Talk about utterly different scenarios.
That’s the situation for the West Virginia University and Marshall University football programs as they go into their final regular-season games this weekend.
First, the Mountaineers take on TCU at 4:15 p.m. Friday in Amon G. Carter Stadium at Fort Worth, Texas. The Horned Frogs, 5-6, have bowl eligibility on the line, but WVU? The Mountaineers simply are playing for respect.
Meanwhile in Huntington, Marshall hosts FIU at noon Saturday in Joan C. Edwards Stadium with basically the entire season on the line. A win over the Panthers could give the Thundering Herd a chance to back-in to Conference USA’s East Division championship. But only if Southern Miss upsets Florida Atlantic at home in Boca Raton, Florida.
There are a lot of “what ifs” floating around in Huntington.
But since WVU plays first, let’s start with the Mountaineers.
Most people realize TCU head coach Gary Patterson is one of the finest defensive coaches in the industry.
Right, Neal Brown?
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Gary,” said WVU’s first-year coach. “He’s done it for a long time. He’s been a great head coach and a great defensive coordinator. His teams are always tough to play against.
“I think he does a phenomenal job of taking away what you are best at. His kids always play extremely hard. I’ve got a lot of respect for how he runs that program there in Fort Worth.”
So, is WVU relishing the role as potential spoilers?
“We just need to play well,” said Brown. “We’ve made a lot of improvements since the beginning of the season. We had a chance to win a couple of these games down the stretch, but we didn’t get it done. We just want to finish strong.”
Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs aren’t selling WVU short.
“I think they have gotten better and better and better,” said Patterson. “They’ve played two Top 25 football teams the last two weeks. They beat Kansas State and came within an eyelash of beating Oklahoma State.
“They didn’t have a great game against Texas Tech, but they’ve become a lot more physical up-front — on both sides of the ball. We feel like they are a big challenge for us.”
Perhaps, but just last week TCU held high-powered Oklahoma below 30 points for the first time all season.
I look for WVU to lose, 24-14.
As for Marshall, the Herd has absolutely no margin for error. MU painted itself into a corner with its poor performance at Charlotte. Yet, Marshall can’t approach this game much differently.
“You’ve got to go into it the same way,” said quarterback Isaiah Green, “because, at the end of the day, if we lose then we have no chance. We’ve just got to focus on being 1-0 at the end of the day on Saturday. We have to lock-in and pay attention to details.”
Here’s another detail MU must concentrate on – sacks. After collecting 33 in the previous 10 games, the Herd had zero sacks last week vs. Charlotte.
If that happens against FIU quarterback James Morgan, MU will be in a lot of trouble.
“We have to find a way to get some pressure on him,” said MU coach Doc Holliday.
MU also needs to figure out how to play in the rain since the prediction is nearly 100 percent.
Look for MU to edge FIU, 27-24.
Season record: 16-6.