Conference USA Game of the Week: MTSU travels to Old Dominion


Beginning this week, Wave the Red Towel will look at a matchup between WKU’s conference mates as the “Conference USA Game of the Week,” in an attempt to bring more attention to the Hilltoppers’ new conference. This week’s installment focuses on a Friday night showdown in Norfolk, Va., between the Old Dominion Monarchs and Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.

The Monarchs enter their inaugural season in C-USA as newcomers to the Football Bowl Subdivision. Unlike other schools who transitioned to the FBS and initially struggled, ODU hit the ground running, winning their first C-USA game in thrilling fashion against defending conference champ Rice via a last-second field goal. However, the team’s success shouldn’t come as a surprise, because the Monarch’s athletic director, Wood Selig, is no stranger to the FBS — he already learned a few things as athletic director at WKU during its transition.

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And then there’s the Blue Raiders, WKU’s biggest rival and every Hilltopper fan’s favorite team to loathe. A week and a half later, I’m still sick to my stomach over the 3OT loss that WKU sufferered in Murfreesboro. But enough about that, I’m supposed to be talking about Friday night’s matchup.

MTSU enters it’s second season in C-USA, following an 8-5 season that included 6 conference wins. The Blue Raiders ended their season with a 24-6 loss to Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl, but look to rebound this year in search for the program’s second bowl win during its FBS era. By today’s college football standards, the Blue Raiders have incredible consistency in coaching, as Rick Stockstill serves his ninth season as head coach. That familiarity has led to a successful, growing program in Murfreesboro.

Friday night’s game marks the first ever meeting between the two schools, and although early in conference play, should serve as a pivotal moment during the season. With a win, ODU moves to 2-0 in conference play and proves the Rice game wasn’t a fluke. If MTSU wins, it moves to 2-0 and stays on top of the conference standings, as well as one step closer to its goal of a conference championship.

ODU is led on offense by star senior quarterback and reigning C-USA Offensive Player of the Week Taylor Heinicke. Heinicke won the Walter Payton Award in 2012 for the best player in the FCS (formerly D-1AA), and hasn’t showed signs of slowing since moving up to the FBS ranks. During his career at ODU, he has amassed over 12,000 passing yards and 1,200 rushing yards. He is the active FBS career leader in passing yards, total offense, and passing touchdowns (112). In other words, he’s pretty good.

On the other side of the football, MTSU features a more balanced offense that flows through sophomore quarterback Austin Grammer. Grammer is second on the team in rushing yards, and has the ability to hurt you with his arm or legs. Against WKU, he rushed for 125 yards and three scores on 19 attempts, including a 59 yard run for the first score of the game. He also threw for 218 yards and another score. The Blue Raiders will also look to involve leading rusher Reggie Whatley, as well as spread the ball around in its passing game.

This game will be decided by defense and shutting down the other team’s quarterback. After defeating Rice, ODU is no longer under the radar in C-USA, and MTSU won’t take them lightly. The Monarchs have the advantage under center with Heinicke, as well as the support of a sellout crowd. Expect a back and forth game, and if the game is decided in the fourth quarter, the Monarchs could knock off their second conference opponent in as many games.

Could we have another upset brewing? Make sure to catch the game on Fox Sports 1 at 7 p.m. tonight, and share your thoughts in the comments below or on twitter @WavetheRedTowel!