Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (8-4) vs. Navy Midshipmen (7-4)
Dec. 30, 11:45 a.m. ET, Fort Worth, Texas (ESPN)
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE BLUE RAIDERS
The Blue Raiders, who didn't go to a bowl game last season despite winning eight games and beating Georgia Tech, hit a rough patch during the middle of the season and lost three in a row. In losing to BYU, East Carolina and North Texas, they didn't score more than 17 points in any of the games. But they simplified their playbook the rest of the way and averaged 523.4 yards and 42.6 points in their five-game winning streak.
Ultimately, Middle Tennessee State finished tied for second with East Carolina in its first year in Conference USA's East Division. It also marked the first time since 1992 that the Blue Raiders won eight or more games in back-to-back seasons. Coach Rick Stockstill is in his sixth season at Middle Tennessee.
Senior quarterback Logan Kilgore became the first player in school history to pass for 2,000 or more yards in three consecutive seasons. The Blue Raiders have a 31-19 advantage in turnover margin and have taken four interceptions back for touchdowns this season, including two by sophomore safety Kevin Byard, who has five interceptions on the season.
The Blue Raiders have used six different running backs down the stretch because of injuries, but as a team they still rushed for at least 240 yards in all five games. The running game helped take pressure off the passing game, which had faced a lot of third-and-long situations earlier. Kilgore threw 10 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the last five games. -- Chris Low
NAVY MIDSHIPMEN BREAKDOWN
This will be Navy’s 10th bowl game in the past 11 years and 19th overall. The Midshipmen qualified with their 42-14 win over South Alabama on Nov. 16. The Mids, who scored 22 consecutive points in the second half vs. the Jaguars, finished undefeated at home for the first time since 2004.
This will be Navy’s fifth trip to Texas for a bowl game and the first since Navy’s 35-13 rout of Missouri in the 2009 Texas Bowl in Houston. The bowl game will mark the first meeting between Navy and Middle Tennessee State.
Navy’s defense will be tested, as the Blue Raiders have scored 40 or more points in four of their final five games. Texas and Tennessee are two of Navy’s most highly recruited areas, as the Midshipmen have 19 players from Texas and 10 from Tennessee. -- Heather Dinich