SATURDAY, 6 pm, Liberty Bowl
• After losing its opener to Minnesota, Middle Tennessee crushed Austin Peay last week, 56-33. The Blue Raiders gained 654 yards of total offense behind what amounts to a third-string quarterback. With Dwight Dasher — a candidate for the Sun Belt Conference’s Player of the Year award — serving a suspension and Logan Kilgore sidelined with a toe injury, Jeff Murphy stepped in and completed 23 of 36 passes for 301 yards (with one interception). Murphy could get the start against the Tigers, barring an 11th-hour end to Dasher’s suspension. (He’s being penalized for having accepted a loan.)
• Middle Tennessee and Memphis have played twice since the Blue Raiders returned to college football’s highest level in 1999. Middle won both games: 21-7 in Memphis in 2007, then 31-14 last year in Murfreesboro. Overall, the Blue Raiders own a 14-7-1 edge in the series, dating back to 1925. (Dasher threw for 231 yards and ran for 89 more in the victory last season.)
• Middle Tennessee is 9-1 against teams from Tennessee since 1999, losing only to UT in 2002. Over the last ten years, Memphis is 6-7 against teams from Tennessee. The wins have come against Chattanooga (4), Tennessee Tech, and UT-Martin.
• Not only did Sports Illustrated pick Middle Tennessee to win the Sun Belt Conference, they predicted the Blue Raiders would go 8-0 in league play (11-1 overall). Last season, they finished 10-3 (7-1 in the Sun Belt).
• The 98 points the Tigers have given up in their first two games are the most over such a stretch since 1935, when Memphis lost to Ole Miss (92-0) and Arkansas State (18-0). The Tigers played four seasons under Spook Murphy (1960-63) in which they didn’t give up 98 points all season.
• On Monday, Tiger coach Larry Porter announced that freshman Ryan Williams will get his first start at quarterback Saturday against the Blue Raiders. The decision was made easy by the apparent concussion suffered by Cannon Smith in the East Carolina game, but the case could be made for Williams starting over a healthy Smith. Through two contests, Williams has completed 67 percent of his passes for 378 yards and three touchdowns. According to U of M media relations, the last time a true freshman started at quarterback for the Tigers was Tim Jones in 1986.
• Saturday’s game will be the latest home opener for the Tigers since they played Ole Miss to start the season on September 19, 1970.