HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Since the beginning of October, the Marshall University football team's game captains might as well have brought a fruit basket with them to the coin toss ... or maybe a fresh-baked apple pie.
Whatever's the popular way to welcome new neighbors.
When the Thundering Herd takes the Floyd Stadium field at 7:30 tonight in Murfreesboro, Tenn., to face Middle Tennessee State University, it will be the third straight game it has played a first-year Conference USA opponent. The Herd (4-2, 2-0 C-USA) would hope to be as inhospitable to the Blue Raiders (3-4, 1-2 C-USA) as it was against C-USA newcomers University of Texas at San Antonio and Florida Atlantic.
If Marshall bests the Blue Raiders, it will be the Herd's first 3-0 start in Conference USA since joining in 2005 and the team's first three-game win streak since winning its last three of the 2011 season. It also will keep Marshall at the top of C-USA's East Division standings.
That task isn't so simple, specifically because the only experience the Herd has against the Blue Raiders is what it's seen on film. There's no hand-in-the-dirt familiarity with MTSU - or UTSA or FAU, for that matter - that the Herd has with future opponents like Tulsa and East Carolina. It's worked out so far, but center Chris Jasperse said lacking that experience alters preparation a little bit.
"Playing some of those teams, you know how they're going to play and if they're really that good," Jasperse said, "if you know their weaknesses and know they're strengths. These guys, you just see what you see on film. You don't know first-hand, and you don't know what it's like in a game.
"So it's been different for us, but you have to go in there and make them react to us," he added. "We can't react to them."
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday doesn't think the newness factor makes tonight's game any more difficult than a number of other factors - being a Thursday night game on national television (Fox Sports 1) against a team that went 8-4 in the Sun Belt last season. He also feels the Herd is getting the Blue Raiders late enough in the season to be able to prepare well enough through film study.