By Ryan Nelson (@TheRyanNelson_)
Blue Raiders (7-4, 4-3 Conf.)
For the last eight years, Middle Tennessee has owned this conference rivalry. Before the action starts, the Blue Raider faithful will say their home goodbyes to 22 departing seniors.
The Blue Raiders have one of the most prolific offenses in all of college football. MTSU ranks 19th in total offense and 24th in points per game.
However, they're now playing without injured starting quarterback Brent Stockstill. Stockstill suffered a broken collarbone against the University of Texas at San Antonio earlier this month. MTSU is 1-2 since his injury.
Backup QB John Urzua has stepped into the void left by Stockstill. Urzua led the Blue Raiders to a thrilling 38-31 win over Charlotte in Week 11. He threw for 250 yards, four touchdowns and tossed two interceptions.
Urzua completed eight passes to sophomore WR Richie James. James broke his own school record for most receptions in a single season (109), a record he set a freshman in 2015. James leads Conference USA in receiving yards (1,566), and his 12 touchdowns rank third in the conference.
“They put him at wideout, they put him at quarterback in the wildcat package, more so since Stockstill got hurt the last couple of weeks,” FAU head coach Charlie Partridge said. “[They] also put him at running back and he is a returner. We need to know where No. 3 is at all times.”
The Owls will also need to game plan for talented freshman Ty Lee, a versatile offensive weapon. Lee is coming off his best performance of 2016. Lee posted 139 total yards on seven offensive touches, and scored two touchdowns. One of Lee's touchdowns sealed the victory for MTSU over Charlotte.
MTSU also features a devastating rushing attack. RB I’Tavius Mathers leads the conference in rushing yards (1,434) through eleven games. Mathers’ 15 rushing touchdowns are tied with Southern Miss RB Ito Smith for second most in the conference. He gained 109 yards on 16 attempts against Charlotte on his birthday.
The Blue Raiders defense hasn’t lived up to the same standards as their offensive counterparts. MTSU has given up the most points (401) in Conference USA this season.
Owls (3-8, 2-5 Conf.)
Florida Atlantic leaves the confines of FAU Stadium behind on Saturday in hopes of avoiding back-to-back 3-9 seasons. The Owls are coming off a disappointing 42-24 home loss to Old Dominion on Senior Day.
The Owls, like the Blue Raiders, have struggled defensively. FAU and MTSU are tied for the most touchdowns allowed (52) in Conference USA. Yet, that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of talent on FAU's defense.
Sophomore LB Azee Al-Shaair is tied with Florida International’s Treyvon Williams for most tackles (103) in the conference. Sophomore safety Jalen Young is fourth on that list with 100 total tackles, and leads Conference USA for most solo tackles (61).
On the flip side, FAU has made a name for itself this season with its rushing attack. The Owls are fifth in the conference in rushing yards (1,959). FAU features two talented backs in Devin "Motor" Singletary and Greg Howell.
Singletary and Howell rank 9th and 10th for most rushing yards in Conference USA, with 786 and 777 yards, respectively. The duo scored all three of FAU's touchdowns against Old Dominion.
Howell made Florida Atlantic history against the Monarchs. He now owns the school record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season (12).
The Owls will need to rely on their backfield to complement an anemic passing attack. Jason Driskel has thrown just seven touchdowns this season, to go along with eight interceptions. Only North Texas QB Mason Fine has fewer touchdowns in the conference, with six.
FAU’s punter Dalton Schomp could prove to be an X-factor in the field position battle. Schomp was honored with "Ray Guy Punter of the Week" honors after he averaged 55.3 yards per punt against Old Dominion.