BOCA RATON, Fla. - For the next test of Marshall's expected role of contender in the new Conference USA, it's time for another journey to Florida.
Had the wide-reaching tentacles of conference realignment not plucked Central Florida out of the league, the Thundering Herd could be try, try, trying again to win in the Knights' bouncy Orlando home.
Instead, the Herd is taking its Sunshine State show farther south, taking on C-USA newbie Florida Atlantic at 5 p.m. today at the smaller FAU Stadium. Fox College Sports Atlantic (Suddenlink digital 509) is carrying the action.
It's the first of two trips to south Florida for the Herd, followed by a Nov. 23 trip to Miami-based Florida International. Neither team carried much respect in the C-USA coaches' preseason poll, with FAU ranked sixth and FIU seventh of seven teams in the East Division.
But FAU, weathering a first half with five of six games on the road, has the full respect of Marshall (3-2, 1-0 C-USA). The Owls are a few plays from a much better record, even reversing its 2-4, 1-3 mark. Looking at their schedule, a win today gives them a legitimate chance at a bowl game.
"If you look at FAU and what they've done, they are a very dangerous team," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "They've gone on the road and beaten South Florida, who just went up to Cincinnati and beat Cincinnati this last weekend. They also went on the road and beat UAB and got a road victory. That's two great road wins for them and they also took Rice to the wire and did that without their quarterback.
"Any time you are located in Boca Raton, Florida, and [have] a brand new stadium and a great school, you are going to have players. There are a lot of players around there. They are very athletic and FAU is second in Conference USA in total defense. They run extremely well."
If the Herd wants to join the East Division race - and come closer to locking up a bowl berth early for a change - it must win this game, no matter how far coach Carl Pelini's FAU team has progressed.
And the Herd must begin the reversal of its 9-23 C-USA road record under the 2005-12 alignment. If indeed that history is irrelevant, this Marshall team must make it so.
If this MU team is to be the best in a decade, it must win road games against less-heralded opponents. If the new C-USA is weaker, as skeptics charge, the Herd must appear to be stronger.
It doesn't really matter if FAU is a few plays from being 3-1 in the league. Nor that Owls quarterback Jaquez Johnson is making his case to be among the league's best. If this Herd team wants to have a big season, it must win a game such as this.
The tangible factors aren't hard to define. They include:
The Herd is fourth in C-USA in rushing, but its 180 yards per game are still distorted by those opening walkovers against Miami (Ohio) and Gardner-Webb. Against Ohio, Virginia Tech and Texas-San Antonio, the Herd is grinding out 134 yards per game, but just 3.1 per carry. Eleven sacks help depress those numbers.