October 11, 2003, 1:00 p.m. - Floyd Stadium (30,788), Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Aggies Look For Sixth Straight League Road Opening Win
New Mexico State has had great success in its league road openers of late. The Aggies have won five straight openers dating back to 1998. NMSU shocked Nevada in Reno 48-45 in 1998; Utah State 14-6 in 1999; Arkansas State 35-29 in overtime in 2000; 31-0 at ULM in 2001; and 26-21 at Arkansas State last year.
Series Between Aggies And Blue Raiders Has Been Brief, But Memorable
These two teams have played only twice, but both games have had exciting conclusions with each team winning a game apiece.
In the two games there have been a total of 49 fourth quarter points scored between the two teams. The two meetings have been decided by a combined total of seven points. The winning team in both games actually trailed going into the fourth quarter.
After doing something that hasn't been done in the history of MTSU football — facing teams from the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 Conference and Big East Conference in succession, the Blue Raiders are ready to wipe the slate clean and start anew after a disappointing 0-5 start.
Their opportunity comes Saturday when the Blue Raiders open Sun Belt Conference play against New Mexico State at 2 p.m. It also is MTSU's homecoming.
Despite an 0-5 start, players believe they still have what it takes to finish the season as champions.
"We've still got our vision in front of us — to be Sun Belt Conference champs and go to a bowl game," MTSU receiver Kerry Wright said. "We just have to turn the page and get ready for New Mexico State because that's the first (conference) game. That's how we look at it."
While MTSU is looking to start conference play on the right foot, New Mexico State (1-4, 0-1) believes its back is against the wall after blowing a 28-point, second-half lead in a 35-31 home loss to Idaho in the Sun Belt opener for both teams last Saturday.
"I felt we had to win out before the (Idaho) game, and it really hasn't changed," Aggies coach Tony Samuel said. "Anything can happen in this game. We just have to lock in on this game and win this one, and then we can talk about the next one."
New Mexico State linebacker Tim Patrick believes his football team faces a must-win situation Saturday in Murfreesboro.
"We need to get on a winning streak to win this conference," Patrick said. "That's our goal. We can't lose anymore. We've got to win from here on out."
The sense of urgency is as great at MTSU, where the Blue Raiders are trying to regroup and find the winning formula that will lead to a second league crown in three years in the Sun Belt (they shared the inaugural 2001 title with North Texas).
"It is a clean slate for us right now," MTSU football coach Andy McCollum said. "We are 0-0 and still have all our goals in front of us. We have to turn the page and forget about the first five games, which is not easy, but I am sure these guys will do just that. This is a very tough league from top to bottom, and nothing will be easy. We have to execute, play good defense and make things happen."
The Blue Raiders know the importance each Sun Belt game carries, particularly those who were on the 2001 co-championship team. MTSU and North Texas shared the 2001 league title with identical 5-1 conference marks, and although the Blue Raiders were the only team in the league with a winning record (8-3), North Texas represented the conference in the New Orleans Bowl by virtue of winning the head-to-head meeting.
"Those of us who were on the 2001 team remember how much that one league loss cost us," MTSU linebacker Randy Arnold said. "There is no margin for error. This game is important because it's our first Sun Belt Conference game, it's at home and we need to get that first win to build some confidence. We've been close in some games, but close isn't good enough. We can't leave anything to chance."
MTSU players realize what a fine line there is between being a championship team and falling just short, as they lost four conference games by a combined 22 points in 2002.