Through the first four weeks of the season, teams from the Sun Belt Conference have been a nuisance.
Middle Tennessee State wants to add to the pest problem.
When the upset-minded Blue Raiders head to Atlanta on Saturday to take on Georgia Tech, they’ll hope to come back with the league’s third win against a school from a BCS conference (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC).
So far, the league has victimized two SEC schools this fall. Louisiana-Monroe might be the best 1-2 team in the country. The Warhawks shocked then-No. 8 Arkansas in the season opener before losing to Auburn and Baylor by a combined eight points. Western Kentucky, off to a 3-1 start, used extra time to upend struggling Kentucky a couple weeks ago.
“I’ve said it probably a million times but I think this conference nationally is underappreciated,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said earlier this week. “There are some really, really good players in this conference. There are good coaches in this conference. I think because we are so young as a conference it just takes time for people to appreciate how good you are. This conference has had some really good out-of-conference wins this year.
“Obviously, if you go on the road and you beat an ACC team, it will bring that much more attention to your school but the conference in general.”
The Sun Belt has been around since 1976 but didn’t start sponsoring football until 2001.
Troy has always served as a perennial power, winning five of the last six league championships. The Trojans have also knocked off several giants, with wins over Mississippi State (2001), Missouri (2004) and Oklahoma State (2007).
Over the last 15 years, MTSU hasn’t been afraid to schedule the big boys either. They’ve had close calls with Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Purdue and Virginia but also own two wins each against Vanderbilt (2002, 2005) and Maryland (2008, 2009).
“Our guys, they’re not in awe of going into Bobby Dodd Stadium. They’re not going to be in awe of Georgia Tech,” said Stockstill, who is 2-17 against BCS opponents in seven years at MTSU. “We’ve played all these games. We’ve been everywhere. They’re not looking at the logo on the field or on their helmet and saying, ‘Wow. We get to play these guys.’ This is the next game on our schedule. We’ll go in there with a lot of confidence and expect to win the game.”
The last two meetings with the Yellow Jackets (2-2), however, have been lopsided affairs.
In 2010, Georgia Tech pulled away from MTSU after halftime for a 42-14 win in Atlanta. Last year, the visiting Yellow Jackets scored the game’s first 28 points en route to a 49-21 blowout.
But the Blue Raiders, who are 2-1 and coming off a bye week, feel better about themselves this year. They’ve needed just three games to match last year’s win total and have a winning record for the first time since 2009. Coincidentally, that was also the last time they knocked off a school from a power conference, with a 32-31 road victory at Maryland.
“It would be big,” quarterback Logan Kilgore said of a win over Georgia Tech. “But it would just be really getting that third win and I think that, regardless of who it is, that’d be big for us … . They’ve got a smart coach and a good program. I don’t think they’re going to be, ‘Oh, we got Middle Tennessee.’ I think they’re going to come ready to play and that’s what we want. I think we should expect a good game.”