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An absurdly premature assessment of the 2010 Blue Raiders.

Why they might look familiar: Not to belabor these ancient mascots, but this has to be shared: In 1913, MTSU was known as the Pedagogues, which is an excellent word that most college students today likely cannot even spell. (Less entertainingly, Nathan Bedford Forrest also served as mascot at one point. MTSU wasn't the only school to adopt Forrest, but we're not really sure we want to know how that worked.) Spread junkies will recall the Blue Raiders as the landing pad for one Tony Franklin, former Auburn offensive coordinator who was axed in the great War Fail Spread Eagle experiment of 2008. He's since taken his game to Louisiana Tech, but put on an entertaining show in his lone season in Murfreesboro: Nine different players attempted at least one pass last season, five of them wide receivers.

Previously on: The Raiders' 10-3 run wasn't good enough to keep the Sun Belt overlords from their fourth straight conference crown – the Troy Trojans handed MTSU its only SBC loss, 31-7, in early October – but the seven-game winning streak to close the season was the longest in the school's decade-long history as a I-A program, and left them as the first Sun Belt team since the league formed in 2001 to crack double digits in the win column.

Outside of the conference, a 37-14 opening-week loss to Clemson was assuaged somewhat by a one-point win over Bizarro Maryland, 32-31, two weeks later. MTSU then proceeded to get thumped by Mississippi State, just to make it difficult to draw a bead on them. The high-water mark of the season, statistically, was a 62-24 massacre of oft-nuked Sun Belt rookie Western Kentucky. The season concluded with the first bowl win in school history, a 42-32 triumph over Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl.

Encounters in the wild: Chances to see the Blue Raiders on big-time television stand, for the moment, at four: The season opens with Minnesota on a Thursday night, in primetime on ESPNU, and will mark MTSU's first home game against a Big Ten opponent. (The ever-generous Gophers also visited SBC mate Florida Atlantic for a 42-39 loss in 2007.) There's an Oct. 16 trip to Georgia Tech, and the conference dates with Troy and Arkansas State have already been slated for the ESPN2 treatment on Tuesday nights in October and November.

Stock characters: The scoreboard got the best offseason workout in the spring game, with the White team prevailing 56-42. Combined with a rash of injuries to expected starters on both sides of the ball, it's too soon to say whether this bodes well for the offense or ill for the defense in 2010.

One happy certainty is the return of last year's show pony, improbably-named scrambler Dwight Dasher, who threw for close to 2,800 yards and 23 scores in '09 and was also the team's leading rusher, with over 1,150 yards on the ground – 201 of which came against the Doc's beloved Golden Eagles, a new bowl rushing record for a quarterback:

Dasher ranked seventh in the nation in total offense last year, accounting for a higher share of his team's total yards for the season (72 percent) than any other player nationally, and his presence bodes well for MTSU leading the conference in rushing for the second year in a row.

The defense led the Sun Belt in sacks and tackles for loss but will be tasked with replacing multiple key elements, particularly in the secondary, where redshirt freshman cornerback Marquise Dixon drew accolades from coaches and teammates for his work in spring ball.

Prognosis: Uncertain given the injury-jumbled depth chart (and given that Franklin has been replaced with Mike Schultz, last seen at Illinois on a staff that couldn't turn Juice Williams into a viable option at quarterback), but rosy given Dasher's versatility and the manageable schedule. The Sun Belt fills most of the slate with winnable matchups, and if Maryland can go down two years in a row, a home upset over Minnesota is certainly within reach. Non-conference games with regular rivals Austin Peay and Memphis are gimmes. Count on the Blue Raiders to maintain their position near the top of the Sun Belt standings for the forseeable future.

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Previous Absurdly Premature Assessments (alphabetically by team): Boston College ... Central Michigan ... Clemson ... Colorado State ... Connecticut ... East Carolina ... Florida Atlantic ... Fresno State ... Hawaii ... Iowa ... Kansas State ... Kentucky ... LSU ... Marshall ... MemphisMissouriOregon State ... PittsburghStanford.

Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.

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