It's 100 Miles of Hate Day! But, unfortunately, there might not be a bunch of spark in south-central Kentucky when longtime rivals Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee meet, with the Hilltoppers looking to move to a perfect 3-0 in conference play and the Blue Raiders looking to improve to 2-0 in CUSA play.
WKU is becoming a big-time program, which Hilltopper fans would be crazy to not like. But, unfortunately, big time programs have game times decided by television, which is exactly the case this week, and fans aren't happy. No-sir-ee. Not one bit.
Anyway, this is a fun rivalry because both fanbases really don't like the other, but that really doesn't make much sense because outside of the color schemes and nicknames, the schools are essentially the same thing. But don't tell anyone I said that, because then they might hurt me.
Here's your game information:
Start Time: 11:00 a.m. CT
Location: L.T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green, Ky.
TV: Fox Sports Regional Networks
Betting Line: WKU -8. Over/Under: 69
The MTBRs: Middle Tennessee is coming off a pair of heartbreaking losses to Power 5 competition: a 27-25 loss at Illinois, in which MTSU held a 25-24 lead with 2:10 to play and missed a last-second field goal from 43-yards out with four ticks left, and a 17-13 defeat at home (on homecoming, no less) to Vanderbilt (who WKU beat to open the year) - a game in which the Raiders lead by 10 with 6:15 to play, only to see Vandy score two rushing touchdowns (one from 29 yards out and the game winner from 39 yards out) in the final 6:14 to steal the victory.
Needless to say, the emotions on the MTSU sideline are probably drained. It appears you have consecutive Power 5 victories on your schedule, only to be a game under .500 heading into a game against your biggest rival, having lost three of your last four.
But, this is a rivalry game. That's all I need to say, you can fill the spaces with your own cliches about how teams show up for rivalry games, you can throw out all the numbers in a rivalry game, blah blah blah.
Not only that, but history is on the side of the Raiders. At least, recent history is. Dating back to the 2008 season, the Blue Raiders have won five of six meetings, but remember how bad the Hilltoppers were before 2011 (when WKU won for the first time since 2007, and the Blue Raiders finished the season with two wins).
So, which Blue Raider squad will we see? The one that is emotionally drained form having two P5 wins snatched from their grasps? Or the one that toppled the eventual 2014 Bahamas Bowl Champions in three overtimes a year ago? All I know is I can't wait to find out.
Dear Old Western: For a second straight week, the Hilltoppers shellacked, and I mean shellacked, their opponent. In what many thought might be a preview of this year's CUSA Championship Game (and it still could be) the Tops jumped all over Rice, taking a 35-10 lead into halftime and SHUTTING OUT THE OWLS IN THE SECOND HALF.
SOUND THE ALARM. THE DEFENSE ISN'T BROKEN. ZERO POINTS WERE SCORED BY RICE AFTER HALFTIME. (Never mind the near unexplainable struggles of Driphus Jackson.)
Last week, we highlighted how pivotal it would be to stop the Owls running game, and mission accomplished, as the Tops held Rice to 85 ground yards on 35 ground touches. Well, this week, they same thing applies. The Raiders boast a trio of 100-yard rushers, led by Jordan Parker (307 yards on 63 carries and four touchdowns), averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
WKU's secondary will be tested a ton as well, as Middle boasts two 400-plus yard receivers with Ed'Marques Batties (528 yards, eight touchdowns), who is averaging 13.2 yards per catch, and Richie James (447 yards, one touchdown). However, outside of Terry Pettis who has 10 catches for 265 yards, there isn't a whole lot of depth for 1,500-yard passer Brent Stockstill - certainly not the depth Brandon Doughty has - but the Tops have to slow downtime guys up top in order to force the third and fourth options to beat them.
If there's an area of concern for WKU, its in the running game, but I still don't see it as that large of a concern. D'Andre Ferby has been good. Certainly not matching the numbers Leon Allen would (conceivably) be putting up, but good enough. Ferby had two touchdowns but just 58 scrimmage yards on 19 touches, and someone not-named Ferby had 11 carries for 24 yards against Rice.
This is only concerning if the MTBR's take Doughty and his receiving corps out of the game, which is very very doubtful will happen, but not 100% out of the question.
Prediction: I love rivalry games because of the trash talk, the pride that comes in winning and the anticipation. However, whenever it comes to teams I pull for, I never feel comfortable about my team going into a rivalry game.
And unfortunately, those same feelings apply this week.
I've been telling folks for weeks, weeks, that I think MTSU will win, but the rub is, I don't know why. Last year I knew how even the Tops and Raiders were - I just didn't expect them to be three-overtimes even. I don't think MTSU is even with WKU. I think the Hilltoppers are by far the better team.
But I think the Raiders harness their emotions into this rivalry game, and leave Smith Stadium, again, with a victory. I'm taking the MTBR's 48-42, and hopefully by the end of the day I'm the most wrong I've ever been in life.