The beginning of what will be the biggest rivalry in the Sun Belt is Thursday night when Middle Tennessee hosts Western Kentucky. While the Hilltoppers haven't joined the conference yet, this game figures to be a big one as it's Middle's biggest rival and the home opener.
The Hilltoppers have picked up two victories on the season, but the competition wasn't exactly stiff. A blowout victory over West Virginia Tech and a win over Eastern Kentucky put the 2 in the win column. The Blue Raiders are coming off a 44-0 loss against the second-ranked LSU Tigers.
Western has given two quarterbacks significant playing time this season. Junior David Wolke is the regular starter but freshman K.J. Black has played in every game. Both quarterbacks have similar passing stats but Wolke has rushed for 60 more yards than Black on four less attempts.
Running back Tyrell Hayden and receiver Curtis Hamilton are the other offensive weapons for the Hilltoppers. Hayden has rushed 42 times for 184 yards, and Hamilton has caught 16 passes for 177 yards.
A lot remains to be seen regarding the Western Kentucky defense. This unit gave up 49 points against superb competition in Florida and completely shut down two inferior opponents in its last two contests. Middle Tennessee should provide a good gauge for just how good or bad this defense really is when playing equal level competition.
The Blue Raiders have had a roller coaster ride of offensive performances this season. The offense was a surprising no show against Florida Atlantic in the opener but then bounced back and looked like an offensive juggernaut against Louisville. Last week, LSU's defense showed Middle why they are ranked number one in the nation as they held the Blue Raiders to only 90 total yards of offense.
Kickoff for the home opener against the Hilltoppers is set for 6 o'clock inside Johnny "Red" Floyd Stadium. The game can be seen on ESPN+ and CSS as well as ESPN360.com.