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Marshall still focused on Conference USA schedule

By Staff | Nov 7, 2014

Unbeaten. Untied. Unfettered by a schedule full of terrors.

But far from the finish line and far from being invited to a New Year’s Day bowl with a 13-0 overall record.

Yet Marshall is in an enviable position.

Now 8-0 and without a Top 40 team left on its schedule, the Thundering Herd has its goals laid out before it like a Thanksgiving Day smorgasbord,

Left on the regular season schedule are Southern Mississippi (3-6 after a loss to Texas-El Paso), Rice (5-3 overall and 3-1 in its division of the conference), Alabama-Birmingham (5-4 overall after a loss to Louisiana Tech) and Western Kentucky (3-5 overall after a 59-10 loss to Louisiana Tech).

Marshall is 4-0 in conference play. All of its remaining games are against conference rivals.

Middle Tennessee, a team that Marshall defeated handily, is the remaining challenger for divisional honors with its 4-1 Conference USA record.

Should Coach John “Doc” Holliday’s team make it through unscathed against its conference opponents, it would be 12-0 and ready to face the best team from the other division of the league in the Conference USA championship game.

Louisiana Tech is currently 5-0 in the other division. The only teams with any chance of displacing the Techsters are Rice and Texas-El Paso, both with 3-1 conference records.

Louisiana Tech is 6-3 overall, having lost 48-16 to Oklahoma, 30-27 to Northwestern State of Louisiana and 45-17 to Auburn. The Techsters have now won four straight games.

The survivor of the division will be decided after Rice plays at Louisiana Tech on November 29 and Texas El-Paso visits Houston to face Rice on November 21.

The Conference USA championship game is played on the home field of one of the qualifying teams, and Joan Edwards Stadium in Huntington could be the site of the early December title game.

Marshall has been led by its most newsworthy player — senior quarterback and four-year starter Rakeem Cato.

But there are six seniors on the starting defensive team. Ra’Shawde Myers, James Rouse, Arnold Blackman, Jermaine Holmes, Neville Hewitt and Darryl Roberts give Coach Holliday a well-seasoned group of starters.

Holliday has always been known for his recruiting charm. While an assistant at West Virginia, North Carolina State and a second term at West Virginia he did much of his player-gathering in south Florida.

Of Marshall’s 22 starters, eight are from Florida, five from Georgia, three from Virginia, two from Ohio, one from Texas, one from North Carolina, one from Sweden and one from West Virginia.

There are five more senior starters on the Marshall offense. In addition to Cato, they are Tommy Shuler, Trevor Mendelson, Chris Jasperse and Eric Frohnaphel.

When Marshall sees Rice next Saturday in Huntington, it will be facing the team that beat it 41-24 in last year’s conference championship game played in Houston.

Marshall is ranked 22nd in the one coach’s poll.

If the Thundering Herd manages an undefeated regular season and then can defeat its opponent in the conference championship game, it would set in motion an argument about where Marshall should go bowling. There will be no Top 4 finish and no opportunity to play for the national championship.

But after two of the already-named six bowls are filled with those four teams, what should or would happen to an undefeated Marshall? The other four top-tier bowls come from the Peach, Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose.

Should a 13-0 Marshall team be invited to one of those six bowls? That will be the question bantered about by the media if the Thundering Herd can win its last five games.

A now-thriving Louisiana Tech team would seem to pose the most serious hurdle to Marshall arriving in late December with an unbeaten record.

But first come Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, the Rice Owls at Joan Edwards in Huntington, Alabama-Birmingham at Legion Field and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in Huntington to close out the regular season.

Holliday and The Herd want to spend the holidays in some city much larger than Memphis (Liberty Bowl) or Nashville (Music City Bowl). The future is only partially in their hands. But any loss along the way will keep Marshall from receiving an invitation to one of the more historically significant bowls.