HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall University football team has what could be one of its most important games in recent history just seven days away.
But on Saturday, the Thundering Herd visits a Florida International University team with one win.
That meeting with the Panthers at 6 p.m. on Fox College Sports Central is the only thing standing between the Herd (7-3, 5-1 Conference USA) and a Black Friday showdown with East Carolina for the conference's East Division title and a berth in the C-USA championship game. And while FIU (1-9, 1-5 C-USA) might not provide the toughest challenge, the situation - focusing on the present when the future is so crucial - might.
So Marshall Coach Doc Holliday has made sure his Herd doesn't ignore the Panthers at its own peril.
"The message to the football team this week is, every Sunday you pick up the paper and see a team that got beat, but shouldn't have," Holliday said.
The Herd does get to experience the benefit of having so many goals still in play. The only way for next week's ECU game to have the most meaning is to win Saturday.
Lose to FIU - and only winless Southern Mississippi has suffered that fate in 2013 - and the East Division picture could get muddled.
If Marshall loses to FIU and beats ECU, then Middle Tennessee wins out against Southern Miss and the University of Texas at El Paso, then MTSU, Marshall and ECU all sit with 6-2 conference records. And Marshall will have beaten ECU, which beat Middle Tennessee, which beat Marshall.
The only way for Marshall to guarantee a win-and-you're-in scenario with ECU is to take care of FIU.