Marshall Thundering Herd () vs. Northern Illinois Huskies
On Tuesday, December 23, the Marshall Thundering Herd (12-1, 7-1 C-USA) will square off with the Northern Illinois Huskies (11-2, 7-1 MAC) in the Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Football Stadium (6:00 p.m. Eastern).
Earlier this season, the Thundering Herd fans were screaming for consideration in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The team was undefeated and crushing opponents by more than 25 points per game. Yet, even at 11-0, they never moved higher than 24th in the CFP rankings. The problem was that Marshall hadn’t played any top teams, instead feasting on smaller opponents like Rhode Island (48-7), Ohio (44-14), and the middling squads in Conference-USA.
Then came its game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Marshall was a 23-point favorite heading in, but were shocked, 67-66, by the high-scoring Hilltoppers in overtime, putting to bed any calls for playoff consideration.
Marshall rebounded in the C-USA title game, beating Louisiana Tech, 26-23; and now the Herd have a chance to show the world they deserve more credit than they received this season by laying a beat-down on the Huskies. Of course, the Huskies are no pushover, and Marshall coach John “Doc” Holliday knows it.
“I guarantee you Rod [Carey]’s team [Northern Illinois] is a whole hell of a lot better than any team we could have played in that Power Five conference,” said the coach. “That was our goal and we know we have our hands full. The exposure that we’re going to get from this game will be second to none in any others we could have played.”
Marshall will bring a potent offense to south Florida. The Herd have the 18th best passing attack in the nation, seventh best ground game, and fifth-best offense, overall, averaging 45.1 points per game. On Tuesday, they’ll be facing a Huskies squad that can beat you on both sides of the ball.
Northern Illinois averages 32.2 points per game on offense and allows just 23.2 on D. The Huskies’ balanced approach led them to an 11-2 record on the year. One of their losses was a 52-14 setback on the road against an underrated Arkansas team that shutout No. 9 Ole Miss and No. 23 LSU and took No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Mississippi State to the wire.
The Huskies also dropped a mid-season game at home to a very mediocre Central Michigan team (34-17). But they won six-straight thereafter to close the season and, in the MAC title game, thumped Bowling Green, 51-17, despite laying just seven points in the odds.
While the Huskies come in hot, they are aware that Marshall is a different breed from their usual opponent in the MAC.
“They are as good as anybody we’ve played this year if not better,” NIU head coach Rod Carey said. “Their quarterback [Rakeem Cato] is as good as anyone. He can throw it. He runs the offense. They have great skill. I don’t think you stop an offensive team like that. You just try to make them earn some things. That’s an unbelievable team.”
Marshall is a ten-point favorite in the odds, and they have 2-0 historical edge over Northern Illinois, although the last time they met was in 2001.
(Photo credit: Breezy Baldwin (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)