MURFREESBORO – The big stage isn’t new for Middle Tennessee State.
Over the last four years, the Blue Raiders football team has been featured on national television 10 times.
But they could be breaking new ground in their season opener Thursday.
After a 10-3 record and a victory in the New Orleans Bowl last season, they are being noticed – and not just in the Sun Belt Conference. Thus when they host the Big Ten’s Minnesota on ESPNU at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, they realize it is not just another season opener and not just another game on national TV.
“I think it is special,” MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill said. “To me it validates your program a little bit. I think it gives your university the credibility that ‘Hey, this is a pretty dang good football team.’ They don’t just put anybody on TV.”
MTSU enters the season on a seven-game winning streak, which is the third longest in the nation behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Boise State (both have won 14 straight). Because of that recent success, the program has received votes in the Associated Press’ Top 25 preseason poll. Plus, several players are in early consideration for seven different national awards.
Stockstill and athletics director Chris Massaro hope to show off the Blue Raider faithful as much as they do those who play the game. Both expect a boisterous and full Floyd Stadium. Massaro is optimistic for the first sellout in the history of the Blue Raiders’ 75-year-old facility, which has a capacity of 30,788.
“We have to prove all the reporters right,” senior running back Phillip Tanner said. “At the same time, we are not that team from last year. We are not the same exact team that played in the New Orleans Bowl. So we have to go out there with a chip on our shoulders to prove that we are a better team.”
MTSU will be without do-it-all senior quarterback Dwight Dasher, who is suspended for violation of the NCAA’s amateurism legislation. Junior college transfer Logan Kilgore will start in his place.
Earlier this week Minnesota suspended two seniors, starting safety Kyle Theret and backup offensive lineman Dom Alford, for violation of team rules.
If MTSU gets past Minnesota, its next big challenge would be against Troy in early October. Then, on Oct. 16, the Blue Raiders travel to play Georgia Tech, which won the Atlantic Coast Conference and reached the Orange Bowl last season.
For now, though, the focus is on Minnesota and the potential impact of a victory over a team from a BCS conference before a national television audience.
“It would be a big win but we are not talking about that,” Stockstill said. “It is not something like ‘Hey, we have to win this game to validate our program or our team or our season.’ I am going to play it one game at a time. Yes, it would be a great win for us. But we have to execute. We have to perform. We have to do the little things necessary to give us an opportunity to win this game.”