HOUSTON - Today's Conference USA championship game between Marshall and Rice will be one for the history books.
OK, that may be overstating the importance, at least on a national scale. For many fans, it will be an afterthought the minute the Southeastern Conference title game kicks off, followed by four similar games.
Shoot, ESPN, is airing a noon game between C-USA defectors Central Florida and Southern Methodist, 249 miles north-northwest in icy Dallas. The Thundering Herd and the Owls are playing at the same time on ESPN2.
Marshall (9-3) is playing for its first conference championship in 11 years, a drought considered unthinkable way back in 2002, as Thundering Herd fans were eyeballing a potential move to Conference USA. Today's MU players were midget-leaguers at the oldest.
Rice coach David Bailiff remembers watching the Herd's glory years from afar.
"They were an amazing I-AA program," he said Tuesday. "I had some friends that worked there back during that run. The fans are fanatic, the fans have high expectations. ... They're getting the type of student-athlete, they're getting some guys going to 'The League,' they've done a great job."
For Marshall fans, those I-AA and Mid-American Conference championships seem as if they happened, oh, about 56 years ago. For Rice, those 56 years are no exaggeration.
The Owls last won an outright championship in the old Southwest Conference in 1957. They shared one in 1994, two years before the SWC went kaput and the Owls were exiled to the Western Athletic Conference.
Not that the Owls tore it up there, either. By the time they landed in their first bowl game in 45 years (2006), they had joined Marshall in the restructured C-USA.
C-USA is again in the midst of restructuring, but the teams playing today will still be around next year. That's a source of pride, especially after how Rice dispatched Tulane last week and Marshall rocked East Carolina - both teams joining 3-9 Tulsa on the way out.
"I think it's great, to be honest with you," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "I think it's kind of nice that whoever the defending champion will be, will be back next year. You look at Rice's roster, you've got a lot of young players, you look at our roster, we've got a lot of young players. Hopefully, we've got a shot at being pretty good next year, too."
These are the seventh and eighth different schools to participate in the C-USA championship game, which is in its ninth rendition. And there are some quality matchups, including: