Iowa Football

Middle Tennessee, a good program, is Iowa's 10th-most interesting 2019 football foe

Blue Raiders of Murfreesboro know how to win, just not against the big boys

Middle Tennessee players doing the defense thing in days of yore. (Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)
Middle Tennessee players doing the defense thing in days of yore. (Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

I was tempted to place Middle Tennessee higher than 10th on my countdown of Iowa’s most-interesting football games of the 2019 season.

Is this not at least as compelling an opponent as Illinois? Unlike the Illini for the last quarter-century, Middle Tennessee has been consistently competent under its 14th-year coach, Rick Stockstill.

How consistently competent? The Blue Raiders’ last seven records are 8-4, 8-5, 6-6, 7-6, 8-5, 7-6 and 8-6. That’s pretty darn good for a lower-level FBS program that takes two or three lumps each year against foes from Power Five conferences in paycheck games. Like the one at Iowa …

Middle Tennessee, Sept. 28 at Kinnick Stadium

Last season was the Middle Tennessee football story in a nutshell. The Blue Raiders went 7-1 in conference play and won their Conference USA West Division. But they were 0-3 against Power Five teams, losing 35-7 at Vanderbilt, 49-7 at Georgia, and 34-23 at Kentucky.

Three paychecks, three losses.

The Blue Raiders finished the season at the New Orleans Bowl, their fourth-straight season that ended with a bowl trip.

So this isn’t some bottom-of-the-barrel FBS program, the kind that has made occasional appearances at Kinnick in Septembers past. You win seven or eight games every year in FBS, you have players, you have coaches, you have a program that knows what it’s doing.

But as you would expect in the resources/recruiting game of college football, Middle Tennessee is 3-12 against Power Five teams over the aforementioned seven seasons and there’s no reason to think it will come to Kinnick and shock the world in September. Or, to be more precise, shock the Hawkeyes’ sliver of the world. The guess here is that few in Ankara or Zhengzhou would care a whole lot if they awakened to learn Iowa had been upset by the Blue Raiders of Murfreesboro.

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Why, I was in Nashville for a weekend in late May and didn’t see a single Tiger Hawk. Nashville, by the way, is just 35 miles from Murfreesboro.

Middle Tennessee doesn’t know who its starting quarterback will be. One of the contenders is Asher O’Hara, a sophomore. That sounds like a Southern character, perhaps a brother of Scarlett O’Hara. Murfreesboro was a site of the Battle of Stones River during the Civil War, and that war frames “Gone With the Wind.”

However, Asher O’Hara is from Rolling Meadows, Ill., in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.

Oh, a reminder. The North scored a resounding victory over the South in the Civil War. If you’ve seen someone flying a Confederate flag in 2019, you’ve seen someone who is hitching their wagon to a loser in the won-lost column as well as a loser of an ideology.

Tennessee itself is can’t be pigeonholed by stereotypes, thought it does have Pigeon Forge, the home of Dollywood. Any state containing both Memphis and Nashville can’t easily be categorized. Tennessee has the Grand Ole Opry, Beale Street and Bonnaroo. That’s diversity, folks.

I can say I’ve been to Paris, Tenn., which has a 60-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower. Each April, that Paris hosts what it calls the World’s Biggest Fish Fry.

The Paris in France attracts tourists, too, but it’s not the best place to order catfish or see a rodeo.

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