The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders enter the 2015 season with extremely high hopes and aspirations for the year. Coach Hickerson will lead the Blue Raiders into his 3rd season as a head coach, after winning 8 games each of his first 2 years. The Blue Raiders are also coming off a win over a power 6 opponent in Iowa, in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Blue Raiders hope to ride that momentum into the upcoming year. Here are a few key players that are critical for the upcoming season. Johnny McCrary - Redshirt sophomore quarterback. Transfer from Vanderbilt - McCrary is eligible this year after sitting out last season and will be the starting quarterback for the Blue Raiders. McCrary is an extremely athletic quarterback with an exceptional arm who did not get along with the coaching staff at Vanderbilt in his one season in Nashville, so he transferred down the road to Murfreesboro, and the Middle Tennessee football team. McCrary is built like a rock, at 6'4 and 216 pounds. He should be able to hold up for a full year, and take the pounding of playing football every day, unlike starters in MTSU's past. The only problem is, he has now weapons on the outside. Jordan Parker - Senior halfback - After reading the last statement above, one would assume the running game would be very important, and that would be a correct assumption. Parker is entering his 3rd year as a starter and will be leaned upon heavily by first year starter Johnny McCrary. Parker enters the season with just under 2000 yards for his career. Shane Tucker - sophomore halfback - Being groomed for the starters role next season, will be the backup this season. He is unlike the guy he is replacing as the backup in Reggie Whatley, and different from Parker as well. Tucker is a 5'11, 215 pound wrecking ball, who does not shy away from contact. At all. The only wide receiver who will take the field for the Blue Raiders this year with ANY valuable experience is senior Christian Collis. Collis is coming off a 28 catch, 412 yard season, and he will be called upon HEAVILY in any type of passing game MTSU wants to establish. Along the offensive line, MTSU will start 2 seniors, both on the outside at tackle. A freshman at LG, and a junior at RG and center. The Blue Raiders will be decent at this position as long as nobody goes down with an injury. Depth is definitely a concern. Defensive Ends - Coach Hickerson finally has the long wirey pass rushers off the edge he has longed for in TRUE freshman Harrison Wallace and redshirt sophomore Tevin Beanum. Respectively, the 2 are 6'6, 250 pounds, and 6'4, 264 pounds. Coach Hickerson is foaming at the mouth over these 2 guys getting pressure off the edges without having to bring multiple blitzes in order to pressure the opposing quarterback. Defensive Tackle - 2 seniors will look to plug up the middle of the line and stuff the run this season. Marcus Robinson and JD Jones. Both have experience playing, a lot, both have started, a lot, and both will be relied upon to lead this defensive unit up front. Linebacker - 2 seniors and a junior will start the year at this spot. On the outside, the Linebacking core is strong and should be one of the best in CUSA. It is the middle that causes concern for Blue Raider fans. Initially, a converted OLB, senior James Roberson will start the season there. However, he has no experience playing in the middle of the field, so do not be surprised, if at some point true freshman Issac Jones pushes him for playing time, and maybe even the starting job. Cornerback - I YI YI. They return experience, unfortunately, they do not return much talent. That is all there is to say about this position. Safety - Thankfully, they have excellent guys at the back of the defense. Senior FS Kevin Byard is a preseason All American and will be the heart and soul of this defense. He will be called upon to play centerfield and erase any mistakes the less talented guys on the outside may make in coverage. They also start a senior opposite of Byard in Xavier Walker. While not as talented as Byard, he will be relied upon to clean up mistakes as well, and support the run stop game. Special Teams: Perhaps MTSU's biggest loss from last season was the graduation of Reggie Whatley who was a 2 time finalist for Returner of the Year. Junior corner Shon Akins and freshman corner Donte Reed will probably split time back deep for the Raiders this year, until one ultimately wins the job in a game situation. In the kicking game, sophomore Canon Rooker will once again handle all 3 phases of the kicking game. Rooker went 19 of 20 on field goals a year ago, with a long of 41. He has 2 touchbacks. For the Blue Raiders to have a successful season, THESE 3 THINGS MUST HAPPEN: 1. Johnny McCrary and Jordan Parker must have HUGE seasons. Coach Hickerson has said you will see more spread elements this season than before, much like they ran in the bowl victory over Iowa. McCrary and Parker must stay healthy, and carry the load. 2. The defense must not allow the big plays. With 2 very experienced, and very talented safeties back deep, this should be less of an issue than the previous 2 seasons. The 2 young guys getting pressure off the edge will be key to this as well. More pressure, with less men, equals more men in coverage, which equals less big plays. Didn't know there was a complicated equation in here did you? 3. Lastly, Christian Collis, or someone on the outside, has to step up and at least be a threat. If nobody steps up in the passing game, defenses will load the box to stop the run game of McCrary and Parker. This may be the most important key of all because the other keys in a sense rely on it. If someone steps up on the outside, the running game will be more effective, which will lead to the offense being more productive, which will lead to them being on the field longer, which will lead to the defense not being on the field as much, which will in turn, lead to LESS BIG PLAYS! (sorry for another equation!) With all that being said, GO BLUE RAIDERS!