Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines Archive
Football season is quickly approaching, and it is a pivotal year for the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. One of the key components to the 2018 season’s success will be the return of starting quarterback Brent Stockstill.
Stockstill was injured in the second game against Minnesota last year, and the Blue Raiders season was derailed before it was able to take off. Stockstill and the Blue Raiders were primed for a breakout season, but it was postponed for the upcoming campaign.
The Blue Raiders are prepared to challenge for the title of Conference USA champions, but no road to prosperity is an easy one.
The Blue Raiders will have a rigorous non-conference schedule, facing three Southeastern Conference schools. Lane Kiffin still resides in Boca Rotan at the helm of the Florida Atlantic Owls, last year’s C-USA champions, and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are still Middle Tennessee’s toughest and longest standing rival within the conference.
So here’s a look at the top five games to watch throughout the season as the Blue Raiders prepare for week one.
Florida Atlantic Owls (Week 5 – 9/29)
FAU was able to land former NFL coach and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin prior to last season, and Kiffin was able to reach the mountaintop in his first season. The Owls will only continue to get better under his vision and direction. The Owls have 25 seniors who will look to repeat as champions before they graduate. Returning junior tight end Harrison Bryant was also named on the 2018 John Mackey Award Preseason Watch List. In 2017, there wasn’t one game against a C-USA opponent that the Owls offense didn’t score less than 30 points. The Owls points per game average against C-USA teams was an astounding 45.4, and the Owls were undefeated against conference opponents in 2017. The Blue Raiders will need to match the Owls high-flying offense and are prepared to do so. The Blue Raiders spread offense and pass-heavy attack should put the team in position to duel it out in a shootout with the Owls.
Vanderbilt Commodores (Week 1 – 9/1)
The Blue Raiders have faced their crosstown rival the past three years and having lost in crushing fashion each time. The Blue Raiders let victory slip through their hands in 2015, losing in the final two minutes. The Commodores then hosted and traveled back to Floyd Stadium where they took care of business, easily beating the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee will look to turn the tide in the final matchup of the contract. Not only is this a top five game to watch, it also is the first game of the season. It will be important for the Blue Raiders to get off to good start in 2018, and a victory would set the tone for the remainder of the season, especially against an SEC opponent in a winnable game.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (Week 10 – 11/2)
The 100 Miles of Hate rivalry is real. In the past two seasons, the Blue Raiders have lost in heartbreaking overtimes, both at home and on the road. The Hilltoppers will travel to Middle Tennessee to take on the Blue Raiders in 2018, and this game has a little more meaning than most on the C-USA schedule. The Hilltoppers and Blue Raiders have met 66 times in their universities’ history. The Blue Raiders currently hold a 33-32-1 record over the Hilltoppers, but MTSU would hate to let WKU tie the all-time series. The Hilltoppers hold a three-game win streak dating back to 2015, so the seniors for the Blue Raiders will want to taste victory one time against their biggest rival. The Hilltoppers have been a dominant force in C-USA and won back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016. The Hilltoppers have since lost both of their starting quarterbacks in each respective season in Brandon Doughty and Mike White, who were both drafted in the NFL. Another new starting quarterback will have to carry the torch for the Hilltoppers after a dismal 6-6 record in 2017. This could be the opportunity for the Blue Raiders to grab a huge victory in the season and prove to be one of the top teams in C-USA.
Georgia Bulldogs (Week 3 – 9/15)
The Bulldogs are another SEC opponent the Blue Raiders will face in 2018. The Bulldogs are quite literally one of the top dogs. Georgia played for the National Championship last season but ultimately fell short of glory to Alabama. However, the Bulldogs will return to try and recapture the crown this season. They are heavily favored to win the SEC East, and it will be the Blue Raiders biggest challenge of the season. It will be David versus Goliath in a battle with MTSU’s high flying offense against the Bulldogs stout and tough defensive front.
Kentucky Wildcats (Week 12 – 11/17)
The final SEC opponent of the non-conference schedule is the Kentucky Wildcats. Similar to Vanderbilt, the Blue Raiders have a legitimate shot to go on the road and steal a victory against a Power 5 school. The Wildcats are more recognizable for their championed basketball teams than their football team. However, head coach Bob Stoops has turned the football program in the right direction but has been stagnant in progress for the past couple of seasons. It will be a winnable contest for the Blue Raiders if they bring their “A” game and play mistake-free football.
It will be a critical season for the Blue Raiders and the final chapter of the Stockstill tandem between son and coach. Both Brent and Rick will look to close out their era together on a strong note. The Blue Raiders have appeared in a bowl game each year Stockstill has been the starting quarterback.
To contact Sports Editor David Chamberlain, email email@example.com.