The Murray State Racers only play two games against FBS opponents this year. Both happen in back to back weeks and both happen to be MAC schools.
They'll have their hands full on September 12th when they take a trip to DeKalb to take on the Northern Illinois Huskies. It will be just the second meeting between the two teams. Way back in 1990 the Huskies claimed a huge 47-7 win over the Racers.
On September 19th this year, just a week after their match with the Huskies, they'll head even farther north to battle the Western Michigan Broncos again. Last year the Broncos dismantled the Racers 45-14; racking up 605 total yards (377 rushing!) to Murray State's 305 yards.
The Racers, out of the Ohio Valley Conference, have some history with the MAC. This will be their 18th and 19th meetings against MAC foes, but they don't boast a very good record. Murray State is 5-11-1 against the MAC so far, with nearly half of the games being played against Akron (who holds a 4-3-1 record against the Racers).
Last season Murray State ended with a 3-9 record with two of those wins coming against a Division II school and a NAIA school. So it should come as no surprise that the Racers have a new coach this season - Mitch Stewart. Stewart has been with Murray State for six years now where he spent most of the time as their offensive coordinator.
The Racers return eight starters on offense and seven on defense. Their main attack is a no-huddle, spread offense that has been decent at times, like when they put up 86 and 73 points in two of their three wins. But their defense has been awful. In fact, they gave up 40+ points in eight of their 12 games and only held one team to under 25 points.
On offense this year the Racers do return their starting quarterback, top two receivers, and their leading rushers on a team that averaged almost 470 yards per game (141 rushing and 328 passing) and scored nearly 37 points per game in 2014.
KD Humphries, their 6-3 QB, returns for his junior year. Last season he completed 67.4% of his passes for 3488 yards and 27 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He had a handful of pretty solid receivers to look for, including his favorite target: the Jeremy Harness. Harness, a 5-8 senior, led the team in receptions with 81 and added six touchdowns and 907 yards. But it wasn't a one-man show. Janawski Davis, a 5-7 senior, led the team in receiving yards and TDs last year with 909 yards and 13 touchdowns on 63 grabs.
While the Racers threw the ball a lot, and rather well, they struggled with any ground game. They only had 17 rushing TDs (to their 34 passing) and didn't even get to 1700 rushing yards - ending the year with just 1694. They do return their top two running backs, senior Pokey Harris and junior Marcus Holliday.
Neither back is too big, as they both are 5-10 and about 180, but they did manage to average over 5.5 yards per carry. Harris led the team with 627 yards, with Holliday coming in second at 450 yards, but both only had three touchdowns. It was actually Humphries who led the team in rushing TDs, with 7, and added 195 yards on 92 carries.
Harris and Janawksi Davis, however, are also a threat in the kicking game. Last season Davis returned 20 punts and amassed 232 yards and 2 scores. Harris did even better returning kicks. He averaged just under 29 yards per return, totaled 920 yards, and took three back for touchdowns.
As I said earlier, the Racers' defense was the problem last season, as they allowed 42.5 points per game and 512 yards per contest. It was a pretty even split, as teams racked up 242 rushing yards and 270 passing yards per game, which means it's going to be a long day against teams like NIU and WMU, who can hurt you both running and throwing the ball.
Murray State's defense did manage some pressure on opposing teams, as they had 74 TFL and 23 sacks last season, but they struggled at generating turnovers, forcing only 16 (9 fumbles and 7 INTs) all year.
However, they do return their leading tackler, a 5-11 junior LB named Jonathan Jackson, but not a whole lot else. Jackson tore it up last season, netting 134 total tackles (67 solo), eight TFL, 2.5 sacks, a fumble recovery, and a pass break up. So watch for him to patrol the middle of the field.
In the secondary, the Racers will rely on DeQuinten Spraggins, a 6-2 DB, to stop opponents passing attack. Spraggins finished last season fourth on the team in tackles, with 74, and added two picks, four break ups, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Overall, the Huskies and Broncos shouldn't have too much to worry about (and WMU has already shown they can beat Murray State pretty handily). Yes, NIU has had problems in the secondary and the Racers can throw it pretty well, but their smaller receivers shouldn't be too much of an issue for Marlon Moore and Paris Logan.
My one concern, for both teams, is that this game takes place a week before the Ohio State game: NIU plays the Buckeyes on September 19th and the Broncos get their chance at the champs on the 26th. It could turn into a trap game...but most likely both MAC schools should end up walking away with a decent win here.