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Better Know a Conference USA Opponent: The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee State meet for the first time since 2005 on Saturday. So what makes the Blue Raiders a one-point favorite for their Homecoming game?

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The School: Middle Tennessee State University

Record: 2-2 (1-0 in C-USA). MTSU was 6-6 in 2014.

Ranking: Unranked in the AP Top 25 and Coaches' Poll. The formulas have MTSU rated 75th in the Real Time RPI (Vanderbilt improved to #109 to #107 after narrowly losing to Ole Miss). They are ranked 77th in Warren Nolan's power rankings (Vandy is #109).

Mascot: The Blue Raiders. At this point, any time I see a mascot associated with a color I just assume that it's a late 20th century revamp of a racist team nickname. The St. John's Redmen became the Red Storm, the Syracuse Orangemen became the Orange (to avoid conflicts with South Jersey anti-defamation coalitions), and Dartmouth went from the Indians to the Big Green. So I just assume that MTSU was once the Syrup-Drinking Spaghetti Benders or the English Gunk Blokes or the Fightin' Irish.

Location: Murfreesboro, TN. I feel like Spike TV's Bar Rescue successfully translated the entrepreneurial spirit of Murfreesboro when they filmed a couple episodes there back in 2013. One bar combined the city's love of golf and strip malls into one horrible experience, while the other was literally built over a fetid swamp. Also, a large man called Big Smo showed up and rapped poorly. Middle Tennessee!

Conference: Conference-USA. You know you're low on the conference pecking order when you raid the Sun Belt during reconstruction. Also, the league's most senior member is also the one that's aggressively attempted to destroy their own football program. Other than that, things are probably pretty good in C-USA.

All-time vs. Vanderbilt: 3-12

In the Last 10 Years vs. Vanderbilt: 1-0, but it bears mentioning that the Blue Raiders are on a three-game winning streak against the Commodores. Maybe that's why we stopped inviting them to Nashville.

The Last Time We Saw These Guys: Middle Tennessee ended Jay Cutler's 4-0 start with a 12-man blocked field goal as time expired that secured a 17-15 upset win in Nashville. It was enough to make fans on an Arkansas message board lose their minds and call for Houston Nutt's firing. Little did they know the coaching hell the next decade would bring them.

Is Vandy Favored?: Somehow, NO. As of Tuesday, this game was either listed as a toss-up, or gave the Commodores a +1 spread. Chalk that up to the three-point swing that MTSU gets for home-field advantage, but still; discouraging.

Most Potent Offensive Threat: Brent Stockstill has the name of an Abercrombie & Fitch model and the arm of a BCS quarterback. He's thrown for more than 305 yards per game as a redshirt freshman, and while those numbers are skewed by two big performances against patsy teams like Jackson State and Charlotte (who would later rebound and win the WWE Divas title), he did still manage to throw for 330 yards and three touchdowns against Illinois last week. Now he'll have to navigate through a Commodore secondary that forced Ole Miss's Chad Kelly to triple his interception count for the season in week three.

Most Potent Defensive Threat: I'm gonna say T.T. Barber, if only because he's the only player whose name shows up on the team's official statistics page. Whoever wrote that PDF is a master of suspense.

Matchup to Watch: Richie James and Ed Batties vs. the Vandy secondary. The Commodores will be put to the test by a talented quarterback for the second straight week when Stockstill takes to the air on Saturday. James and Batties have been the primary beneficiaries of his hot start. The duo has combined for just under 200 receiving yards per game and eight touchdowns in 2015. Derek Mason will utilize a lot of dime sets that bring extra defensive backs into the lineup to help limit MTSU's offense, but expect CB1 Torren McGaster to earn plenty of assignments against Batties, who is his team's leading scorer through four games.

Interesting FactI'm willing to give credit where it's due - that university is smack dab in the middle of Tennessee. You earned those bragging rights, Murfreesboro.

Bonus Fact!: Maryland had the ignominious honor of losing to the Blue Raiders on last-minute plays in both 2008 and 2009.

Then, one year later, Vandy stole their rising head-coach-in-waiting. Now they have Randy Edsall. Just remember, it can always get worse.

If Middle Tennessee wins, we: unwind all the positive comments we made about Derek Mason's third year. Commodore fans saw a lot of hope and optimism in last week's loss to Ole Miss. Following up that inspired defensive effort with a non-conference loss to Middle Tennessee would erase all those good feelings. Instead, we'd have to turn to more Tennessee collapses to earn our weekly dose of happiness.