All of the talk inside the MTSU football program during the offseason was putting last season's 2-10 record in the past.
The Blue Raiders' chance to start 2012 on a different note begins this week, as they prepare for a Thursday, Aug. 30, night match-up against McNeese State University at Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro.
The Cowboys compete in a lower division, Football Championship Subdivision, but the Blue Raider coaches and players know they will be a tough opponent to beat.
"It is a very good challenge for us," head coach Rick Stockstill said. "They are very fast in all three phases of the game. Overall, the strength of their team is their speed, and they are also very athletic."
The Blue Raiders have not started a season with a 1-0 record since 2006 – a fact they hope to change.
In fairness, the team has opened up the past three seasons against Atlantic Coast Conference foe, Clemson University, and followed that up with competitive games versus opponents from the Big Ten, Minnesota and Purdue universities.
This year, the two-time Sun Belt Conference champions want to reverse the trend, and start off this season with a win.
"It's a new team, and we are seeking to find our identity," junior quarterback Logan Kilgore said. "It is a big game for us, and we hope to start off with a win. It's the first game on the schedule, and we got to perform."
Despite McNeese State usually playing in a lower division – meaning the team could be easier to beat – the Blue Raiders face players who are already being dubbed Southland Conference title contenders.
And even though the 14-time conference champion is likely to test the Blue Raiders' skills, the team did lose its power prospect: Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu, a junior cornerback who almost joined the team during the offseason.
The former Heisman Trophy candidate, who was kicked out of Louisiana State University early in the preseason, decided instead to transfer to a drug treatment program in Texas.
In the meantime, the Cowboys have pressed on, with 15 returning starters, even being picked to finish fourth in the very competitive eight-team Southland Conference.
With that in mind, the Blue Raiders will have to keep an eye on several McNeese State players on both sides of ball.
One of those players is Malcolm Bronson, who the National Football League scouts are already eyeing this season. The senior free safety is a three-time, first-team All-Southland Conference selection.
Kilgore acknowledged it will likely be a tough challenge to keep the ball away from the Cowboy defense, especially given Bronson's talent.
"He is very active," Kilgore said, "and he is a ball hawk."
All of the talk during the Blue Raider preseason was how would new co-defensive coordinator and former SEC assistant Tyrone Nix fit into the program, and he's been charged with bringing a more physical tone to that side of the ball.
Fortunately, the first challenge will be against a very experienced offensive line, which brings back six seniors to the position.
MTSU will also look to stop senior wide receiver and return specialist Darius Carey, a senior from New Orleans, who used to play for Sun Belt rival North Texas.
"But, you do not focus on one guy," Stockstill said. "We got to play great team defense. They will be hungry and see if they can put pressure on the quarterback."