Middle Tennessee’s football team took the practice field Thursday for the first time since accepting an invitation to play in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.
The Blue Raiders (6-6) have plenty to work on before taking on old rival Arkansas State (7-4) on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. CT kickoff, and can be viewed on ESPN.
“It’s great to be back out here,” head coach Rick Stockstill said. “It’s cold and windy, but that’s a good thing. If you’re practicing when it’s cold, that means you’re bowling.
“We have to get better … they’re a really good football team. We’re an underdog in it, so we have something to prove.”
MT will practice in Murfreesboro Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday before leaving for Montgomery on Tuesday, Dec. 12.
Maybe as important as getting a solid game plan formulated for the Red Wolves over that time will be getting healthier.
Middle Tennessee, which hasn’t played a game since the regular season finale against Old Dominion Nov. 25, has suffered its fair share of injuries this season. Blue Raiders have miss a combined 125 games due to injury, including starting quarterback Brent Stockstill and top receiver Richie James, who both were expected to be All-Conference USA players this year. Only four players played and started every game in the regular season.
They may not have a lot of time to heal, but the three weeks between games will surely help.
“We don’t have a lot of time,” Coach Stockstill said. “Some of those guys had pretty significant injuries and aren’t 100 percent yet.”
The short turnaround between the end of the regular season and the bowl game is a contrast to last year, when Middle Tennessee had four weeks between playing FAU to end the season and Hawaii in the Hawai’i Bowl.
“It’s way better [this year],” Brent Stockstill said. “We like to treat it like a bye week. We know that we’re going to take on a tough opponent, but we’re excited that it’s right around the corner.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge the Blue Raiders will face this time around is getting prepared for Arkansas State while working through finals.
Last year, they had plenty of time to study, take finals and get back to preparing for the bowl game. This year, finals start this week and last until Dec. 14, falling right in the middle of when they’ll be preparing for the Red Wolves.
“This is a trying time, because not only are exams going on, but we’ve got to expedite the whole exam process,” Coach Stockstill said. “They have [Friday] and Monday to get a lot of work done, and the professors have been very cooperative and really worked with us.”
Some players will also be available for autographs before the Blue Raiders’ men’s basketball home game against Ole Miss on Saturday, Dec. 9.