HUNTINGTON, W.Va.— No matter how many yards, touchdowns, and wins a mid-major school racks up over a season, critics will always look to games against teams in BCS conferences as a measure of how good a team really is. That is not necessarily a true assessment of a team’s talent but it does make a statement to that catches the attention of the media, average fan and recruits.
So as we evaluate the progress Marshall’s football program has made over the last four years, let’s consider its performance against BCS opponents. Marshall finished off the season with a 31-20 win over Maryland in the Military Bowl. The Herd controlled the game throughout and trailed just once, briefly in the fourth quarter. Marshall was in control throughout the game, even when Maryland drove 99 yards to take the lead. There wasn’t any panic on the Marshall sidelines.
“We’re getting to the point now that we can line up and play against anybody,” believes Coach Doc Holliday. “We’ve proven that this year. Now, we didn’t win them all. We lined up and played extremely well against Virginia Tech and probably had a shot at winning that game and didn’t get it done.”
It seemed inevitable that The Herd would break through the BCS boundary. It had been so close on more than one occasion.
Rewind to the fourth week of the 2013 season. Marshall had Virginia Tech on the ropes on a soggy day in Blacksburg. The Herd led 21-7 in the second half and had a chance to win the game in overtime. Last season, Marshall went on the road to West Lafayette and nearly came back from a 42-14 halftime deficit against Purdue. Had it not been for a late first half meltdown that included a pair of interception returns for touchdowns, Marshall likely has a shot to win that game.
In the last two seasons Marshall has played four games against teams from the Big XII, Big Ten and ACC. In those four games, The Herd averaged 478 yards of total offense, 354 passing yards per game and 125 yards rushing per game. It was just a matter of Marshall putting together a complete game for it to clinch that win over a BCS school.
“To finally do it against a Maryland team that beat Virginia Tech and some other BCS schools, it was great to get that win,” said Holliday.
And the win came with everyone watching. Marshall needed to excel against Maryland with a national television audience watching and dozens of prospects keeping a close eye to see if this was a program they want to be a part of.
“That game, we were the only show on. Everybody had the opportunity to see it,” noted Holliday. “We got a lot of messages and texts from recruits after that game.”
Marshall will likely have to prove its worth in a bowl game again next season. Louisville had to make room on its schedule another conference game as it moves to the ACC and backed out of its scheduled visit to Huntington in 2014, moving it to 2015. The only opportunity to play a team from one of the so-called power conferences would be in bowl game, possibly the Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. a Big Ten or Big XII team.
But Holliday is confident and more importantly his players are confident they can play with and beat anyone, anytime, anywhere.
It’s been a long time since we’ve heard that from the Marshall football program.