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Derek Redd: With UCF leaving C-USA, who will emerge as rival for Marshall?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every hero needs an arch villain. Batman needs The Joker. Eliot Ness needs Al Capone.

I need the treadmill.

Marshall fans are holding an open casting call for their new chief nemesis in Conference USA, now that Central Florida absconded from the group during college athletics' Super Duper Good Time Realignment Jamboree and set up residence in the American Athletic Conference.

And what a feud it was, bolstered by Knights' 2005 football win over the Thundering Herd, which snapped UCF's 17-game losing streak. Stoked by former Herd men's basketball coach Donnie Jones, a Point Pleasant native who switched sides in the rivalry and took the same job at UCF. Inflamed by UCF men's basketball players' social media insults last January about their Huntington lodging and enhanced by the Herd's one-point win in a foul-filled grudge match.

Now all that's left is for Marshall and UCF fans to trade anonymous barbs on each other's respective message boards, because you probably won't see the two athletic programs on the same field in the regular season for a long time.

So what team in this rebooted C-USA will fill the void the Knights left? And is it really fair to even ask the question?

Rivalries like these aren't conjured. They're cultivated. They come from geography, like Auburn and Alabama or Florida and Florida State, or an organically grown enmity, like the Lakers and Celtics or Notre Dame and The Rest of Humanity.

(And we're going to focus on an intra-conference rivalry, because those teams are obligated to play each other in the college athletics' two marquee sports - football and men's basketball. Marshall would have a ready-made enemy in West Virginia, but the Friends of Coal Bowl is packed in the mothballs. And building a feud through volleyball just doesn't have the same oomph, y'know?)

So while there's no guarantee that any of the teams in the new-look C-USA will rise to the level of archenemy, there are a few teams that could become contenders to that title.

The Herd could always look back toward the Sunshine State at either Florida International or Florida Atlantic. FIU could draw scorn for the beach scene the Panthers painted on their basketball court alone. And this is the school that hired Isaiah Thomas as its basketball coach right after his debacle with the New York Knicks, then fired him just three awful seasons later.

It's also the school that fired the one football coach that carried that program to relevancy, Mario Cristobal, replacing him with Ron Turner, who last coached in college when his 2004 Illinois team went 3-8. Could that litany of questionable decisions spur the type of disdain that makes a rivalry?

Well, FIU has made a couple of pretty good men's hoops hires in Richard Pitino, who just departed to Minnesota, and former Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans, so that might take the sting out of the Thomas and Turner decisions. And letting Cristobal go allowed Marshall to hire new offensive line coach Alex Mirabal, so the Herd might even send a thank-you note.

On the other hand, Marshall did beat FIU in only the Panthers' second bowl game in program history. There might be hope yet.

If not FIU, what about FAU? The Owls, too, have a South Florida address, and the polarity in lifestyle - the blue-collar nature of Huntington versus the palm trees and affluence of Boca Raton - could lead to something. The problem is, though, that the Owls just really don't have the on-field resume. The football team hasn't had a winning season since 2008 and the basketball team under Mike Jarvis has had one winning season in the last five. If FAU scores an upset against the Herd in football or basketball, we might have a scenario much like UCF ending 17-game skid at Marshall's expense.

Western Kentucky, which joins C-USA in 2014, wins the proximity award. The two universities sit a shade over four hours away from each other. The Hilltoppers are pretty good in both football and basketball, so you'll probably see some competitive games. Plus, WKU just hired College Football Darth Vader, Bobby Petrino, to lead its program.

Petrino's history - ignominious exits at Louisville and the Atlanta Falcons, followed by his epic meltdown at Arkansas - makes for an easy scoundrel. And despite his character flaws, the man knows how to run an offense. Think of the possibilities of a potential 2014 WKU-Marshall matchup, with the Hilltoppers in Petrino Year Two and the Herd led by seniors Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler and juniors Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler. Whichever school hosts that game will be praying it doesn't have to replace the burned-out lights in the scoreboards at halftime.

So there are some contenders for the role of Moriarty to Marshall's Sherlock Holmes. Only time will tell if a team can rise to that lofty perch. I, however, know my greatest adversary all too well.

Oh, treadmill, you devil's instrument. Your day of judgment is coming.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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