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Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Syracuse Orange Preview and Prediction

Eric Dungey

Eric Dungey

Two teams who can put up points in a hurry will meet in the Carrier Dome on Saturday as Syracuse hosts Middle Tennessee.

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The Blue Raiders are playing the second of three straight games against Power 5 teams to open the year and will look to bounce back after getting embarrassed on Saturday at home by Vanderbilt, 28-6. Middle Tennessee also will look to avoid its first 0-2 start since 2011.

In the second year under head coach Dino Babers, Syracuse is looking to start 2-0 for a third time in four years. The Orange are coming off of a 50-7 rout of Central Connecticut State last week, but will be playing an FBS opponent for the first time this season. Saturday's contest also will be the first-ever meeting between the schools.

Middle Tennessee at Syracuse

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 9 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ACC Network

Spread: Syracuse -9.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Quarterback play

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Saturday's contest in Upstate New York is set to feature two very capable quarterbacks in Middle Tennessee's Brent Stockstill and Syracuse's Eric Dungey. Dungey, now a junior, has been a productive quarterback – even against stellar competition – but has struggled to stay injury-free. Dungey, a 6-foot-4, 222-pound junior, has good size, but is light on his feet and extremely accurate. Dungey accounted for 379 total yards and five total touchdowns last week. Dungey will be facing a defense that was torched last week by Vanderbilt's Kyle Shurmur, who was far from impressive in 2016.

After solid 2015 and ‘16 campaigns, Stockstill was under constant duress in the opener against Vanderbilt. The junior and son of head coach Rick Stockstill was sacked five times and finished with just 166 yards passing, one touchdown and an interception. As a team, Middle Tennessee put up just 215 yards of offense last week. Against a Syracuse team that ranked just 122nd in total defense a year ago, there should be more opportunities this week.

2. Playmakers out wide

In addition to two very competent quarterbacks, both teams ever have a dynamic pass catcher. For Middle Tennessee, that player is junior Richie James. James had more than 100 receptions in each of his first two years on campus and just shy of 3,000 yards receiving over those two seasons. James accounted for 126 total yards or about 59 percent of the Blue Raiders' total offense in the season opener against Vanderbilt. James is a versatile player who can do a lot of things for Middle Tennessee and must be accounted for by a Syracuse defense that struggled a year ago.

For the Orange, the guy to watch is Ervin Philips. After catching 90 passes a season ago, Philips is the ACC's leading returner when it comes to receptions. Philips finished with six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in the opener. He's not the only Syracuse receiver to watch out for however. Fellow senior Steve Ishmael, a big (6-2, 210) target, reeled in 12 passes for 134 yards in last week's victory over Central Connecticut State.

3. Scott Shafer's defense

Middle Tennessee wasn't very good defensively last season or in Week 1 against Vanderbilt, but if there is anyone who knows anything about the Orange players, it's defensive coordinator Scott Shafer. Shafer is in his first year in Murfreesboro after spending three years as the head coach at Syracuse from 2013-15 and an assistant for four years before that. Many of the players starting for the Orange on offense either played for or were recruited by Shafer. If there is one place where the Blue Raiders might be able to find some sort of advantage, this could be it.

Final Analysis

Middle Tennessee didn't look very good last week at home against Vanderbilt and will be facing a hostile crowd this week. Unlike the Commodores, Syracuse’s offense has shown the ability to put up points in the past and that is especially the case with dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey healthy. Although Syracuse struggled defensively last season, it should be better this season with veterans like linebackers Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett returning, along with leading sack man, Chris Slayton. In front of a friendly Carrier Dome crowd, Syracuse will take another step toward bowl eligibility this week while the Blue Raiders will have to find their way out of an 0-2 hole.

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Prediction: Syracuse 41, Middle Tennessee 21

— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the editor of The Daily Nole. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook and follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.