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September 24, 2008

National spotlight provides huge opportunity

For the first time in program history, the bright lights of major national television will shine on Floyd Stadium Tuesday night when ESPN2 comes to Murfreesboro.

GoMiddle.com takes a look back at the history of Middle Tennessee football on national TV and examines the importance of next week's game against FAU.

Middle Tennessee at Georgia Southern -- Sep. 21, 1989 -- ESPN
Comment: The program's first national TV game is one of the most infamous games in Blue Raider football history. With the game set to air on ESPN, Middle Tennessee and Georgia Southern played the game as scheduled in Statesboro, Ga. despite nasty weather from the effects of approaching Hurricane Hugo. With winds gusting up to 50 miles-per-hour and buckets of rain falling, Middle Tennessee fell 26-0 to the Eagles that day. The Blue Raiders went on to win the OVC championship but lost in the second round of the playoffs in a rematch at Georgia Southern.
Middle Tennessee at Troy -- Nov. 26, 2005 -- ESPNU
Comment: Middle Tennessee claimed a 17-7 road win over Troy during one of the program's periods of uncertainty. It was the first game since athletic director Chris Massaro had announced Andy McCollum would not be retained for the 2006 season and the Blue Raiders dug deep to score a major road victory. The Blue Raiders jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead and held on for the win behind two touchdown runs from tailback Eugene Gross.
Tennessee Tech at Middle Tennessee -- Sep. 14, 2006 -- ESPNU
Comment: This was officially the first national television game at Floyd Stadium, although ESPNU is not seen in nearly the number of homes as ESPN or ESPN2. The Blue Raiders rolled to a 44-0 victory over their former OVC rivals in the third game of the Rick Stockstill era. It was an early struggle as Middle Tennessee entered halftime with just a 3-0 lead, but the Blue Raiders scored six second half touchdowns to pull away in convincing fashion as the defense held Tennessee Tech to just 125 yards of total offense.
Middle Tennessee vs. Louisville (at Nashville) -- Oct. 6, 2006 -- ESPN2
Comment: The big stage of Nashville's LP Field provided an electric atmosphere as Middle Tennessee took on 8th ranked Louisville, but it was Damon Nickson that sparked the Blue Raiders early in the game. Nickson returned a Louisville kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown to give MT a 7-3 lead in one of the most outstanding individual plays in program history. The Blue Raiders led by as much as 10-3 before Louisville's overwhelming firepower began to assert itself. The final margin was 44-17 but MT's inspired effort won over several new fans both at LP Field and at home watching on ESPN2.
Middle Tennessee vs. Central Michigan (Motor City Bowl) -- Dec. 26, 2006 -- ESPN
Comment: The Blue Raiders and Chippewas battled each other in front of a holiday television audience at Detroit's Ford Field, the site of Super Bowl XL earlier in 2006. Featured as a part of ESPN's Capital One Bowl Week, the Blue Raiders received some of the best exposure they've ever had but the combination of Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour and running back Ontario Sneed as well as a crucial defensive touchdown turned the tide in the Chippewas' favor. CMU won the game 31-14, but Middle Tennessee's program had reached a new level by earning its first 1-A bowl game berth in the first year of the Rick Stockstill era.
Middle Tennessee at Louisville -- Sep. 6, 2007 -- ESPN2
Comment: Fans that thought the 2006 matchup between Middle Tennessee and Louisville was exciting had to love the 2007 meeting even more. The two teams combined for 100 points and nearly 1,300 yards as Louisville managed a 58-42 win over a Blue Raider team that had one of the most prolific offensive outputs in the program's history. Louisville led 38-35 at halftime as Middle Tennessee got a pair of first half touchdowns each from Phillip Tanner and DeMarco McNair, in addition to a 24-yard touchdown pass from Joe Craddock to Bobby Williams. Louisville scored 13 unanswered points in the third quarter to gain some separation on the scoreboard, but a 79-yard Tanner touchdown burst in the fourth quarter tightened the game again before one final Louisville touchdown put the game out of reach.
Middle Tennessee at Troy -- Nov. 20, 2007 -- ESPN2
Comment: A weary, worn and injury plagued Blue Raider team didn't have enough bullets to match up with Troy in a 45-7 setback to the Trojans. MT tied the game 7-7 in the first quarter when Stephen Chicola scored the only Blue Raider touchdown of the game but by halftime Troy had opened a 24-7 lead. One of the biggest bright spots for MT was the defense's five sack performance.


Next Tuesday's home game against Florida Atlantic is arguably the most important national television game the program has had for at least three reasons:

1) It will be the most eyes to ever see the Blue Raiders play at Floyd Stadium. While Middle Tennessee has played a home game on ESPNU before, having a mid-week game on ESPN2 puts the program before many more viewers. There could be more watch this game than watched the Motor City Bowl in 2006, at which time many casual fans were likely more concerned with family holiday gatherings than college football. The game against the Owls presents Blue Raider football and the university a rare chance to showcase what it's all about before millions of onlookers.

2) With just a couple of exceptions, Middle Tennessee has been a considerable underdog in its other national television appearances and the program's 2-5 record in national TV appearances is evidence to that fact. This game against FAU provides the program a chance to not only be on a big stage but to be in a position to succeed on the big stage. Capitalizing on the opportunity would go a very long way to helping Stockstill and his staff take the next leap forward in building the program.

3) Few people have forgotten the up and down track meet that took place in last year's 58-42 loss to Louisville. Despite the defeat, it is fondly remembered as one of the most exciting games of 2007 and certainly generated a lot of buzz for ESPN. It's not realistic to expect that type of outburst again against FAU, but the Blue Raiders need to seize another chance to showcase their exciting brand of football. Recruits will be watching, casual mid-state fans will be watching, and ESPN and other networks will continue to evaluate the program's value for future telecasts.



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