys are at every position."
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