Let’s call it what it is.
Marshall University’s football program is embarking on a “Group of 5 gauntlet.”
First, the Thundering Herd will play No. 24 Boise State at 9 p.m. Friday in Albertsons Stadium at Boise, Idaho. Marshall has lost its last 15 games against ranked teams.
The Broncos, who are the Mountain West Conference’s marquee team, have a 26-1 record in non-conference home games since 2006. Boise State also is 16-9 versus Power 5 opponents since 2006.
Next, Marshall hosts Ohio University (1-0) at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 14 in Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The Bobcats were the preseason choice to win the Mid-American Conference championship.
Then, after a bye week for both teams, Marshall will host Cincinnati (1-0) at 5 p.m. on Sept. 28 in “The Joan.” The Bearcats won 11 games in 2018 and already defeated UCLA (24-14) in 2019. UC is expected to have another strong season in the American Athletic Conference.
So, it’s Boise State (Mountain West) followed by Ohio (MAC) followed by Cincinnati (AAC).
That is indeed a “Group of 5 gauntlet.”
“Mike [MU athletic director Mike Hamrick] told me all three of those were bad teams when he scheduled them,” joked Herd head coach Doc Holliday. “I’m not sure I believe that. Those teams won a total of 33 games last year and all three won their bowl games.
“It tells you what kind of a challenge we’re up against. And that’s good. We’ll embrace that. Right now, it’s Boise and we’ll take it one game at a time. The good thing is two of those three are here at home.
“But right now all focus is on that blue turf and going out to play an excellent team. But there’s no question, at the end of the day we’ll find out where we stack up against the Group of 5 because we get the opportunity to play three of the best, that’s for sure.”
It’s quite a challenge.
But Marshall’s players are excited about it.
“Props to Mike Hamrick,” said Levi Brown, senior center. “Great job on his part to be able to schedule games like this. To have Boise — the team that everybody wants to play in the Group of 5.
“Then have Ohio, coming off a really good bowl win last year. And, then, Cincinnati and the season they had a year ago. Obviously that’s a very, very strong out-of-conference schedule. We get to see where we are as a team, without a doubt.”
What a measuring stick.
“That’s the biggest it could be,” replied Brown. “To go against three different conferences and I think they’re all picked to win their conference at this point. Just to be able to go out and accept this challenge for the next three games ... obviously, it’s going to be tough.
“This is a very hard out-of-conference schedule. All three of these schools have a winning tradition. But so do we. We’re not counting ourselves out against these three teams because we have the same winning tradition they do, if not better.
“Cincinnati is a really, really good team. Ohio is a really, really good team. Boise is special. Just to fly to Boise and see the blue turf — that’s not enough. Let’s go out and beat Boise. That’s the goal, obviously.”
The “Group of 5 gauntlet” has been picked up.