When the bowls were announced on Sunday, Marshall fans were not amused.
Less than 24 hours after Marshall celebrated a late victory over Louisiana Tech for their first Conference USA championship, it was announced that the Herd would be traveling to Boca Raton, FL for the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl against the MAC Champions, Northern Illinois, and the fans were not happy with this selection.
They would rather watch Marshall play a 6-6 Illinois team in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, C-USA's only tie-in against a Power 5 team. However, there are multiple reasons the Boca Raton Bowl is better for the Herd.
1) This game has potential to be the best game of the first week of bowl season.
Marshall has shown this season what they are capable. They sit at 12-1 with their only loss on an overtime, 2-point conversion to Western Kentucky and are the Conference USA champions. Northern Illinois is the biggest name program in the MAC right now. They are 11-2, with losses to Arkansas and Central Michigan and a win over Northwestern, and are the Mid-American Conference champions.
With a number of lower-level teams in these conferences playing early, but the battle of the two champions who have played tremendous football this year. Marshall and Northern Illinois combine for the most wins of any two bowl opponents not in the playoff games.
2) Marshall's main recruiting base is Florida, not Texas.
Marshall's roster has more than 25 players from Florida, the most players from any one state for the Herd. Beyond that, over half of the Floridians on the roster are from the Miami area. On the opposite end of the spectrum, only 4 players are from west of the Mississippi, 2 of them from Texas.
During the recruiting dead period, being near your major recruiting base where players can easily come and watch practice can help firm up the class. For Doc Holliday, who makes his money on out-recruiting the rest of C-USA, being right in the middle of your major target area is huge. Going to Dallas, where the Herd has no ties does them no good.
3) Why try to validate yourself against a .500 Power 5 team now?
Many Herd fans wanted the Heart of Dallas Bowl for no other reason than it was against the Big 10 instead of the MAC. Say what you will, but beating a Big 10 team now does nothing for the Herd. It's not like a win over a Power 5 team puts you in position for the access bowl now.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl has an embarrassing Illinois team, while the Boca Raton Bowl has the best football team in that state. Out of the Illini's 6 wins, only 2 were by double digits, against Northwestern and Youngstown State. Even a win over Illinois as a Power 5 team would not say much about the Herd and would get lost in the shuffle.
4) Seniors come home
Justin Haig, Darryl Roberts, Tommy Shuler, Craig Wilkins, and Rakeem Cato are all seniors from Florida. For their final game, these players, along with their other teammates from Florida, get to play in their home state to close out this historic season for the Herd. Having these connections on top of playing in this stadium last year against FAU gives Marshall the edge in trying to establish a home field advantage at their bowl game.
5) Knowing where you stand
Beyond recruiting Florida, Marshall has built up roster depth throughout the upper Midwest near Huntington. Beating the Big 10 does not establish much for the Herd in recruiting, because they aren't going to be recruiting heavily against them. Marshall cannot recruit on the Big 10 level in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, but they are competing for players against the MAC. Being able to walk into a recruit's home and say that Marshall beat 4 MAC teams last year, including the champion, gives the Herd an extra advantage in those recruiting battles.