Middle Tennessee (8-3) at Arkansas State (8-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 1, 3 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: ASU Stadium (30,406) -- Jonesboro, Arkansas. Television: ESPN3. Home Record: MT 3-2, ASU 4-1. Away Record: MT 5-1, ASU 4-2. Neutral Record: MT 0-0, ASU 0-0. Conference Record: MT 6-1, ASU 6-1. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 9-4.
GAME NOTES: It will be winner take all at ASU Stadium this Saturday as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders and Arkansas State Red Wolves square off with the Sun Belt Conference championship on the line.
Although it was not planned, this contest will serve as the SBC Championship as Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State are tied at the top of the conference standings with one loss each. This will be the 14th time these schools square off on the gridiron. Middle Tennessee holds a 9-4 edge in the all-time series, but the Red Wolves picked up a 45-19 victory in last season's edition of the rivalry.
Middle Tennessee improved to 8-3 overall last week with a hard-fought 24-21 win over Troy. The victory was the fourth in a row for the Blue Raiders, who finished last season with a dismal 2-10 overall record. Although Middle Tennessee is on the road in this one, it may play to its favor as it has compiled a 5-1 away record this season, which is the most it has ever had under coach Rick Stockstill.
The Red Wolves had last week off after notching their sixth win in a row with a 41-34 victory at Troy on Nov. 17. Arkansas State enters the contest with an identical 8-3 overall record and a 6-1 mark in SBC action as well. Coach Gus Malzahn has done a tremendous job in his first season at the helm of the program. The reigning SBC Champions became bowl eligible for the fifth time in the last eight years earlier this season.
Middle Tennessee's offense was much more explosive earlier in the season as it surpassed the 30-point plateau six times during an eight-game stretch. However, the team produced only 44 total points in its last two outings. Last week, the offense got help from three field goals and a defensive score.
Logan Kilgore has done a great job under center for the Blue Raiders' offensive unit. The junior QB is among the conference leaders in completion percentage (.628) and efficiency rating (145.0). He has thrown for 2,457 yards, 16 touchdowns, and just four picks.
The Blue Raiders lost their dynamic running back Benjamin Cunningham (600 yards, 11 TDs) after just five games, but freshman Jordan Parker (637 yards, two TDs) may have been the best option to start all along. Parker rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries yards a week ago to extend his streak of game with 100 yards or more on the ground to three. He also made three receptions for 72 yards to help the team survive its duel with Troy.
Anthony Amos has been one of the most consistent wide receivers in the SBC this season. After finishing with 379 yards and three TDs on 27 catches in 20122 as a junior, he has produced a breakout season with 68 receptions for 960 yards and nine TDs. He is second in the conference in receiving yards per game and third in catches per contest.
The MT defense (26.5 ppg, 434.4 ypg) has been sporadic all year. However, the unit has come up clutch down the stretch. The Blue Raiders have recorded 15 takeaways over the last four games, including Kevin Byard's fourth quarter interception which he returned 77 yards for the go-ahead score in last week's bout with Troy. Byard forced three turnovers in the contest. Allen Craig leads the team with 82 total tackles.
During its current six-game win streak, Arkansas State has put up 34 points or more in every game. It has the highest scoring offense in the Sun Belt with an average of 35.6 ppg. The team came up just five yards shy of eclipsing the 600-yard mark in total yards of offense for the third time this season two weeks ago versus Troy.
Ryan Aplin earned his second consecutive SBC Offensive Player of the Week after recording a school-record 454 yards of total offense in the Red Wolves� win over the Trojans. The senior leads the SBC in passing yards with 3,270,yards and he has thrown 20 to just four interceptions. He has passed for 300 yards or more in three-straight games and also found his targets for scores eight times during that span.
David Oku (922 yards) has been at the center of the team's fantastic rushing attack that has racked up more than 2,335 yards. Oku's 14 rushing touchdowns are the most in the conference. Rocky Hayes has been potent on limited touches, with an incredible 429 yards on just 38 carries for 11.3 yards per carry.
J.D. McKissic is the top option for Aplin in the passing attack. The wideout has reeled in 84 receptions for 849 yards and four TDs. The second most frequent receiver for ASU is Josh Jarboe, who has made 45 catches for 531 yards and three touchdowns. Julian Jones is the team's top red zone threat as his team-leading total of six touchdown grabs accounts for half of his receptions.
The Red Wolves are ranked fourth in the SBC in total defense (403.2 ypg) and third in scoring defense (27.7 ppg). The unit allowed 518 yards of total offense to Troy its last time out, but luckily it was bailed out by Aplin and the offense.
Nathan Herrold is well on his way to an All-Sun Belt campaign with 99 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries. Tim Starson has recorded team-highs in both tackles for loss (12) and sacks (4.5).
Although Middle Tennessee's defense bailed it out last week, that was only possible due to the errors of the Trojans' offense. Arkansas State has a leader that simply does not make errant throws or poor decisions. Aplin should be able to end his Sun Belt Conference career with another championship unless Kilgore produces a career performance with it all on the line.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas State 38, Middle Tennessee 31
11/28 10:40:22 ET