The Conference-USA Championship Game brings us a rematch of a game that was played last weekend between the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders and the UAB Blazers. Game time is set for 1:30 EST on Saturday, December 1, at Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the home field of Middle Tennessee. Fans can watch the game on the CBS Sports Network.
According to this week’s college football betting odds, the Blue Raiders are favored by 2.5 points on their home field. The over/under for the game is set at 45 points.
For UAB, just getting to the C-USA Championship Game is an amazing accomplishment. The Blazers didn’t even field a team in 2015 and 2016 after the program was briefly shut down. However, upon their return, the Blazers were 8-5 and went to a bowl game last season and topped that success this year by winning the C-USA West division.
The Blazers finished the regular season 9-3 overall and 7-1 in conference play. At one point, UAB rattled off eight wins in a row, enabling them to win the West division with a two-game cushion. However, the Blazers have lost their last two games of the season. They lost to Texas A&M out of conference and then fell at Middle Tennessee last week for their only conference loss of the season.
Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee has enjoyed fairly sustained success for over a decade under Rick Stockstill. However, this is the first time MTSU will be playing in a conference championship game. It’s also the first time the Blue Raiders will have a chance to win a conference championship since winning the Sun Belt in 2006, Stockstill’s first season.
The Blue Raiders were a modest 8-4 overall this season. However, three of their losses came against SEC opponents in Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Kentucky. MTSU’s only conference loss came against Florida International in mid-October. After that, the Blue Raiders won five straight league games and got a little help to secure the C-USA East division.
As mentioned, the Blue Raiders beat the Blazers last week, winning 27-3 at home. The Blazers managed just 89 total yards, in large part because Middle Tennessee had seven sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. On the bright side, it can’t get much worse for UAB this week. But they’re going to have to play a lot better to get a different result this week.
It’s unusual to see teams play each other in consecutive weeks. On the surface, I think it favors the team that lost. They will be able to make adjustments while the winning team won’t want to change anything. But Middle Tennessee’s win over UAB last week was so complete that I don’t think the Blazers have a 24-point turnaround in them. I’ll take my chances with the Blue Raiders knocking off UAB in consecutive weeks and being able to cover the 2.5-point spread.
I hate to take away from what UAB accomplished this season, but they beat up on some bad teams. On the season, they gave up less than 17 points per game. But that number was closer to 24 points per game against teams that are bowl eligible. Also, keep in mind that they only played one game against a team from a major conference. Against quality teams, they weren’t so stout defensively, which is what we saw last week against Middle Tennessee.
MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill, the son of the head coach, has been one of the most overlooked quarterbacks in the country the last couple of years. Stockstill has had the most efficient season of his career, completing 71% of his passes while holding himself to just six interceptions. He’s also been at his best late in the year. Two weeks ago against a good Kentucky defense, he completed 30 of his 33 passes for nearly 300 yards. He was nearly as sharp last week against UAB.
On the other side of the ball, the Middle Tennessee defense doesn’t have the impressive numbers that the Blazers do. However, the Blue Raiders have taken their lumps this year against better teams, which seems to have paid off for them late in the year. The MTSU defense commits to stopping the run, enabling them to get pressure on the quarterback. It was a strategy that worked to perfection last week and one the Blazers could struggle to beat this week as well.
To be fair, last week’s game was the first game back for UAB quarterback A.J. Erdely after missing three games with a shoulder injury. But even before the injury, he was inconsistent at best as a passer. The Blazers need to run the ball in order to give him a chance to be successful through the air. With Erdely being otherwise limited as a passer, it’ll be easy for MTSU to focus on the run, knowing Erdely probably won’t hurt them as a passer.
Honestly, I see this game unfolding much like last week’s game did between these two teams. Unless the Blazers can have more success running the ball, they’ll struggle to score points. The UAB defense may have a better plan to slow down Stockstill, but it won’t matter much if the Blazers aren’t better offensively. With the Blue Raiders only needing to win by a field goal to cover, I like my chances with Middle Tennessee, especially at home.