A season that started out so promising is on the verge of completely falling apart for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.
Fans of the program felt pretty good about their team heading into the WKU game last week. Yes, they were 2-3, but they could and should have beaten Illinois and Vanderbilt. A few things fell the wrong way and those games were lost. The WKU game was another matter as the Hilltoppers dominated play from the opening snap. MTSU was never really in the game, falling 58-28.
That loss to WKU not only lost a lot of the confidence built up in the opening portion of the season, but also put the Blue Raiders at 2-4 on the season. 2-4 is significant because it gives MTSU very little wiggle room in making a bowl game. There is no guarantee that they will go bowling with a 6-6 final record, so a 5-1 second half of the season is essential.
First up is Florida International. There is no other way to look at this game than a must win game for the Blue Raiders. If MTSU somehow lost this game, they would have to run the table and beat Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, and UTSA. Three of those games are going to be very tough, while FAU is no walk in the park. A win versus Florida International would give MTSU the ability to lose one of those games and not feel like their season is essentially over.
Adding to the pressures of winning this tough game, they will likely be without second leading rusher Jeremiah Bryson (44/186/3TD). Bryson was arrested twice this week for two separate charges. Though he has not yet been suspended for this game, it would be a surprise if he was allowed to go for the full game Saturday. This is a developing story, so nothing is concrete until the program issues an official statement.
Florida International is 3-3 on the season, but has not yet come out victorious versus a team in the S&P+ top 100. Their two FBS wins were versus UTEP and UCF. They are in a similar boat as MTSU, unable to finish games versus quality opponents.
If MTSU wins this game, worries are abated for another week. They will be at 3-4 and 2-1 in conference play. Things will seem so much more stable and the bitterness of a blowout loss to WKU will finally be gone. If MTSU loses this game, we could be in store for an implosion within the program and the Blue Raiders losing 7-8 games overall.
The S&P+ Rankings have been kind to the Blue Raiders and have them on pace to become bowl eligible. MTSU is the #81 ranked S&P+ team in the nation. Surprisingly, the win probability equation has MTSU losing to Florida Atlantic but beating Marshall in the coming weeks.
It is time for MTSU to show the rest of Conference USA that they were right to be picked as a quality team in the East Division and it all starts versus Florida International.