HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - If Marshall properly handles visiting Alabama-Birmingham today, as is widely expected, several objectives will be fulfilled.
From a short-term perspective, bowl eligibility will be clinched, and done so with three games left in the regular season. The last time that happened was 2003, when bowls were not as plentiful, Marshall resided in the Mid-American Conference and was shut out at 8-4.
More important, the Thundering Herd (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) would remain in the running for the East Divison title, likely staying a half-game behind East Carolina. The Pirates play at home against Tulsa, long removed and fallen from its role as a preseason favorite.
Finally, the Herd needs to wash away the memory of its most unexpected loss of 2012, a demoralizing 38-31 setback at UAB. That loss ultimately cost MU a bowl berth and a losing season.
Marshall is heavily favored to turn the tables today at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Kickoff is at noon, with WCHS, Channel 8 airing the contest in the Charleston-Huntington market.
"We had a chip on our shoulders coming into the season," said Herd defensive end Alex Bazzie. "It wasn't anything against any of our opponents, it was a chip on our shoulder because we knew we messed ourselves up last year.
"We had a lot going for us and we didn't put ourselves in the right position. We've got a chip on our shoulder in that when we have an opportunity to put ourselves into a victory situation, we need to execute and excel. We played them tough, but didn't finish."
Yes, this Herd team must finish, as it has in three of four conference games, but not in its three losses. It learned in a loss at Middle Tennessee that nothing should be taken for granted, and applied those lessons last week in disposing of Southern Mississippi.
Whether UAB (2-6, 1-3) competes as well as it did last year remains to be seen. The Blazers are 4-20 on the road since 2010, with their last trip ending in a 52-31 loss at Texas-San Antonio two weeks ago. The Roadrunners led 45-10 early in the third quarter.
Similarly, Marshall has dominated the Blazers in the rivalry's last two games at Huntington in 2009 and 2011. The formula for a victory would be seen last week against Southern Miss, though UAB should provide tougher competition.
Marshall ran better, and should benefit from a healthier Kevin Grooms. He has fought through a high ankle sprain and seemed to finally be at full-tilt when he broke off a 75-yard TD run last week.
"That felt good to have a run that I'm used to doing," Grooms said this week. "I've still got to keep working and keep [undergoing] treatment, get it back to the strength I need and go from there."
Quarterback Rakeem Cato is coming off a player-of-the-week performance and is running the offense better than he ever has. His outside receivers got back in the game last week, catching 10 passes and scoring three times - Davonte Allen showed another flash of brilliance with two TDs.
The Herd defense is still stinging from giving up 51 points at MTSU, and that was two games ago. Those players took it out on Southern Miss and are looking to continue the trend against the Blazers.
"It's a whole new defense this year," said linebacker Evan McKelvey. "They're coming on our turf. As a captain of the defense [he served last week], I don't think I'm going to let [big UAB gains] happen. It doesn't matter who's running the ball, whoever comes to the line of scrimmage, we're going to stop them."