STEPHEN HAWKINS, AP Sports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — There was no bowl snub for Middle Tennessee with its 8-4 record this year after moving to Conference USA.
The Blue Raiders accepted an invitation Sunday to play Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30. With the same record last year, and on its way out of the Sun Belt Conference, Middle Tennessee was passed over for one of that league’s bowl spots for a team with one less win than the Blue Raiders.
While already knowing they were bowl-bound this year, coach Rick Stockstill enjoyed telling his players where they were going. It was much different than a year ago.
“I can’t justify it in words,” Stockstill said. “That was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in 30 years in coaching. It was very heartbreaking to me, and it was very emotional to me and that team. … I told them to think back to their emotions that they had at this time last year and to understand and appreciate how special going to this bowl is going to be.”
Navy (7-4) was a conditional pick for the bowl even before the season, and the Midshipmen guaranteed their spot in the Dec. 30 game when they got their sixth win last month. They still have one regular-season game to play, Saturday against Army in Philadelphia.
“We’re excited about our season. We’ve had some tough wins and some tough losses,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “All of our focus right now is on Army week. … The biggest game for us of the season. Once that’s over, we’ll start preparing for Middle Tennessee.”
With their 28-10 win over Air Force in October, the Midshipmen can clinch the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy by beating Army.
The Armed Forces Bowl, in its 11th year and played on the TCU campus, is the first bowl to host all three service academy teams. Air Force has played in the Armed Forces Bowl four times (2007-09, 2012) while Army was in the 2010 game.
Navy is in its 10th bowl in 11 years.
The Blue Raiders have a five-game winning streak. They haven’t played in a bowl since 2010, when they lost to Miami, Ohio, in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
When bowl bids came out last year, Middle Tennessee was snubbed for Western Kentucky (7-5), which had lost at home to Middle Tennessee.
“This Sunday (last year) was one of the most disappointing days that we’ve ever had here on this campus,” athletic director Chris Massaro said.