As you look down the names on the CFB Playoff Committee, you see the combination of former players, former coaches, current and former ADs, and others from outside college football. The athletic director representing the Big 12 is West Virginia's Oliver Luck. Oliver Luck is not only the AD at WVU but he is also an alumnus of WVU. Luck appointed to the WVU Board of Trustees in 2008, then hired as AD in 2010.
Luck's involvement on the committee and Marshall's continued omission from the committee's top 25 rankings have opened up a can of worms that most WVU fans believe is empty.
Depending on who you ask in the state of West Virginia, West Virginia and Marshall aren't rivals...or they are rivals. Like I said, it depends who you ask.
Marshall University began playing football in 1895, four years after WVU had played their first game. Despite both teams long football history, the history between these two schools playing against each other is only 12 games, with only 5 before 2006.
While Marshall has been the second largest school in the state for quite some time, WVU has played small private colleges Davis & Elkins 12 times, Bethany 14 times, and West Virginia Wesleyan 34 times.
Marshall and WVU's first meeting was the closest, a 17-15 win for WVU in Morgantown. The two met again in 1914 and 1915. 1915's matchup was the most lopsided victory, with WVU leaving Huntington with a 92-6 victory. That 6 points for Marshall made more headlines than WVU's 92, as Marshall won with the controversial "tower pass".
WVU's coach Sol Metzger said going into the game that he would "eat his hat if Marshall scored." Marshall's coach, Boyd Chambers, used that motivation to call one of the most famous plays in Marshall football history. Marshall tackle Okey Taylor and back Dayton Carter ran towards the endzone as quarterback Brad Workman set up the pass. While the WVU's defensive thought they had everyone covered,
Taylor hoisted Carter onto his shoulders. Workman completed the pass to Carter who tumbled off of Taylor's shoulders into the endzone. Metzger protested, but the referees found nothing against the rules. Yale's Walter Camp, who was in charge of rules at the time, upheld the score, but changed the rule for the 1916 season.
The Big Green and the Mountaineers would meet in 1923, but would not play again until 1997. In week 1 of the 1997 season, WVU hosted the Herd in Marshall's first game in I-A. Marshall had just won their second I-AA national championship and had the polarizing home state hero Randy Moss, who had spurned the Mountaineers two years before, leading the Herd into Mountaineer Field.
For WVU fans, the unthinkable happened late in the 3rd quarter as Randy Moss split the defenders on the out and up pattern and Chad Pennington connected with him for the touchdown. Marshall had scored 28 straight points and led WVU. While the lead did not hold and WVU ended up winning by 11 points, WVU fans had to admit that Marshall had reached the level where they could compete with the flagship university. And Nate Terry had to admit that he never should have jumped.
The 1997 game was also where more bad blood between the schools was born. WVU administrators claimed that Marshall backed out of 3 games that had been scheduled. Marshall claims that the games had never been scheduled. Marshall coach and native West Virginian Bob Pruett tried to work out a way for Marshall and WVU to play, but WVU is said to have wanted 3 of the 4 games to be played in Morgantown.
Marshall would not accept anything less than a 2-for-1 agreement, with two games in Morgantown and one game in Huntington. This disagreement over how the games would be split would be the template of the eventual agreement for the teams to play.
Governor Joe Manchin stepped in with the athletic departments of both schools and the state worked out a contract where Marshall and WVU would play 7 games. 4 games would be in Morgantown and 2 games would be in Huntington, while the 4th game of the 7 would be played at whichever school had won the most of the first 3 games.
Marshall fans were opposed to the "winning record" game, because it was assumed to try and give this game to WVU as well, but we had to live with it because it was the only way we would get to play WVU. Thus, the Friends of Coal Bowl was born.
Marshall fans thought Bob Pruett would be leading the Herd into battle against WVU, but Pruett resigned following the 2004 season. Marshall brought in another national champion defensive coordinator from a big name program who was an alum, Mark Snyder, to replace Bobby.
Herd fans did not realize how terrible a head coach and offensive recruiter Snyder was. Marshall was ready to play WVU with the likes of Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, or at the very least Stan Hill. Instead, Marshall fans had to watch Jimmy Skinner, Mark Cann and Brian Anderson trip over themselves and hand the ball off against WVU.
Marshall lost the first game of the new series, 48-10. In 2007, Marshall held a slim lead over WVU at the half in WVU's first game in Huntington since the tower pass game. However, Rich Rodriguez's team ran away in the second half to beat the Herd. Snyder would lose his last two games against Bill Stewart's Mountaineers before being given the axe. Then, came the best game in the history of the series that had a little extra meaning with Marshall's new coach.
In his second game as a head coach, Marshall's new coach and WVU alum Doc Holliday faced off against his alma mater. Marshall fans knew that if they would win a game against WVU, this would be their best shot. WVU had a passing quarterback running the read option offense, the same old 3-3-5 defense, and now Marshall had a coach who had just been on the WVU staff and knew how to attack.
The game started off about as well as Herd fans could ask for. Brian Anderson was making all the passes he needed to and not making mistakes. Martin Ward was running the ball right at WVU for big gains. The defense was making Geno Smith uncomfortable in the backfield. On the first play of the 4th quarter, Marshall had expanded their lead to 21-6. This was what heaven would surely look like. Herd fans were giddy as WVU fans sat in shock in their corner of Joan Edwards Stadium. Bill Stewart was looking confused as to what Holliday was doing.
Oliver Luck stood, arms crossed on the sidelines, looking as if he was already writing the press release for Stewart's firing press conference in his head. Then it all went wrong.
The defensive coordinator, who I will not dignify with a name in this article, changed his gameplan. Marshall had blitzed and not allowed Geno Smith to get comfortable. Noel Devine had been the entire Mountaineer offense up to that point. Marshall began to play to not lose the game, falling back and only bring 3 or 4 up front. Smith got all the time he wanted and carved up the Herd defense. Marshall still forced a fumble and had the opportunity to ice the game deep in their WVU territory.
With Martin Ward on the sideline, Bill Legg sent in Tron Martinez, who fumbled the ball in easy field goal range. WVU drove the length of the field twice in the final 6 minutes, scored two touchdowns and got the two-point conversion with 12 seconds left to force overtime. Every Marshall fan out there tried to convince themselves the Herd could win in overtime. Marshall held WVU to a field goal in the first drive of overtime.
The Herd offense couldn't move the ball, so they called on Tyler Warner to force a second overtime. The "We can do it" was there as the snap was good. The "We've still got a chance" was there as foot met leather. It was in the air and...
It floated 6 inches to the right. I remember that it wasn't pain that shot through me. I just became numb. I couldn't speak. I couldn't cry. I couldn't feel anything. I didn't answer my phone, knowing that whoever was on the other end would not be someone I wanted to talk to.
Like many Marshall fans, I was in disbelief. Not only had the rug been pulled out from under Herd fans, it had been pulled out, rolled up, and thrown at us. WVU fans celebrated that they were still the big dog. They knew that Marshall's best chance had fallen short and they would never have the shot in WVU fans' mind.
Marshall would lose the final two games in the series, the most competitive of which featured two lightening delays totaling over 4 hours. Eventually, Marshall and WVU agreed to call the game at 34-13 in the 4th quarter, a decision I personally still disagree with, but understand the AD's reasoning. In the final game of this series of games, an overmatched Marshall team lost 69-34 in Morgantown. WVU had moved from the Big East to the Big 12, and now the conference scheduling would threaten the series' future.