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Conference titles up for grabs this weekend

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Blue Raider defensive end Dearco Nolan (99) returns fends off the Trojan offense during the Nov. 24, 2012, game against Troy in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Athletics)

A lot is on the line this weekend as several college football conference championships will be decided starting tonight.

By the end of it, all of bowl berths will be spoken for, including the BCS Championship Game. Also, the MTSU football team will know where it will go bowling.

As many as seven conference titles will be contended over the weekend.

Of course, the most talked about ones will be the five true conference title games, Mid-American, Pac 12, ACC, Big 10 and SEC. Two other league titles might be settled, Big East and the Sun Belt.

The Blue Raiders could also figure into the equation as it heads to Arkansas State this Saturday. The winner of the game will be the defacto SBC champion.

Just being in the hunt is a big plus for MTSU considering what happened during the 2-10 season in 2011.

During the preseason, nobody gave the Blue Raiders any respect. As Middle was picked to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the SBC standings, and no Blue Raider player was selected for the SBC Preseason football team.

“Well, nobody thought we’d be here,” MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill said after the 24-21 win over Troy last Saturday. “There is something special about this team. They’re character is good, they play hard, and I’m really proud of them. I’m really happy for them to have a chance to at this championship.”

Coaches and players say they do not pay attention to the preseason picks, but you know it still hurts with the lack of respect given by the rest of the SBC before the season.

The best way to gain respect is to prove it on the field, and the Blue Raiders have done that and more. Of course, you know about the Sept. 29 49-28 win at Georgia Tech.

SBC teams have to play games against schools from the big conferences in order to help fund athletic budgets for the academic year. So any win by a SBC school over a big name school is huge, but it also does not decide a season. The rough and tumble world of SBC league play does, and Blue Raiders have only one conference loss, 31-17 against SEC buster Louisiana-Monroe on Oct. 6.

Since then, MTSU has been on a roll winning four out of five games, all inside the SBC. It’s only loss during that time was a 45-3 drubbing at SEC member, Mississippi State on Oct. 20.

The four wins by Blue Raiders have been achieved in many different ways with blowouts and down to the wire games. People will tell you in order to win league championships, a team has to win the games it is supposed to, and also have a little luck along the way.

“We would not have wanted it any other way,” MTSU senior defensive end Omar McLendon said after the win over rival Troy. “In our conference we do not have a championship game, but we have next week and that’s what we have been playing for all year. We are really excited.”

Now, the Blue Raiders head to Arkansas State and a chance to win its first SBC regular season title since 2006, which was current head coach Rick Stockstill’s first year at the helm. It was also the program’s first bowl appearance, the Motor City Bowl, by the school since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in the late '90s.

Since then the Blue Raiders have been in two more bowl games, the New Orleans in 2010, and the Godaddy.com the following year. This year, MTSU should be going back to a bowl. Where the Blue Raiders are going is up in the air until results from other games from other conferences come in, but they are receiving some notice from bowl officials.

Officials from the Liberty Bowl were in attendance last Saturday and were impressed with the Blue Raiders performance in the come-from-behind win over the Trojans.

Also, MTSU will be playing with heavy hearts after junior linebacker Craig Allen was taken off the field after a 16-minute pause in play late in the fourth quarter against Troy when he tackled running back Shawn Southward.

Allen underwent successful surgery Sunday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and is expected to make a full recovery, head football trainer Robbie Stewart said. Allen's surgery was to remove a herniated disc in his neck.

“If you heard us in the locker room, just the energy, emotion and passion this team has for the coaches, for ourselves, and now for a family member Craig Allen,” senior kicker Carlos Lopez said. “We are playing for something bigger than just us. We are now playing for a family member.”

Unfortunately, there could be a chance this game between MTSU and ASU, which will decide the SBC title in a winner take all format, might not be shown on one of ESPN's many networks.

People could miss out on history, as the Blue Raiders will finally go for its first outright SBC championship since becoming a charter member of the league back in 2001.

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Arkansas State, Blue Raiders, Football, MTSU, Sports
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