Friday, September 26, 2014

COLUMN: Marshall Football's Strength of Schedule Flew South for a Win

Marshall football is 4-0 for the first time since 1999 after running through its competition in non-conference play. However, Marshall still has yet to receive much credit for many of the team’s accomplishments through the first third of the season.

Marshall is the only team in FBS to score over 40 points in each of its first four games. Only Oregon was able to challenge Marshall in this category but fell two points shy in its 38-31 win over Washington State Saturday night.

The Herd is ranked sixth nationally and leads the Group of Five schools with a 29.3-point scoring margin.

Marshall’s defense has yet to surrender a touchdown in the first half this season while outscoring its opponents 103-6.

Falecia Collier/Collier Photography
But none of this really matters because the Herd’s strength of schedule is the fourth weakest of the 128 FBS schools according to Phil Steele’s 2014 College Football Strength of Schedule Rankings.

At least this is how many of the “experts” view the Herd.

The concept I do not understand is that Marshall is nationally ranked in many categories—something many said was a must for the Herd to overcome its weak schedule—but has yet to earn the respect it deserves.

After all, Marshall handpicked this weak schedule right?

Not so fast. Actually the Herd should not be in a bye week but rather finalizing game preparation for its upcoming opponent at Joan C. Edwards Stadium this Saturday. In case you have forgotten who the opponent was, allow me to refresh your memory.

It was the Louisville Cardinals. The 3-1 Louisville Cardinals of the ACC, which is a member of the “Power Five” conferences.

After Louisville bolted from the AAC to join the ACC, the Cardinals had to shuffle its schedule to accommodate its new conference opponents. Plus they picked up a game with Notre Dame in South Bend at the end of the season.

So who gets left standing on the outside looking in? Certainly not a Power Five conference team? And who would tell Norte Dame no? Louisville certainly would not turn down a trip to South Bend to come to Huntington.

Therefore, it’s the Herd left out of the conversation in a season that a game versus a Power Five team could have majorly helped Marshall’s strength of schedule.

Falecia Collier/Collier Photography
But for all the naysayers that disagree, I give you the numbers.

Louisville’s preseason strength of schedule was 68th while FIU’s was 90th and before you ask why is FIU relevant to this conversation I will explain. FIU played host to Louisville in Miami last week in a game that the Cardinals won 34-3. FIU also lost to Pitt 42-25 earlier this season.

So how does a FIU team that played FCS opponents in back-to-back weeks—one of which it lost to in Bethune-Cookman 14-12—have a strength of schedule that is 36 spots tougher than Marshall’s? FIU and Marshall play six common opponents during conference play with their non-commons not majorly swaying the final number. Scrambling to find a home game to replace the Louisville void, Marshall added FCS Rhode Island to eliminate having to play seven roads games rather than six.

With some simple addition, I have Marshall playing a non-conference schedule comprised of three FBS teams and one FCS team compared to FIU’s two and two respectively.

Maybe I am missing something but a game with Power Five team sure seems that it would have pushed the Herd forward several spots in the preseason poll not to mention how much a win over Louisville could have helped Marshall’s position in the national polls.

So why did Louisville pull the plug with Marshall? Why not FIU? The games were separated by only a week on the schedule but there is more than one reason why Louisville did not try to ditch FIU. 
Why would Louisville go to Miami to play in a stadium that may draw a crowd of 10,000 if FIU sells dollar holler seats for the game?

Two reasons, an easy win and recruitment.

FIU was a guaranteed win for Louisville which is a must under the new football playoff system. Power 5 teams have everything to lose and nothing to gain by playing a Group of 5 team, making Louisville’s decision to drop Marshall simple.

Not to mention that Marshall defeated Louisville 17-13 in 2011 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in a game that saw Rakeem Cato and Teddy Bridgewater running the offense for their teams. Cato is a Heisman Trophy candidate of one of the most prolific offenses in the nation while Bridgewater is taking snaps for the Minnesota Vikings.

Another contributing factor to keep FIU, recruitment. Of the 91 players on Louisville’s roster, 28 (15.4 percent) hail from the state of Florida, with 14 from Miami.

No one player on the Cardinals roster hail from West Virginia.

Seems like a win-win for the Cardinals. Unfortunately for Marshall, it is a victim of the system controlled by the Power Five conferences. Suddenly an invitation for Marshall men’s basketball to play at the YUM! Center in November seems like a bad parting gift after picking the wrong box on a game show.

The price certainly was not right for the Herd no matter how you slice it.

Just remember as you kick back to watch some college football this weekend, the Joan should be jumping with the roar of the crowd and chants of “We Are…Marshall” echoing throughout Huntington.

So the next time someone challenges Marshall’s weak schedule, feel free to drop them a reminder that its Power Five opponent in Louisville decided to fly south for an easy win. 

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