MTSU receiver Marcus Henry looks upfield after making a reception against East Carolina Oct. 5, 2013. (Photo courtesy of B. Lambert/MTSU Athletics)
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- MTSU’s football team is in the midst of a very difficult four-game grind.
All seasons are a grind on any team, but this “second season” of sorts has been, and will continue to be, very difficult for the Blue Raiders.
If you take MTSU’s schedule and break it down into three seasons, you’ll find that this is easily the most brutal stretch.
Coming out of the first four games, it was expected that MTSU would be 3-1. A loss at North Carolina wasn’t bad, and one have assumed the Blue Raiders would knock off Western Carolina, Memphis and Florida Atlantic.
However, the second season of the three is against BYU, East Carolina, North Texas and Marshall. Those teams have a combined record of 12-8 going into this weekend’s action.
MTSU, coming off a tough 24-17 loss at home to ECU, visits North Texas on Saturday. The Blue Raiders are close to a touchdown underdog.
A road win would be huge, particularly when you start looking at the bigger picture on down the road. We’ll do that shortly.
MTSU will be off next week and then wrap up this four-game swing against Marshall at home on Oct. 24.
Like ECU, Marshall was picked to finish above the Blue Raiders in their division in Conference USA.
It would be a big boost if MTSU could somehow win at least one of its next two games.
However, all won’t be lost if the Blue Raiders drop both and see their losing streak reach four games.
Consider this: MTSU’s last four opponents of the season — UAB, FIU, Southern Miss and UTEP — have a combined record of 4-17.
If MTSU can win all four of those it will have a minimum of seven victories. That will be clearly enough to earn a trip to a bowl game.
Granted, MTSU won eight games last year, only to be left out of the postseason picture. Remember, though, that was the Sun Belt Conference and this is C-USA.
I’m not suggesting that MTSU and its fans bank on a pair of losses the next two weeks, but even if a worst-case scenario unfolds, the schedule sets up for the Blue Raiders to finish strong.
However, first things first.
North Texas might have looked like one you could pencil in as a “W” prior to the season, but that’s certainly not the case.
“I’m excited about this game. They’re 0-1 in the conference, we’re 1-1,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said at his weekly press conference. “This is a critical game for both of us. I think they’re a much improved team over last year. ... This is a huge game for us, and I’m anxious to compete and go down there and play.”
As painful as last week’s loss was, there were enough positives to draw from it. Then again, there are no moral victories anymore at this level.
MTSU simply needs to cut down on its mistakes on offense, and its defense must do a better job getting off the field on third down.
There might not be a quick fix for either, but the bottom line MTSU has a potentially nice path in terms of gaining bowl eligibility.
Snagging a road win on Saturday would be a huge step in that direction.
SUN BELT STANDINGS
Team Conf. Overall
East Carolina 2-0 4-1
Marshall 1-0 3-2
FIU 1-0 1-4
MTSU 1-1 3-3
FAU 1-3 2-4
UAB 0-1 1-4
Southern MIss 0-1 0-5
Team Dist. Overall
Tulane 2-0 4-2
Rice 2-0 3-2
Louisiana Tech 1-1 2-4
Tex.-San Antonio 1-1 2-4
North Texas 0-1 2-3
Tulsa 0-1 1-4
UTEP 0-2 1-4
MTSU at North Texas, 7 p.m.
East Carolina at Tulane, 2:30 p.m.
Rice at UTSA, 3 p.m.
Marshall at FAU, 4 p.m.
UAB at FIU, 6:30 p.m.
Tulsa at UTEP, 7 p.m.