The Racers have played the likes of North Carolina State, Mississippi State, Wisconsin and Louisville to kick off past seasons. While these teams have gone on to enjoy great success in college football’s top division, none prove more daunting than the task facing Head Coach Chris Hatcher and company as they travel to Tallahassee to begin their 2012 campaign against the No. 7 Florida State Seminoles.
Hatcher recognizes the vast difference between the Murray State and Florida State programs.
“You know, unfortunately we’ve got to go in and play the seventh ranked team in the country,” Hatcher said. “Some experts are picking them to win the national championship at the BCS division and we’re the 26th ranked team at the FCS division, so there’s a little disparity there amongst the rankings.”
To offensive coordinator Mitch Stewart, Florida State’s defensive line is the biggest challenge facing the Racers on Saturday. The Seminoles’ front four consists of three seniors and a junior, all of whom are projected by some experts as first round picks in the NFL draft.
“I’ll be honest with you, we’ve got a bunch of (challenges), but probably the biggest challenge right now is their front four,” Stewart said. “Those four can really go. Their Defensive line is as good of a D-line as I’ve ever seen. They’re athletic, they’re big and trying to find ways to at least give them something to think about is going to be a huge challenge for us.”
Hatcher agreed with Stewart, echoing his cause for concern. While he believes the Racers’ skill players match up well, he recognizes the physical superiority of Florida State.
“You know if we went down there and played seven on seven we’d be in the mix,” Hatcher said. “We could play four full quarters hands down. And I think we have a great offensive line that’s really well coached, but they’re going against four first round draft choices. We’re going to have to throw the ball quick and run right at them because they’re big, athletic and fast.”
For Hatcher, a trip to Florida State also means a return to the region where he began his career.
Only 80 miles from Tallahassee lies Valdosta State, where Hatcher played before taking over the head coaching position and leading the Blazers to the 2004 national championship.
However, Hatcher and his team did not agree to play the 7th ranked team in the country for his own personal nostalgia.
Murray State traditionally plays a high profile team at the beginning of most seasons. Commonly referred to as “money games,” top teams will often offer financial incentive, to entice teams from lower divisions to come play them in their home stadium for an easy warmup game to get their players acclimated before they get into their rigorous conference schedule.
Hatcher is not shy in sharing one of the main reasons for Murray State’s agreement to play in Tallahassee.
“The big thing is we want to make sure the check doesn’t bounce,” said a joking Hatcher. “You know that $ 450,000 check is important. Some of that money has already been spent on a renovated weight room and new headsets, so if the check bounces we will be in trouble.”
All kidding aside, the Racers have a plan for Saturday’s game and they plan to make the best of their unique opportunity.
“We’ll keep it simple and try to go out there and execute as best we can,” Hatcher said. “We’ve got to have some success early, and get some easy completions.”
Some have expressed concern for the safety of the players due to the vast differences in size, speed and athleticism. Hatcher said he sees no additional cause for concern.
“As far as getting hurt and things of that nature, I really believe you’ve got as good a chance to get hurt against an opponent of your level as you do at Florida State,” Hatcher said. “If it happens, it happens.”
While the outcome may be uncertain, it is clear the Racers will not be happy with simply taking a trip to Tallahassee to collect a fat check.
The team has a mission to accomplish just as in any other game. Though the matchup may not be favorable, Hatcher and his staff remains confident and excited to begin a new season.
“There are very few times you get the opportunity for greatness, but if we go down there and shock the world, all of a sudden this program is changed and on the front of magazines and ESPN is talking about us,” Hatcher said. “We’re not asking our guys to go play 12 games against ACC opponents…we’re just asking ‘em to do it once. We go down there and play our best and anything can happen.”
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Sports Editor