As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2017 non-conference slate when it hosts Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 9 at the Carrier Dome.
SHAFER RETURNS: Syracuse fans all know Middle Tennessee State’s defensive coordinator. Scott Shafer was at the helm of SU for three seasons, and after a year off, will try to make the Blue Raiders into a better squad than the one that gave up more than 35 points per game last season. He’ll need to do it with a depleted defensive line, which graduated four starters that had compiled 189 games and 102 starts. But he does return eight starters from that team otherwise, and has opened up every starting position for competition. MTSU has been bowl eligible seven of the last eight seasons, and has a decent shot at the C-USA Title if Shafer can mold his defense into a unit similar to the one he had at Syracuse.
WHO TO WATCH FOR: Middle Tennessee State has a father-son combination of head coach Rick Stockstill and quarterback Brent Stickstill. The quarterback runs one of the most prolific offenses in Conference USA, with fellow junior wideout Richie James. Stockstill had offseason shoudler surgery, but the early reports are that there should be no issues. The one thing the elder Stockstill will need to restock is the running back position. I’Tavius Mathers set a school record with 1,561 rushing yards, and there aren’t proven runners in his place. Much like the defensive side of the ball, the O-line also is being retooled, with only two starters from the 2016 team returning.
PREDICTION: For those of you who think this is a cupcake on Syracuse’s schedule, look no further than the 2016 season, when the Blue Raiders knocked off SEC opponent Missouri. Its non-conference schedule consists of Vanderbilt, Syracuse, Minnesota and Bowling Green, all winnable games. This should be a high scoring game, though I still expect Syracuse to come out on top. SYRACUSE 42, MTSU 31.