Okay, now what?
Since Marshall University dispatched Louisiana Tech Friday night — with a big assist from the absence of the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback — what does that mean in the Conference USA divisional races?
And more to the point, how might the league championship game play out?
All this conjecture became possible when the Thundering Herd defeated LA Tech, 31-10, Friday night in frigid Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The victory improved Marshall’s league record to 5-1 and keeps the Herd in charge of its East Division destiny. All MU has to do now is win on the road at Charlotte on November 23 and, then, at home against FIU to win the East Division. But who might the Herd play in the C-USA championship game? And where?
Ah, that’s where it gets interesting.
Louisiana Tech’s loss Friday night was its first C-USA defeat of the season, dropping the Bulldogs’ league record to 5-1. But since LA Tech already defeated Southern Miss (4-1), it owns the tie-breaker over the Golden Eagles.
But … The Bulldogs have to play UAB in Birmingham, Alabama, on Nov. 23 and still will be missing quarterback J’Mar Smith. That makes it a very losable game. If LA Tech should lose to UAB that would put Southern Miss in the West Division driver’s seat. The Eagles play at UTSA Saturday in San Antonio. Then, Southern Miss hosts Western Kentucky on Nov. 23 and finishes the season at Florida Atlantic on Nov. 30.
Talk about a lot of what ifs?
Marshall should take care of its side of this debate by winning out, although a visit to Charlotte could be a trap game. But Louisiana Tech’s and Southern Miss’ roads to the West Division championship are cluttered with speed bumps. So, what if LA Tech defeats UAB on the road and, then, beats UTSA at home to finish with a 7-1 league record?
Uh, that might not be great news for Marshall. It could mean the Thundering Herd would have to play LA Tech in the Conference USA championship game at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 7. The difference is the Herd might have to play LA Tech in Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, Louisiana.
That would be a first since Marshall never has set foot in either that town or that stadium. What’s worse, senior quarterback J’Mar Smith would be back running the offense instead of redshirt freshman Aaron Allen, who was 19 of 32 for 159 yards with no touchdowns Friday night. Smith at the helm would present an entirely different challenge than what Marshall faced Friday night.
Then, there’s the Southern Miss issue. Since fourth-year head coach Jay Hopson took over the Golden Eagles’ program, Marshall never has defeated the former Thundering Herd assistant. The Herd is 0-3 against Hopson and his defensive coordinator, Tim Billings, who is yet another former Marshall assistant and defensive coordinator.
This could lead to a trip to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which hasn’t been particularly kind to Marshall recently.
But not necessarily. If Marshall, Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss all finish with only one Conference USA defeat, the Herd might get the opportunity to host the championship game. Wouldn’t that be sweet?
And, yes, it could happen.
According to a C-USA official, the host would be the school with the highest computer ranking. It figures to be a close battle.
All Marshall has to do is keep winning.