Herd will face Rice, site TBA tonight
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - With Rice beating Tulane and claiming Conference USA's West Division championship Saturday, the wait is on for Marshall.
The Thundering Herd is likely headed to Rice Stadium next Saturday for the C-USA championship game, airing at noon on ESPN2. But that's not set in stone until the BCS standings are released tonight.
Here's the situation: The team with the best league record hosts the C-USA championship. Both Marshall, the East Division champion, and West winner Rice are 7-1 but did not play each other, so the tiebreaker goes to the Bowl Championship Series standings.
All FBS teams are rated, though only the top 25 are unveiled with the usual pomp. Rice and Marshall likely won't get votes in the coaches' and Harris Interactive polls, so the computer indexes will decide the tiebreaker. Six indexes are used, with the highest and lowest thrown out.
Last week's indexes had Rice well ahead of MU. In the tally kept by CBS Sportsline, Rice was 55th and MU 66th. While the Herd should get a bump from beating 9-3 East Carolina, the Owls look good to preserve that gap by beating 7-5 Tulane.
It didn't help that Marshall played one 0-12 team (Miami of Ohio), two 1-11 teams (Southern Mississippi and Florida International) and an FCS team (Gardner-Webb). The three losses came by a combined five points in regulation, plus Virginia Tech's third-overtime touchdown.
A Marshall-at-Rice matchup (both teams 9-3, 7-1) will be a replay of one of the craziest games of 2012, a 54-51 double-overtime win for the Herd.
The Herd survived the 467 total yards by Taylor McHargue (314 passing, 153 rushing), losing a 10-point lead in the final 4:31. In fact, McHargue dove for a go-ahead TD in the final minute and fell short, injuring his shoulder and forcing Rice to settle for a game-tying field goal.
In the Owls' 17-13 win Saturday over Tulane, McHargue started a 17-point run with a 19-yard pass to Turner Petersen at the end of the first quarter. Jowan Davis scored on a 16-yard run in the second, followed by Chris Boswell's 36-yard field goal.
The Green Wave rallied from down 17-3 to 17-13 but lost 4 yards in its final two possessions. Rice hasn't been known as a defensive power in just about any era, but it entered Saturday fifth in scoring defense in C-USA and sixth of 14 teams in total yardage allowed.
After pummeling East Carolina 59-28 on Friday to win the East Division, Marshall had to prepare for three possible teams - Rice, Tulane and Texas-San Antonio. The Herd only played one of those, beating UTSA 34-10 on Oct. 5.
Now, coaches and players know who they're playing, but they're not totally sure where they'll be playing.
"That won't change preparation," said Herd coach Doc Holliday. "I would think, and I don't have anything to do with it, that's a big win over a good football team. That's a nine-win team, and I'm not sure anybody else on the other side has a win against a team of that caliber, but we'll see where it goes.
"Hopefully that shoots us up over the other team and we'll have the opportunity to play back here at home."
Did East Carolina's defense out-think itself Friday? Or did MU's offensive line just overpower the front four? (Or front three. Or whatever.)
As center Chris Jasperse explains: "It was just a matter of lining up and getting after them, executing. They would go from a three-man front until we'd get a big run, and they'd go to an even front, four-down front, and we'd run it there.
"They didn't know what they wanted to do and we took advantage, got hats on hats, everybody executing. The backs were on the same page. [Rakeem] Cato was checking to the run because we knew he had our back."
After he dried off from his Gatorade bath, Holliday declared his decision to name the four team captains weekly to be a success. There were 19 of them over the 12 weeks, and apparently they all made an impact, whether in pregame speeches or simply their play on the field
"I've never done the captain situation the way we've done it this year," Holliday said. "It's been tremendous. It's developed leadership among guys you never thought had the ability to do that. We've got 19 of them, believe it or not. The leadership they've shown has been great, and it's helped our team."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.