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Explosive Offenses Key to ULM – Middle Tennessee State Conference Match-up

John Reed-US PRESSWIRE

The Sun Belt football conference (SBC) isn’t a member of the BCS, so its schools are sometimes overlooked or written off as sub-par.

It takes big upsets, like ULM‘s shocking comeback win over Arkansas on Sept. 8 or Middle Tennessee State‘s demolition of Georgia Tech, to get them a little attention, but their wins weren’t flukes.

A week after upsetting Arkansas, ULM took Auburn to overtime and just fell short against Baylor a week later. MTSU has a history of topping weaker teams from BCS conferences, with three wins over Vanderbilt and two over Maryland since 2001.

The teams’ wins over Arkansas and Georgia Tech were two of the biggest upsets so far in 2012 and the Sun Belt teams responsible for them face off today in a Sun Belt conference game in Murfreesboro.

Middle Tennessee State has won five of the last 6 over ULM and holds a 9-3 advantage in the series, but ULM snapped their losing streak to the Blue Raiders last season with a 42-14 win.

Look for both teams to come out with their offenses firing on all cylinders today. Both schools have talented offensive playmakers and the team who scores first has won all but one game in the series.

MTSU beat Georgia Tech 49-28, last week, but their whopping 510 yards of total offense was just the sixth-highest total under seventh-year head coach Rick Stockstill.

The Blue Raiders are averaging 443 yards of offense per game, but the ULM Warhawks are gaining even more, with an average of 518.2 yards per game.

ULM quarterback Kolton Browning, who was almost singlehandedly responsible for the win over Arkansas, is a dangerous dual-threat. He has 1174 passing yards and eleven touchdowns and he’s also the team’s second-leading rusher with 189 yards and three touchdowns.

The Warhawk wide receivers are just as explosive as their quarterback. Four of the team’s top five wideouts – Brent Leonard, Je’Ron Hamm, Colby Harper and Keavon Milton – have played in all four games and are averaging double-digit yards per catch. The team’s second-leading receiver, Tavarese Maye, is just under with an average of 9.8.

Browning’s best target is former walk-on Leonard, who has 30 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-tying TD against Arkansas.

Browning’s an exciting player to watch, but MTSU’s Logan Kilgore is the one leading the conference in pass efficiency (70.4%).

Kilgore, who had just 148 passing yards against the Warhawks last season, is third in the conference with eight touchdown passes this season. His favorite target, like Browning’s, is a former walk-on, Anthony Amos, who is second in the conference in receiving yards.

The MTSU offense might have the edge because Kilgore has more support from his running backs.

Benny Cunningham was the player of the week after his career day against Georgia Tech when he had five rushing touchdowns. He’s missed a game and a half due to a shoulder injury, but he still leads the conference in scoring.

There’s no question that both offenses can win games for their team. The winner of this conference standoff will come down to defense.

The Warhawks defense is led by linebackers R.J. Young, who has 29 tackles and a 55-yard interception return, and Mitch Lane, who has 25 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.

The defensive line has caused problems for opposing quarterbacks in recent years with more than 24 sacks in each of the last three seasons. They have just five on the year and they’ll have a tough time getting any more against MTSU, who has not allowed a sack on the quarterback in 2012.

The battle between two Sun Belt powers will get lost in a weekend filled with big games like GeorgiaSouth Carolina, West VirginiaTexas, LSUFlorida, and WashingtonOregon, but it could feature some of the most entertaining football of the day. The game kicks off at 3:30 Eastern on ESPN3.

Justine Hendricks is a Pac-12 and ACC Columnist for Rant Sports and is the founder and editor of Sports in StilettosFollow her on Twitter: @SportsStilettos

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