Iowa Football

Iowa football look ahead: Iowa doesn't really get the 'scheduling down' thing

Of course, you don't want it to be, but Middle Tennessee State is the kind of program that could give Iowa fits

Middle Tennessee State wide receiver Ty Lee. (USA TODAY Sports)
Middle Tennessee State wide receiver Ty Lee. (USA TODAY Sports)
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Middle Tennessee State has finished .500 or above for the last seven seasons under head coach Rick Stockstill.

You’re not impressed. OK, consider this: The Blue Raiders play in Conference USA and are a perfectly well-rounded Group of Five program (one that is in the FBS, but isn’t in the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC or Pac-12).

Athletic programs in the CUSA need “money” games and you know what those are. This season, the Blue Raiders open at Michigan and play host to Duke before traveling to Iowa City.

Iowa will pay MTSU $1.55 million for its trip to Iowa. The price tag at Michigan is $1.6 million. MTSU has to play these games.

Iowa doesn’t.

Here’s how you schedule a money game: You go to the Mountain West website. Check out the standings. Who finished last? New Mexico and San Jose State. OK, New Mexico and San Jose State, how about $1.5 million to come and play a football game at Kinnick? OK, see you in 2027.

What you don’t do is go to the top of the conference. That’s just spending a million for a potential headache.

You know the prime example is North Dakota State. Yes, the UI got a nice price break at $500,000, but it also lost the game, 23-21, leaving a pretty big dent in the 2016 season.

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MTSU is scrappy enough to dent Iowa’s 2019. The program plays money games and consistently gets to bowls games (four straight seasons and five of the last six) and did make the CUSA title game last year (falling 27-25 to Alabama-Birmingham).

By today’s standards, that’s remarkable consisentency for a Group of Five program.

MTSU skill players

Football isn’t all that different from basketball in this regard: Coach’s kids are just a pain in the behind to play against. Last season, Brent Stockstill, Rick Stockstill’s son, stayed healthy and had an excellent 2018 season, earning CUSA MVP after throwing for 3,544 yards and 29 TDs.

Four players have a chance to replace Stockstill: Asher O’Hara, Chance Nolan, Chase Cunningham and junior college transfer Randall Johnson, a 6-5, 235-pounder. At Reedley (Calif.) College last season, Johnson threw for 2,832 yards and 28 touchdowns while adding 797 rushing yards and 14 more scores. He was named the Golden Coast Conference offensive player of the year.

The new QB will have top wide receiver Ty Lee. The 5-9, 178-pounder led the Blue Raiders with 71 catches for 883 yards and seven TDs last season. In his career, Lee has 213 catches for 2,537 yards and 21 touchdowns. Lee’s best shot at the NFL is going to include special teams and he has value there.

After moving to running back in camp as a true freshman, Chaton Mobley led MTSU with 613 yards and four TDs. The 6-1, 235-pounder averaged 5.3 yards per carry, including 5.8 in his last six games.

In just six games last season, running back Brad Anderson caught 27 passes for 332 yards and averaged 5.3 yards on 23 carries. An injury ended his season early.

The Blue Raiders’ offensive coordinator is Tony Franklin. You might remember him as the Auburn offensive coordinator who had a fairly famous “system” that he actually sells.

The Blue Raiders are looking for a QB and they also lost three O-linemen with more than 100 career starts between them.

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MTSU defense

Another thing about playing schools with a decent track record from this level is you never really know who the other coaches are. Unless you’re Googling, they are the coaches in the other colors in the other headphones.

Scott Shafer is in his third season at MTSU. He was head coach at Syracuse and ran defenses at Stanford and Michigan. So, he’s seen some things.

The Raiders also should have CUSA’s top safety duo in Reed Blankenship and Jovonte Moffatt, who defensed six passes in only four games of action last season. Reed Blankenship had 11 passes defensed and eight tackles for loss.

Defensive ends Tyshun Render and Trae Philpots will fuel a pass rush that generated 35.0 sacks last season (fourth in CUSA). MTSU might have to cover for inexperience at cornerback.

Super hot, possibly relevant take on this game that’s 100-something days away: How long can MTSU keep this competitive? That’s how we’ll start with this. Yes, Iowa should win. If Iowa is a serious Big Ten West contender, it leads by two scores and makes it three or four in the fourth quarter.

But don’t run out and paint that on your garage door. When you schedule down, Iowa, really schedule down.

Hawkeyes Look Ahead

Sept. 28 Middle Tennessee State at Kinnick Stadium

Week before: at Iowa State

On the horizon: at Michigan (so, “trap game” scenario engaged)

For Middle Tennessee State

Week before: Bye week

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On the horizon: Conference USA opener vs. Marshall at Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

Game: Sept. 28 at Kinnick Stadium

Coach: Rick Stockstill (87-78, 14th season at MTSU)

2018 record: 8-6, 7-1 in Conference USA East Division

Scoring offense: 28.0 points per game (7th in CUSA, 77th nationally — Iowa State was 82nd at 26.8)

Total offense: 393.4 yards per game (7th CUSA, 74th nationally — one spot ahead of Colorado and UCLA)

Scoring defense: 26.7 points allowed per game (8th CUSA, T-62nd nationally — Minnesota was 59th at 26.5)

Total defense: 377.9 yards allowed per game (7th CUSA, 50th nationally — Minnesota was No. 54 at 385.4)

Series: First meeting between the two schools.

Super early, totally unofficial spread prediction: Iowa will be favored. Let’s say ... 12.5. Iowa probably shouldn’t schedule games against MTSU types. There’s zero bounce for scheduling a good Group of Five game. Everything to lose, nothing to gain. Just do the thing with North Texas, where the spread will be almost three TDs.

Iowa football look ahead 2019

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l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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