HUNTINGTON — All that bowl speculation, kept alive by a few souls who write projections all season, springs to real life this week. But there are many moving parts, and they start from the College Football Playoff and the New Year’s Six bowls and work their way down.
But one thing for near-certain: Marshall will not be sent to the Bahamas Bowl. The University of Alabama at Birmingham has accepted a bid to play Ohio, Conference USA and bowl officials announced Sunday.
There seems to be an unwritten rule that C-USA teams will “take their turn” at going to Nassau. As appealing as a week on Paradise Island sounds, it’s a burden to the teams and any fans who want to attend, and the extra week helps with logistics.
At 7-5 with wins over two 6-6 teams and none others better, MU officials can’t necessarily be picky.
Conference USA has six guaranteed bowl tie-ins, which coincides with the number of teams with seven wins. By league rule, seven-win teams will receive precedence over the four six-win teams to fill out the bowl card.
The six bowls in question: Bahamas, Boca Raton, Gasparilla (in St. Petersburg), New Mexico, New Orleans and Armed Forces (in Fort Worth, against Army). The league has a secondary tie-in with the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, and is in position to fill it.
By record, Marshall could well be sixth in any league pecking order. Division winners Florida Atlantic and North Texas, plus Southern Mississippi and UAB, have eight or nine wins, and Florida International can win No. 8 on Saturday by beating Massachusetts.
By fan base, Marshall remains attractive in the state of Florida, or could fit with the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland. Marshall’s last three bowls have been in Annapolis, Boca Raton and St. Pete.
The speculation over the Gasparilla centers on a South Florida-FAU matchup, which could be more interesting than any other games before the new year. FAU coach Lane Kiffin is expected to lobby for it; whether USF wants to participate is uncertain.
That could send the Herd to Boca to play an American Athletic Conference team, though FIU will make a better won-loss case. Marshall has a more active fan base, though. (Who doesn’t?)
MU could conceivably land in the Cure Bowl, likely to be vacated by the American. That would leave the Herd to play a Sun Belt opponent, perhaps Appalachian State or Georgia State.
On the 14th week of the football season, Marshall players rested.OK, they lifted weights and lifted their books — finals are just around the corner.
But as far as donning the pads and going to practice, this is a restful week. The next game is roughly three weeks away, and the Thundering Herd does not yet who it will play. The Herd needs the rest.
Physically, the team has played the last nine weeks. Emotionally, players are reeling from four losses in the last five games.
“We’ll have a team meeting tomorrow [Sunday] at noon, and try to set our schedule,” said MU coach Doc Holliday. “And then they’ll lift at least three or four days. These guys won’t practice; they need a break.
“These guys need to get away from us, get healthy, concentrate on their academics. We’ll start practice possibly Saturday. We’ve got our banquet next week, along with our toy drive.”
As for the coaches, that new early signing day, Dec. 20, is also roughly three weeks away. That isn’t well-timed for Conference USA teams — the Boca Raton Bowl is the 19th, the Frisco Bowl (near Dallas) is the 20th, the Gasparilla Bowl is the 21st and the Bahamas Bowl is the 22nd.
Marshall has a reported nine commitments, but none since August. There surely will be late commitments, perhaps from the prep schools and junior colleges.
And in Marshall’s case, there almost certainly will be later commitments, right up to the traditional February signing day.
“We’ve never been through this early signing period, so I don’t know exactly how this will affect us,” Holliday said. “I think it’s going to clean some things up, but probably, to be honest, once December 20th rolls around, there will be a whole new pool of recruits available, who think they’re going to the Georgias and Florida States and all these places, is probably going to shake out …
“We’ll sign the ones we want to sign, but we’ll hold a few [scholarships] back to see where that goes.”
Last year, Herd coaches didn’t have to balance recruiting travel and bowl preparation. Those logistics, as welcome as they are, present headaches.
“Based on the date of that bowl game, you’ve got to get back and be ready to practice, so you can’t be out all three weeks,” Holliday said.