Chuck McGill: Win or lose, Herd could be headed for Memphis
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This column is devoid of conspiracy theories or controversy. It is not a column of what might have been, but what could be.
As Marshall (9-3, 7-1 Conference USA) travels to face Rice (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) this Saturday (noon, ESPN2) in the league championship game, everything from bowl bids to bonuses are at stake. Here is a rundown of what could be:
* The Thundering Herd could be Memphis-bound, win or lose.
Last Saturday, Marshall and East Carolina played in a de facto conference semifinal that pushed the winner to the league title game. The championship game winner, however, doesn't have a guaranteed destination.
The Liberty Bowl has customarily welcomed the Conference USA champion, but is not contractually obligated to do so. In fact, the bowl has the option to take the loser - if it wants a C-USA team to face its Southeastern Conference team - which it could do if the Herd loses. Marshall is an intriguing team with marquee players, an exciting brand of football and a ready-to-travel fan base.
If the Liberty Bowl, played on Dec. 31, passes on Marshall, the Military Bowl is set to scoop up the Herd. The Military Bowl is played on Dec. 27 at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. A team from the Atlantic Coast Conference will be the opponent.
* Marshall Coach Doc Holliday could be in line for hefty holiday bonus ... and not one that involves the Jelly of the Month Club.
The fourth-year head coach could bank as many as $50,000 in incentives because of the Herd's breakout season. Holliday is already due $10,000 for the C-USA East Division title and will certainly get the $20,000 bonus for a bowl game.
He could get an additional $20,000 if the Herd defeats Rice on Saturday, per his contract.
* The Herd could be the sixth different program to win the Conference USA championship since the league split into two divisions before the 2005 season, and it could be the second to win the title game as a road favorite.
In 2005, Tulsa defeated UCF, 44-27, at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando as a 3-point favorite. The Herd is anywhere from a 5- to 6-point favorite over the host Owls.
In the eight C-USA title games, the favorite has a 5-3 record.
* Marshall could be headed to the national polls for the first time in a decade. The Herd garnered 13 votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll this week, but did not receive a vote in the Associated Press Top 25.
The last time MU cracked the AP's national rankings was Jan. 4, 2003, after the Herd beat Louisville in the GMAC Bowl and finished No. 24.
There are 18 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 10 wins headed into championship weekend. All are ranked.
* Holliday could be part of his fifth-ever 10-win season. The veteran coach, who was an assistant at West Virginia, N.C. State and Florida, has been on the sidelines for four seasons of double-digit wins: WVU in 1998 (11-1); WVU in 1993 (11-1); N.C. State in 2002 (11-3) and Florida in 2006 (13-1).
* And, lastly, Marshall could be on the verge of the perfect storm.
In July 2010, before Holliday ever coached a game at Marshall, Athletic Director Mike Hamrick outlined his vision to me. What is transpiring now is awfully close to what he told me in the Shewey Building that summer day.
Obviously, Hamrick knew he had a large fundraising job ahead of him. He knew his two primary revenue-producing programs needed to win. He knew facility upgrades were a necessity.
The trick is getting it to come together all at once. A championship team without championship facilities wouldn't suffice, nor would the shiniest of bells and whistles paired with the insipidness of losing seasons.
"Everything we are doing right now we are doing with the assumption that we are going to be successful on the field and on the court," Hamrick said to me that day more than three years ago. "We don't want to be in a situation where we win first and then are caught without this stuff."
The "stuff," as he put it, wasn't around then but is now. The addition of scoreboards and suites and, soon, the state-of-the-art indoor practice facility that is rising above Edwards Stadium, is right on schedule as the football program goes for its first C-USA championship.
This is what Hamrick thought could be.
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949. Follow him on Twitter @chuckmcgill.