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.