Marshall (9-3, 7-1) at Rice (9-3, 7-1)Noon, Rice Stadium (47,000, FieldTurf Duraspine), HoustonTV: ESPN2. Crew: Joe Tessitore play-by-play, Matt Millen analyst, Maria Taylor sidelines.Line: Marshall by 61/2.
Series: Marshall leads 3-1.Last game: Marshall 54, Rice 51, 2 OT, Sept, 22, 2012 at Houston.Tickets: Tens of thousands available (lots of parking, too), $20-45, youth general admission $13.Weather: Not exactly Rice weather: Cloudy, 20 percent chance of rain, high 42, winds NNE 14 mph
On the spot
Taylor McHargue, Rice: He's not going to repeat his 467 total-yard performance of the 2012 game, right? Probably not because (a) Marshall's defense is much better and (b) Rice's run-heavy offense doesn't lean on him nearly as much. He averaged only 175.1 yards passing and 32.3 yards rushing in conference play.Alex Bazzie, Gary Thompson, Ra'Shawde Myers, Marshall defensive ends: They have to keep McHargue in or near the pocket, but they also need to get him down. The Owls have yielded 26 sacks in eight conference games, so the opportunity is there.Devon Smith, Craig Wilkins, MU outside receivers: Rice features solid lock-down corners in Phillip Gaines and Bryce Callahan. Will they ever get open? And how many snaps will "Moo Moo" take, considering that Demetrius Evans has only 19 catches and Davonte Allen eight?Gator Hoskins, MU tight end; Tommy Shuler, MU receiver: Rice has the best third-down defense in conference play (29.6 percent), and these are the two men who can bust a third-down defense. They have combined to catch 56 passes resulting in a first down in eight league games.
Stats 'n' such
In the stat rankings: Individually, MU's Rakeem Cato is 4th nationally in passing TDs (34) and 5th in points responsible for (240). Team-wise, the Herd is 5th in 3rd-down conversions (.534) and first downs (317), sixth in scoring offense (44.6) and pass efficiency defense (103.88). Rice is 7th in blocked kicks (4).
In conference rankings, Cato leads in passing TDs, while Hoskins leads in receiving TDs (13). As a team, MU leads in 3rd-down conversions, first downs and scoring offense, plus kickoff return defense (18.97), fewest passes intercepted (9), red-zone offense (.912) and total offense (513.3).Rice leads the league in blocked kicks, along with fewest first downs against (196), fewest passes intercepted (9, tied with MU), rushing offense (239.5) and time of possession (33.29).Milestones: With 86 TD passes, Cato has a shot at reaching No. 2 Byron Leftwich's 89 on the all-time list. Cato is No. 3 in several categories: passes attempted (1,302), completions (834), passing yards (9,574) and total offense (9,891). . . . Hoskins has 16 TD receptions, tying him with Mike Barber for 3rd . . . Shuler has climbed to 10th place with 2,279 receiving yards, 119 behind Aaron Dobson. . . . Shuler's 89 receptions put him 7th on the single-season list, behind Randy Moss (90), Darius Watts (91), Sean Doctor (96) and Troy Brown (101).
Over-unders50 Marshall running yards minus Rice running yards. This seems daring, but the Herd does have a 7.4-yard advantage over Rice in league play.31/2 Sacks by Marshall. As elusive as McHargue can be, the Owls have given up 26 sacks in eight league games.
4,500 Actual attendance. That number will never be tracked or released, and you can expect a much larger figure of tickets sold. Today's weather is as miserable as it gets for Houston residents, so this could be an intimate gathering.Completely useless triviaMarshall is playing in its first conference championship game since 2002, a span of 11 years and, yes, that is the biggest time spread in college football history. Of course, only four conferences have title games this year and that's pretty much the norm, but still . . .NextBoth teams are heading to bowl games, though the final destination is tough to say. C-USA has said all season, via its weekly release, that the Liberty Bowl has the top selection of C-USA teams and the league will send teams to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg, Heart of Dallas Bowl, Military Bowl, New Orleans Bowl and Hawaii Bowl this season.But after C-USA was bypassed by the Liberty Bowl in 2011 in a covered-up loophole, nothing is a sure bet.- By Doug Smock