HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall football team's strong finish to the 2013 season may already be paying dividends for the 2014 campaign.
After the Thundering Herd's march to the Conference USA East Division title and a Military Bowl win over Maryland, CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd tied Marshall with Minnesota for 25th in his early 2014 power poll. And USA Today's Paul Myerberg had the Herd among the teams who just missed the cut for his preseason top 25.
"I think it's great that we're starting where we are," Herd coach Doc Holliday said. "I think expectations here are extremely high. When I came here, that's what we expected to get done, to have people talk about us prior to the season, and guess what? They are."
And in the new landscape of college football, those words could be worth a lot.
The BCS is dead and buried and the College Football Playoff committee has emerged from its ashes. Now, instead of mathematical equations determining who will play for a national championship, it will be up to a 13-person group to choose the contenders. That group also will choose the top champion from the "Group of Five" conferences - the American Athletic, Mountain West, Mid-American and Sun Belt Conferences and Conference USA, Marshall's home - to elbow in among the big boys for a spot in the six major bowls.
Now, some pundit's Super-Ultra-Mega-Ridiculously-Way-Too-Early Top 25 probably won't look the same as the final top 25 of the regular season, but it might influence how it looks. And that could be significant for a team like Marshall.
This selection committee can use whatever method it chooses to pick its teams, be it a formula or a poll or anything else. Now programs like Alabama, Florida State and Oklahoma, household names from power conferences, don't have anything to worry about. They're already in the forefront of folks' minds. The "Group of Five" teams, however, might need a little nudge into the spotlight. And the best way to get there is to start early.
So when the committee members are researching their contenders, and they see Marshall's name already among the teams to watch, the seed is planted. A spot among the four championship semifinalists would be a pipe dream - any "Group of Five" team who wants in will need sustained success over several years - but the Herd could move to the top of the small-conference list.
That's a pretty good source of motivation, Holliday said.