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FAU Owls vs MTSU Blue Raiders 2014 Preview: What to watch for

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders face off against the Florida Atlantic Owls in a conference match-up on Saturday night. Can the Blue Raiders win and move on to bowl eligibility? Or will the Owls pull off the upset in Murfreesboro?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Teams: FAU (3-7, 2-4 C-USA) vs. MTSU (5-5, 4-2 C-USA)

When: Saturday, November 22nd, 7:00 PM EST

Where: Murfreesboro, TN

TV: American Sports Network

F/+: MTSU - 83 (O: 95/D: 73/ST: 66), FAU - 106 (100/103/65)

Series: MTSU 8-3

Middle Tennessee State welcomes Florida Atlantic for a C-USA match-up on Saturday night. The Blue Raiders will look to reach bowl eligibility against the Owls, while FAU is still searching for their first road win of the season. It has been a bumpy road down the stretch for both teams, with MTSU coming off a stunning, come-from-behind defeat at FIU and Florida Atlantic having lost their last three games.

Preview

With bowl eligibility out of reach, Florida Atlantic is really just playing for pride here. Well, pride and game experience for the younger Owls. Senior Day is on the horizon, so we can expect the full range of eligible freshmen to suit up for FAU this weekend. The Owls may be without true freshman Greg Howell once again, as the young running back recovers from a hamstring injury. Joining Howell on the "Questionable" list is senior Tony Moore, who sprained his foot against North Texas.This week's depth chart does reveal Jay Warren's name once again and while he may not be the feature back on Saturday, expect the sophomore to get a chance to redeem his early season fumble troubles. Oh, and Lucky Whitehead is healthy. *praises the sky*

Two games remain for MTSU this year and while the season finale at UTEP is bound to be a fun one, the true test comes this weekend. Can the Blue Raiders pony up and continue their streak of downing the Owls? I would like to believe they have the talent to do so. Austin Grammer has been one of the better quarterbacks in the conference throughout the year and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better C-USA offensive unit when they're taking care of the football. Unfortunately, that has been the team's downfall in every loss this season. These two teams had a hell of a game in Boca Raton last season, heading into overtime after some absolutely ridiculous Owl offense, but something tells me this time around won't be as close.

FAU will beat MTSU if ... they stop the run.

The defensive line is hobbled. The linebackers are on their last legs. And the secondary is still trying to find their form from last season. It was going to be an uphill battle stopping the MTSU run on the road regardless of depth, but this week just seems incredibly stacked against the Owls. If the band of second-stringers and Andrae Kirk can cover the gaps in the middle of the field and hold the Blue Raiders to less than 200 yards, FAU will bring a victory back to Boca Raton. If they allow Grammer, Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley to move freely throughout the field, things will just not be that tight (and the Owls will lose).

MTSU will beat FAU if ... they protect the ball.

The Blue Raiders have turned the ball over more than once in each loss this season, capitalized by a five turnover performance against FIU last week. The Panthers love to snatch the ball away from their opponents, but still, some of those turnovers - and let's be honest, some of those throws - were just plain ugly. Even with a severely depleted defense, the Owls are only a year removed from being one of their more dominant teams in the country on that side of the ball. MTSU will need to stick its guns - and not stick to its guns - while riding the legs of Parker and Whatley against a porous FAU run defense. All in all, if the Blue Raiders can finish their drives, and stop a few of FAU's, they'll be on their way to a bowl game.

Prediction

Despite their incomplete performance at FIU last week, I am in the camp that sees the Blue Raiders as a solid football team with a bevy of losses to tough teams. Those tough teams did one thing particularly well, and that was cause turnovers. As I mentioned before, this should be MTSU's number one priority to secure a victory. At the opposite end, if T.T. Barber and Kevin Byard can have the games they're supposed to have, the Owl offense will sputter out of control in no time. I honestly expect FAU to come out flat here, while the Blue Raiders have the "sixth win" chip securely fastened to their shoulders. MTSU will start strong and quickly run away to a 6-5 record and bowl eligibility.

MTSU 38, FAU 16