Murfreesboro, TN (BlueRaiders.com) - MTSU is still in play for the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl if the Blue Raiders can knock off Sun Belt Conference champion Florida International Saturday to reach bowl eligibility.
New Orleans Bowl spokesman Sam Joffray confirmed Monday that the New Orleans Bowl bid would not be determined until after MTSU's game Saturday in Miami.
"We have one more weekend to go in the Sun Belt schedule, and we definitely want to see how everything shapes up," Joffray said. "There are a couple of scenarios that could play out to determine (the bid). So we'll see how things go and then we'll huddle up after that, and we should be able to give out the invite Sunday or early Monday."
Translation: The outcome of MTSU's game at FIU carries weight in the New Orleans Bowl's selection.
FIU has already wrapped up its first Sun Belt title and bowl eligibility with a win over Arkansas State over the weekend. But per the Sun Belt agreement with its contracted bowls, the Sun Belt champion is not guaranteed a spot in either of the league's primary bowls — New Orleans Bowl and GoDaddy.com Bowl (Mobile, Ala.) — as long as the champion is accommodated with any other bowl invitation.
That could possibly set up a scenario where, if MTSU (5-6) beats FIU Saturday, then FIU could be sent to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit, and the Blue Raiders would perhaps get the bid to their second straight New Orleans Bowl.
The Sun Belt has a backup agreement with the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, where a Sun Belt team gets the bid if the Big Ten cannot fill its slot. If the Big Ten gets two teams in BCS bowls, which appears likely, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl bid would be offered to the Sun Belt.
If MTSU loses at FIU Saturday, the Sun Belt would only have two bowl-eligible teams, FIU (6-5) and Troy (6-5), to fill the New Orleans Bowl and GoDaddy.com Bowl.
New Orleans Bowl executive director Billy Ferrante told the Miami Herald on Monday that FIU, Troy and MTSU are all being considered for a trip to the Big Easy.
"Honestly, all three teams are equally on the radar," Ferrante said. " ... There's a lot of football left to be played (and) a lot of different scenarios that could come out of those games. We will probably as a (bowl committee) know. We're meeting (today) and laying out all the scenarios. We'll know depending on the outcome of the games."
Troy is thought to be a likely candidate to go to the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, located only 150 miles from the Trojans' campus. But other possibilities are being considered.
So why would the New Orleans Bowl consider choosing MTSU over FIU, which already has clinched the Sun Belt championship?
For starters, MTSU brought nearly 5,000 fans to last year's New Orleans Bowl on short notice. FIU would likely bring far less to New Orleans.
Secondly, the Blue Raiders beat Southern Mississippi 42-32 in last year's game, as current MTSU senior Dwight Dasher broke Vince Young's FBS-bowl record for rushing by a quarterback with 201 yards. Dasher's MVP performance stands as arguably the best individual outing in New Orleans Bowl history.
"We were very, very happy with Middle Tennessee in last year's bowl," said Joffray, vice president of communications for the New Orleans Bowl. "They gave us an exciting matchup, and it was great that they were a first-time participant. We thought Middle Tennessee's fan base was just great, and it created a really exciting experience."
Added Ferrante: "We had a great experience with (MTSU) last year."
Joffray said the New Orleans Bowl will likely send staff to both the MTSU-FIU and Troy-FAU games Saturday, so representatives can see all possible invitees.
MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said he is only focused on Saturday's must-win game. The Blue Raiders have won two straight games to stay in bowl contention, but they opened as a 6 1/2-point underdog for Saturday's game at FIU.
"(Bowl discussions) have nothing to do with me. If we don't win, you're wasting your time asking me (bowl) questions," Stockstill said. "We've played these last two knowing we had to win. Our players have done a good job of focusing on the moment, and we have to do that again."
MTSU vs. FIU
At FIU Stadium (Miami)
5 p.m., Saturday