Two of C-USA’s best rivalries will be on display this weekend when the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers host the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in 100 Miles of Hate and the East Division-leading Florida Atlantic Owls host the Florida International Panthers in the Shula Bowl.
WKU and MTSU head into the 2017-edition of 100 Miles of Hate with identical records at 5-5 overall and 3-3 in C-USA play, but the Hilltoppers have lost three in a row while the Blue Raiders have won two in a row.
FAU comes into the 2017 Shula Bowl with a 7-3 overall record and a 6-0 record in C-USA play while FIU sits at 6-3 overall and 4-2 in C-USA play both under high-profile, first-year head coaches in Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis respectively.
100 Miles of Hate has a long history with MTSU holding a 34-31-1 series lead over WKU, but the Hilltoppers have won the past two meetings with the Blue Raiders. The Shula Bowl has seen its fair share of memorable moments as well with FAU holding a 10-5 series lead over FIU, but the Panthers won the most recent battle with the Owls in 2016.
The odds differ in the 100 Miles of Hate matchup with MTSU sitting currently as a 3-point road favorite, but ESPN’s Football Power Index gives WKU a 54.3 percent chance of getting the win.
The odds are heavily in the favor of FAU in the Shula Bowl with the Owls currently favored by 14.5 points and ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Owls an 88.5 percent chance of getting the win.
A key matchup to look for in the 100 Miles of Hate showdown will be the effectiveness of Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill. Stockstill is as talented as any quarterback in MTSU history, but he has struggled with injuries throughout his Blue Raiders career.
But since he got back from injury, MTSU is 2-0 and in prime position to become bowl eligible. If Stockstill can keep the momentum rolling, the Blue Raiders stand a great chance of defeating their rivals. But if Stockstill is ineffective, the Hilltoppers will have the advantage.
A key matchup to look for in the 2017 Shula Bowl will be seemingly the biggest key every team has had to deal with when facing FAU this season, stopping the Owls’ running game. FAU averages 275 rushing yards-per-game on the season and starting running back Devin Singletary has 1,360 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns through the first 10 games.
If the Owls keep things rolling on the ground, it will be very difficult for the Panthers to have a chance to win with FIU not being a quick-strike offense or an offense built to come from behind. But if FIU can limit the FAU rushing attack, it will force Owls quarterback Jason Driskel to beat the Panthers through the air, which he hasn’t had to do much this season.
Both 100 Miles of Hate and the Shula Bowl are premiere rivalries in C-USA, and this season’s battles have a lot on the line. The winner of WKU vs. MTSU will be bowl eligible, but the loser will sit at 5-6 overall and in a must-win situation in the final regular season game of 2017 to gain bowl eligibility.
FAU has won six straight games and sits unblemished in C-USA play, but will be looking to get revenge for a 2016 defeat in the Shula Bowl to FIU and if the Panthers can make it two straight against the Owls, they will for sure be headed to a bowl game with seven wins and their slim East Division Championship hopes won’t be completely dead yet.
100 Miles of Hate and the Shula Bowl could be two of the best games C-USA sees this season with all sides of the equation desperately wanting to beat their rival and gain momentum as the regular season winds down.
WKU and MTSU kickoff at 8 p.m. EST Friday at L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network. FAU and FIU kickoff at 7 p.m. EST Saturday at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida, and the game will be aired by Stadium.