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How Marshall Made the Conference USA Championship Game

This was the season Herd fans have had circled for the past three seasons. This was the senior year of Doc Holliday’s first full recruiting season. With the senior-laden team with a ton of talent on the 2 deep roster and the easy schedule they ended up with, this should have been an easy, undefeated season. However, plans went awry last week for the Herd with their shootout loss to Western Kentucky in overtime. Now, the Herd looks to make up for last year’s loss in the C-USA title game.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Marshall made their first C-USA title game, but came up just short against Rice. This year, the Herd looked to be set up for a return trip from the start.

The Non-Conference Schedule

Before this season, Marshall lost a big cog in their non-conference schedule with Louisville rescheduling their game in Huntington because of their move to the ACC. Because of this, Marshall rushed to replace Louisville with a Rhode Island team that finished 1-11.

Marshall's non-conference schedule opened with a visit to Oxford, Ohio to face the Miami RedHawks to open the season. The Herd won the game over Miami 42-27 with two RedHawk touchdowns coming as the Herd rested some in the 2nd half.

The Herd returned home for two weeks to face Rhode Island and Ohio. The Herd ran away against the Rams in a monsoon to the tune of a 48-7 victory. In the next week's game, Marshall exacted revenge against the Ohio Bobcats in the Battle for the Bell. The Herd found matchups on the outside and used the talent disparity to ring Ohio's bell, 44-14.

Marshall's final non-conference game was a trip up the road to take on Terry Bowden's Akron Zips. Marshall ran out to an early lead and did not let up until the game was well out of reach. Marshall beat Akron 48-17, the week before Akron defeated Pitt 21-10.

Marshall steamrolled their way to the 4-0 start in non-conference play. However, the non-conference schedule seemed hollow with their opponents combining for a 14-34 record and only Ohio reaching bowl eligibility.

Conference USA Play

Marshall opened C-USA play in Norfolk against the Old Dominion Monarchs. Marshall scored 4 touchdowns early in the game and coasted to a 56-14 win over ODU in C-USA's battle for Virginia supremacy (West Virginia = Best Virginia).

In game six was one of Marshall's toughest tests, the MTSU Blue Raiders, who had defeated the Herd in 2013. Rakeem Cato was able to carve up the Raider defense on Homecoming in Huntington for over 300 yards. The Herd won the game 49-24.

Games seven and eight were both record-setting days for two different Herd players against C-USA's Florida contingent. Game seven sent Marshall to Miami to face FIU. Marshall overcame a sluggish start to defeat FIU 45-13 on a day when Rakeem Cato broke Russell Wilson's record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass in FBS.

The next week, Devon Johnson rushed for 272 yards and four touchdowns to break Marshall's single game rushing record. Johnson's performance almost single-handedly gave the Herd the win over Florida Atlantic after an uneven start by the Herd defense.

As Marshall began getting some buzz with national media regarding their undefeated record still being excluded from the CFB Playoff Committee poll, Southern Miss took advantage by running out to a 14-0 lead before Marshall even got their hands on the ball. Marshall promptly responded with a 63-3 run to win the game 63-17 in Hattiesburg.

In their final game against a team that had previously defeated the Herd, Marshall hosted Rice and was dominant on all sides of the ball. Rakeem Cato threw for nearly 300 yards while Devon Johnson rushed for nearly 200 yards. The Herd's first team defense gave up only 105 yards and 1 touchdown to the Owls.

As Marshall reached 10-0 and still unranked, Marshall travelled to Birmingham to face a UAB program with an uncertain future. For the first time all season, the Herd offense struggled with turnovers and special teams mistakes. A late strip sack in the endzone ended up giving Marshall the 23-18 win over the Blazers. Marshall survived on their defense that game, something that would evade them the next week.

In their regular season, Marshall hosted Western Kentucky in the game the Hilltoppers dubbed "The Feud". The defense that had bailed Marshall out in Birmingham the week before suddenly vanished. Cato and Brandon Doughty combined for 15 passing touchdowns as the teams combined for over 1,400 yards of total offense. In the end, a two-point conversion by the Toppers in overtime ended Marshall's dream of a perfect season, 67-66.

At the end of the regular season, Marshall finished short of their ultimate goal. With a loss to Western, not only was an undefeated season lost, but the shot at the Group of 5 access bowl was all but lost as well. Now, Marshall is left playing strictly for pride and a conference championship against the Bulldogs.