— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — College football’s Group of Five teams will be paying close attention Friday night as Marshall visits Boise State in a showdown between two favorites in Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference.
The game, televised by ESPN2, kicks off at 9 p.m. at Albertsons Stadium.
The winner could be an early favorite to land the Group of Five’s slot in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Both squads are coming off impressive opening week wins, albeit against a different level of competition.
Marshall took care of business at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday night by dominating FCS squad VMI 56-17, while the Broncos surprised many by rallying from an 18-point deficit to win at Florida State, 36-31.
In Boise’s impressive road win, the Broncos got 407 passing yards from true freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier.
The Broncos have a lengthy list of impressive wins since joining the FBS ranks about the same time as Marshall in the 1990s. Marshall head coach Doc Holliday says Boise’s win in Tallahassee is no shocker.
“They’re down 18 points and were able to come back,” Holliday said. “It just shows the kind of leadership and toughness that they have on that team that they were never out of it. They kept playing and didn’t look at the scoreboard. At the end of the day, they found a way to win it and that’s what good teams do.”
Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin says Marshall presents an equally big challenge for his team as the one FSU gave it last Saturday.
“They’re tough, have good team speed and they don’t take plays off,” Harsin said. “Offensively, they’ve got good running backs and they’ll take some shots downfield with the passing game and our receivers will be challenged by their veteran defensive backfield.”
Marshall’s defense will be tasked with slowing down Boise State junior running back Robert Mahone, who ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns against the Seminoles.
Boise also has receivers that should challenge the Herd secondary, including junior C.T. Thomas and sophomore Khalil Shakir. The duo combined for 13 catches, 181 yards and a touchdown against FSU.
Bachmeier performance certainly got Holliday’s attention.
“The kid just made plays,” Holliday said. “He threw for over 400 yards and had one interception in a hostile environment on the road against Florida State. That tells you that he is an excellent player.”
Holliday expects Marshall’s offense to receive a stiff challenge from the Broncos’ defense, especially in the run game as Boise State only allowed Florida State to total 99 rushing yards.
Even with Boise showing it could rally in the opener, Herd senior center Levi Brown believes a strong start could go a long way for Marshall.
“We need to start fast,” Brown said. “If we don’t start fast, they will and we have to make it tough on them and make them have to play on a long field.”
With few college games being played on Friday night, Holliday likes the national attention Marshall will have this week.
“To have the opportunity to play on national television against a team of that caliber is tremendous, Holliday said. “We sit around the hotel every Friday watching everyone else play. This time, they’ll watch us play against an excellent team. Any time you can go on the road and get a marquee win, it’s huge for your program.
“For us, this is one of three. The next three games, we have three of the top Group of Five schools out there (Boise State, Ohio, Cincinnati).”