The track record is far from impressive.
In the first five years of the Rick Stockstill era at Middle Tennessee State, the Blue Raiders are 2-12 against schools from power conferences. That includes a 44-0 beatdown from LSU and a 59-0 throttling by Oklahoma.
By comparison, MTSU is 31-18 against everyone else during that stretch.
So why take the chance playing a BCS school — a game the Blue Raiders are expected to lose and a game that could keep them from becoming bowl eligible?
Isn’t the answer obvious?
“We get a big paycheck,” Stockstill said smiling.
MTSU will receive $850,000 when it plays at Big Ten foe Purdue, 11 a.m. Saturday.
The season opener is the first of four non-conference contests this fall. The Blue Raiders host Georgia Tech on Sept. 10 and travel to Knoxville in November to take on Tennessee. They’ll also play Memphis (of non-BCS affiliated Conference USA) on Oct. 1.
The game against Purdue, which finished 4-8 last year, was a late addition to the schedule after Kent State opted out of its opener against the Boilermakers. The Golden Eagles, instead, went for more money — they got $1.2 million to open at No. 2 Alabama.
More than the huge payday, Stockstill sees matchups with high-profile programs as opportunities for MTSU to draw national recognition — win or lose. But there is a definite emphasis on winning.
“We’ve got a lot to lose too,” Stockstill said. “We’re not going there just for the paycheck. We are going there to win. That is our mindset. If we don’t, we’ll be disappointed. We’ll be ticked off.”
That was the feeling last year when the Blue Raiders fell 21-14 to Minnesota in the season opener. Without its starting quarterback Dwight Dasher, who had been suspended after violating NCAA rules, MTSU stayed with the Big Ten squad, which finished the season just 3-9.
“It wasn’t a shock to us. We expected to win,” Stockstill said. “We beat Maryland the two previous years [2008-09] so we have played enough of these guys now that the novelty of it has kind of worn off. We are not intimidated going into 100,000-seat stadiums any more — not that we ever were. We are going places to win now.”
BCS opponents also are headed to Murfreesboro. Minnesota traveled to Floyd Reese Stadium for its season opener last year, which was televised on ESPNU and was just one of two games on the Thursday night before college football’s opening weekend.
The Blue Raiders have also had home-and-home agreements with Georgia Tech, Maryland and Mississippi State.
“Getting those guys to come to our place is another building block in the process of building this program,” Stockstill said.
The Blue Raiders are coming off a 6-7 season and have been picked to finish third in the Sun Belt Conference. A win at Purdue would boost the confidence of a team trying to reach its third straight bowl game.
“David and Goliath — I don’t look at it like that,” offensive lineman Alex Stuart said of the non-conference contests. “You just go out there — 11-on-11, smash-mouth football. Whoever wants it more is going to get it.”
Stockstill, however, knows it is not just another football game — not for MTSU.
“Nobody outside of this grass right here expects us to beat Purdue,” he said. “Nobody expects that but us. If we do it, it will be national news on ESPN all that night. It is great exposure if you can knock one of those guys off.”