HUNTINGTON - When Ohio and Marshall clash tonight, there is more at stake than a bell.
For the host Thundering Herd, at least, there should be a lot more.
The Battle of the Bell rings back to life at 6:30 tonight at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, with Marshall winning 10 of the last 12 in the 55-game rivalry. But that's only trivia, as the Bobcats have the bell in their possession.
They ripped that bell away last year in Athens, Ohio, donning black jerseys and running through a turnover-prone, shell-shocked Herd 44-7. The Bobcats, who executed a fake punt while up 37-7, sprinted on the field and rang the bell as if they won the national championship.
With that, a neighborly rivalry got a little more spirited.
"This is a rivalry game, plus they beat us really bad last year and we're always thinking about that," said Herd receiver Antavious Wilson. "We're coming back with a strong mentality on how we're going to win this game."
But today's contest runs deeper than a little boiling blood.
A year after winning 10 games for the first time since 1968 and rallying to win their first bowl game ever, the Bobcats (2-0) come to Huntington as the preseason favorites in the Herd's former home, the Mid-American Conference. Now the Bobcats are receiving votes in both major polls.
Even more startling, from a historical perspective, is the Bobcats being a touchdown road favorite. If they win, they'll start 2-0 on the road for the first time in 36 years.
With a win at Penn State and a dusting of New Mexico State, Ohio may be a Conference USA championship-caliber squad. Or better - a Yahoo story suggests the Bobcats could become the "Boise State of the Midwest."
"We can be kind of like a Boise State," quarterback Tyler Tettleton told Yahoo's Eric Adelson. "We're still not at a top level but we can be recognized across the country."
If you're not buying that, you can think of this as a ninth conference game for the Herd. And if you can't think of it that way, just consider Marshall's following task - a sneaky-tough league opener at Rice next week.
With that in mind, tonight is a golden opportunity for Marshall to improve the following:
It is early, but the Thundering Herd is in a place it hasn't been in a decade, prominent in the Division I FBS passing yardage statistics. With 413 yards against West Virginia and 430 more against Western Carolina, the Herd has amassed 843 yards through the skies, tops in the land.
The Bobcats, who held the Herd to 11-of-29 passing and picked off Rakeem Cato four times last year, have noticed.