The School: Middle Tennessee State University
Record: 0-0 (0-0 in Conference USA). MTSU was 7-6 in 2017. They’re 33% of the answer behind the “Did you know? Vanderbilt beat three teams last season that played in bowl games” fact you can use to impress none of your friends.
Ranking: Unranked in the AP Top 25 and Coaches’ Poll. The formulas have Middle Tennessee rated 85th in the Real Time RPI (Vanderbilt is 80th). Also, let’s all congratulate Miami for doing the world a favor, accepting their role as little brother to Central Florida, and demoting themselves to the FCS.
A tough call, but the right one.
Mascot: The Blue Raider. Like a regular Raider, just sad.
Location: Murfreesboro, TN. Enjoy the overflow of overtanned young professionals trying to escape the astronomical rent and unrelenting corporate sprawl of the new Nashville. Soon your highways will be as choked as 440, which has all the flow of Kim Jong-Un’s arteries. Your bars will be nothing but body-sprayed cryptocurrency enthusiasts asking for a full rundown of the local IPAs. And when you realize your favorite haunt has been overhauled by Bar Rescue as a haunted speakeasy-themed, $12 cocktail shop for moneyed dirtbags, you’ll know Nashville has ruined your city as steadily as it ruined itself.
And then the bachelorette parties will come.
Coach: Rick Stockstill. Rick is 79-72 as a head coach, which is the exact kind of mediocrity that will keep him at MTSU until the heat death of the universe. There are worse ways to spend $800k — and at least he takes MTSU to interesting bowl games in Nassau and Honolulu and, uh, Mobile.
Conference: [REDACTED]. The moment you allow Lane Kiffin to win a conference championship, you vacate your right to acknowledgement. Get your shit together, unnamed Group of 5 league.
All-time vs. Vanderbilt: 3-15. Vandy was 12-0 until a little something called Woodyball swept Nashville by storm. MTSU lost to Ole Miss and LSU by a combined 44 points in 2001, but somehow gained 608 yards to crush Vandy into a fine powder that year. Middle Tennessee scored more points against the Commodores than Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, and then-No. 4 Florida did.
In the Last 20 Years vs. Vanderbilt: 3-3! It took Derek Mason’s awesome presence to even out the balance of power in central Tennessee. CLAIM THE RIVALRY, DORES.
The Last Time We Saw These Guys: The Commodores realized the best possible way to crush our hearts was to build up hope over the first three weeks of the season. We used their 3-0 start as a crutch to prop up our dreams of a non-Birmingham bowl game. For three glorious weeks, it felt like Mason finally found his groove and the Franklin era was back — just, you know, with less yelling and fewer helicopters.
Week 1 was a showcase of Mason’s Vanderbilt at its finest — which, realistically, is about 85 percent as good as it could be. Ralph Webb looked like butt on the ground but caught a 74-yard touchdown pass. Kalija Lipscomb made his case as a No. 1 receiver with a pair of touchdown catches.
Colors shined brighter. Food tasted better. Derek Mason didn’t get Temple’d.
Is Vandy Favored?: YES. And just like last year, the ‘Dores are favored by 3.5 points. Just pencil in another 22-point win now, I’m sure nothing could go wrong.
Most Potent Offensive Threat: Well, the ‘Dores dodged a bullet when Brent Stockstill finally graduated after eight years at...wait, what? HE’S STILL THERE?
Welp. Stockstill actually struggled against Vandy last season, but that was thanks in part to a veteran-heavy defense where players like Oren Burks, Tre Herndon, Emmanuel Smith, Ryan White, and Bryce Lewis all made big plays. Every one of those guys is gone now, so a 33-year-old Stockstill could take advantage, provided he doesn’t have to leave the game early to pick his kids up at daycare. He’s still the guy who scored 61 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, a period where Vandy’s quarterbacks, ALL THREE OF THEM, combined for 20.
Most Potent Defensive Threat: Khalil Brooks is an undersized tackling machine who made 17 stops behind the line of scrimmage last season. And since it wouldn’t be the preseason without Vandy fans sweating about their blocking, let’s go ahead and crown him as the most likely player to cause the first drunken curse-out of the Commodores offensive line Saturday.
Matchup to Watch: Kyle Shurmur vs. a non-SEC opponent. Ol’ Shurms McKenzie has feasted against non-conference foes. He completed 70 percent of his passes last fall against the easy side of the Vandy lineup and notched a 10:0 TD:INT ration. Against in-league defenses? 54 percent and 16:10. He’s got a tradition to uphold Saturday. Hopefully one that involves throwing five touchdown passes and sitting out the fourth quarter so the rest of us can do happy drinking and not the stressful type.
Interesting Fact: The population of Murfreesboro has more than doubled since 2000. I hope you like Tilted Kilts and Panera franchises, longtime middle Tennessee residents!
Bonus Fact!: MTSU’s original mascot was based on Nathan Bedford Forrest, alleged first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I know I brought this up each of the past two years, but... jesus.
If Middle Tennessee State wins, we: stop complaining about our stadium for a little while. It’s perfectly good for a below-average Group of 5 program.