Middle Tennessee State (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4)
Monday, Dec. 30, 11:45 a.m. EST, ESPN
Line: Navy by 6.5
How Middle Tennessee State got here: Middle Tennessee lost two of its first three Conference USA game, which made it basically impossible to get back into the race for a conference championship. After a three-game losing skid, the Blue Raiders did knock off Marshall 51-49, which started a five-game winning streak to close out the regular season.
How Navy got here: The Midshipmen finished the season strong by winning five of its last six, including a 34-7 win over rival Army. Navy also knocked off Pittsburgh 24-21 and almost took down Notre Dame, but fell 38-34. Navy also lost to Western Kentucky, who went 8-4, Duke and Toledo.
For Middle Tennessee State to win: It’s all about the defense. The Blue Raiders will score some points, but can they hold off Navy’s running attack? The key in this part of the game might just fall to LB T.T. Barber, who has a team-high 112 tackles.
For Navy to win: Navy works to control the tempo of the game and maintain long drives on the ground. That approach is the perfect recipe to give the Midshipmen just the second bowl win in the Ken Niumatalolo era.
Key Player (Middle Tennessee State): Logan Kilgore, QB. At times this season, Kilgore has delivered some outstanding performances en route to 2,289 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s also thrown 11 interceptions. Navy’s defense will be tested by Kilgore and the Blue Raiders receivers.
Key Player (Navy): D.J. Sargenti, LB. With 103 tackles, the senior will be asked to do a lot against MTSU. He’ll play a key role in stopping a solid running attack that is led by Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley, while at the same time be asked to help in pass defense.
Key Stat: 29. That’s how many times Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds rushed for a touchdown this season, setting the FBS record.