MIAMI - In the days leading into his team's game against Florida International University, Marshall football Coach Doc Holliday was a little worried.
He heard folks around Huntington talk to his Thundering Herd players about the potential stakes of their regular season finale against East Carolina. How, if the Herd beat the Panthers, its game versus the Pirates would be winner-take-all for the Conference USA East Division title. Holliday was concerned that the team would start looking over FIU and toward ECU too early.
But now Marshall can talk about the Pirates all it wants.
The Herd's 48-10 win over the Panthers guaranteed the team its most successful C-USA season. Marshall reached six conference wins for the first time Saturday. Yet it doesn't have to stop there.
If Marshall (8-3, 6-1 C-USA) beats ECU on Friday, it wins the East Division and will play in its first C-USA title game. If ECU wins, the Pirates take the East.
"That's been the goal," Holliday said of playing for the division title. "That's what the fan base wants, that's what the community wants and that's what I came here to do. I wouldn't have taken this job if I didn't think we could play for championships. I think we're right there where we need to be at this point, and now we've got to go do it."
Divining either team's opponent from the West Division - and where the game would be held - is a little more involved.
Three teams are in the running for the West crown - Rice, Tulane and the University of Texas at San Antonio. Rice and Tulane play Saturday, while UTSA plays Louisiana Tech. If Rice wins, it wins the West. If Tulane wins and Louisiana Tech beats UTSA, the Green Wave wins the division. If Tulane and UTSA both win, the Roadrunners are the West champions.
If UTSA or Tulane wins the West, the East Division champ, no matter who it is, hosts the conference title game. If Rice wins, the host team will be decided by BCS ranking. CBSSports.com projected ECU at 36, Rice at 57 and Marshall at 71 this week, so the Herd likely would have too much ground to gain to host the Owls.
For part of the first quarter Saturday, it looked like Holliday's fears were valid. The offense gained just 57 yards in the game's first 15 minutes and FIU (1-10, 1-6 C-USA) was able to kick a field goal on its opening drive. The Panthers held that 3-0 lead until the end of the first quarter, which was the first time all season they led after the first.