Marshall football: Herd happy for chance at C-USA championship
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The disappointment among the Marshall University football players in not hosting the Conference USA championship game - even though early projections had many believing the opposite - wore off pretty quickly.
"It was a little shocking," senior defensive end Alex Bazzie said, "but at the same time, it didn't matter. I'm just happy to play for the championship."
Plus traveling to Houston and Rice Stadium, home of the C-USA West Division champ Rice Owls, brings with it another group of concerns that immediately affect the East Division-champion Thundering Herd. The Herd hasn't played its best away from Joan C. Edwards Stadium and hasn't historically fared well in the state of Texas.
Yet the Herd players feel they've made enough advances in both regards that, when the Herd and Owls kick off at noon Saturday on ESPN2, those struggles won't weigh them down too much.
The Herd's hosting fate was left to the computer ratings that make up the BCS formula. Marshall and Rice have 9-3 overall records and 7-1 conference records. They didn't play each other this year, so it went to the conference's third tiebreaker, BCS ranking. In the formula the conference used, Rice's lead with the computers was too much for Marshall to overcome with its points in the Harris Interactive and USA Today Coaches polls.
Now the Herd gets reminded that it's 2-3 this season on the road and has won just one game in nine total trips to Texas. Marshall fell in games at Ohio, Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee, while needing a last-second field goal to win at Florida Atlantic and needing a fourth-quarter comeback to win at Tulsa.
Yet that Tulsa win was part of Marshall's current five-game winning streak and the 11-point win over the Golden Hurricane was the closest anyone has come in that period to knocking off the Herd. Marshall is averaging 53.8 points per game in its last five with an average margin of victory of 34 points.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato said there's no reason why the team should let former road woes hamper its progress.
"We just have to continue doing what we're doing," Cato said. "At the end of the day, it's football. We have to go out there and prepare hard this week and not let that distract us."
And while Marshall has won just once in the Lone Star State, that came last season in a 54-51 double-overtime win against the Owls. Center Chris Jasperse said the fact that much of this season's roster was there last year for that victory helps the team clear what could be a troublesome mental hurdle.
"I think it's big for a lot of people," Jasperse said. "I think that maybe if we were going in (to Saturday's game) 0-for-Texas, a lot of guys would be a little stressed out or worried. But now, hey, we can say we've won in Texas. It's not a big deal."
While the prospect of sleeping in their own beds for the entire week was an enticing one, Herd players aren't letting the trip to Houston dampen their enthusiasm for Saturday's game. It's been 11 years since Marshall has played for a conference title, and Cato said the team isn't taking the opportunity for granted.
"All our guys, from the head man to the bottom man, we're ready to play wherever," he said. "Coach (Doc) Holliday told us at (Sunday's) meeting that we have to be ready to play, wherever we go. Our players are ready right now. We've waited a long time for this moment, just to be in the championship."
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FRESHMAN DEFENSIVE end Gary Thompson was named C-USA defensive player of the week for his two-interception game Friday versus East Carolina. On the first, Thompson tipped a Shane Carden pass to himself. On the second, he plucked a short Carden pass out of the air and ran it five yards for a touchdown.
It's the Herd's second weekly award this year after quarterback Rakeem Cato was named conference offensive player of the week on Nov. 4.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.