With the release of Conference USA’s full schedule a few days a, it became very clear that the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders’ 2018 schedule may be it’s most difficult to date. In all, the Blue Raiders will face a total of seven bowl teams from last season, including the defending SEC Champion Georgia Bulldogs.
Also of note, the Middle Tennessee athletic department chose to sacrifice a potential non-conference home game in order to land three SEC teams on the 2018 schedule. Let’s take a closer look at how I think the Blue Raiders fair against their 2018 schedule.
Check out the 2018 @MT_FB schedule! The #BlueRaiders play seven teams that attended bowls in 2017. Details: https://t.co/P0ZVwCumna pic.twitter.com/sIfrXBpIBT— MT Athletics (@MTAthletics) January 23, 2018
Week 1 at Vanderbilt
2018 Marks the fourth year in a row that the Blue Raiders face Vanderbilt. This year will feature the match-up of senior quarterbacks Kyle Shurmur and Brent Stockstill in what may be a passing clinic. The real question is if the Blue Raider offense can get it going early unlike last year. Regardless, this one could be closely contested in Nashville.
Week 2 vs UT Martin
Looking at the non-conference slate, beating Martin at home is important considering the difficulty of the other non-conference games. The Raiders will need to make sure they stay up, otherwise they could face problems from a sneaky-good Martin team.
Week 3 at Georgia
Going into Athens as a major underdog to the defending SEC champions, Middle Tennessee will honestly have nothing to lose in this game. If the Blue Raiders are able to keep it close for a half, MTSU fans will have something to hang their hats on.
Week 4 Bye
I hate how early this bye week is, but if the Blue Raiders are battling the injury bug early again this year, it may work out in their favor. Also, I like the idea of having two weeks to prepare for the two most important conference games this year.
Week 5 vs FAU
What better way to start your conference slate than to host the defending champions, right? The Blue Raiders will look to avenge last years’ embarrassing loss in Boca Raton and take control of their own destiny in C-USA. But, this FAU team will be returning a lot of firepower from last year, so expect this one to be tight the whole way.
Week 6 at Marshall
As if the first half of the season wasn’t hard enough, Middle Tennessee has to travel to Huntington, a place they have never won, to take on the Thundering Head. Despite Marshall losing veteran quarterback Chase Litton, I don’t expect this trip to be any easier. Marshall will continue to be up for this game like they always are, making this one just as important as ever.
Week 7 at FIU
Regardless of what happens in the weeks prior, this game will be an important road game for the Blue Raiders’ season. This FIU team will be less experienced than in years past and should be a game the Blue Raiders pounce on.
Week 8 vs Charlotte
MTSU has made a habit of beating Charlotte even when struggling and I don’t expect that to change next year.
Week 9 at Old Dominion
This game is very similar to the FIU game. It is a winnable road game that the Blue Raiders need to take advantage of when those opportunities arise. But expect this one to be tough, especially if the Monarchs can stay healthy.
Week 10 vs Western Kentucky
100 Miles of Hate. There is no rivalry like it in Conference USA. Expect a lot of points, at least one overtime, and plenty of trash talk on Twitter. Middle Tennessee will look to get back into the win-column again in this rivalry after a pair of disappointing losses.
Week 11 at UTEP
Just like FIU and ODU, this game is a road win the Blue Raiders need to get. That being said, the Miners have spoiled a season or two for the Blue Raiders, so a win is no guarantee.
Week 12 at Kentucky
In my book, this is the most interesting game of the season for the Blue Raiders. I believe this might be MTSU’s best chance to get a Power Five win in 2018. MTSU always seems to kick it into high gear in November and could catch this Kentucky team between two rivalry games and get a quality win late in the season.
Week 13 vs UAB
The Blue Raiders close their 2018 season against a tough UAB team that surprised the nation last year in #TheReturn. I felt like MTSU gave away last year’s game in Birmingham late, so hopefully they can end the season strong this year with a good win against a strong team.
I believe this may be the Blue Raider’s toughest schedule in recent memory. Playing an extra road game at the end of the season vs a SEC opponent is a bold move by the Middle Tennessee athletic department that could pay off if they find a way to win it.
This could be a career defining year, one way or another, for coach Rick Stockstill based on this schedule and how it plays out. Fans are ready for Middle Tennessee to win a conference title and this schedule is going to make that job just a little more difficult. MTSU has pieces to take the next step but I guess we’ll see if they can do it.