WHO: Marshall (8-4) vs. South Florida (7-5)
WHAT: The 11th Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl
WHEN: 8:00 p.m., ET, ESPN
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
THE SKINNY: South Florida may be playing a bowl game in their home stadium, but the Bulls will do so with a rash of injuries that have taken a toll on the team this season. Among those players who have been roughed up this season is quarterback Blake Barnett, who is looking to close out his well-traversed collegiate career with a win.
A shoulder injury took Barnett out of action late in the season, leading Charlie Strong to look to sophomore Chris Oladokun as the next man up against UCF in the regular-season finale. Oladokun ended up benched in favor of Brett Kean, who also struggled. In short, quarterback play is a concern for the Bulls in this one. Marshall’s defense has given up 231.7 passing yards per game this season and the Thundering Herd have picked off 12 passes.
Injuries certainly took South Florida’s season off course. After starting the year with a record of 7-0, the Bulls limp their way into the bowl season on a five-game losing streak. Marshall is coming in much warmer, although they took a loss in their last-second addition to the schedule with a road loss to Virginia Tech to help the Hokies keep their bowl streak alive. Doc Holliday and the Herd won five of six before the Virginia Tech game.
Marshall wide receiver Tyre Brady, a former Miami Hurricane, will be the go-to receiver against a South Florida defense with 11 interceptions this season. The Bulls can also keep teams from having overwhelming success through the air, but Brady will be a constant threat all game long.
THE LINE: USF, +3
THE PREDICTION: Marshall 27, South Florida 23
WHO: Northern Illinois (11-2) vs. Marshall (12-1)
WHAT: The inaugural Boca Raton Bowl
WHERE: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida
WHEN: 6:00 p.m. ET Dec. 23 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The brand new Boca Raton Bowl has quite the match-up of non-power conference champions. The champions of Conference USA (Marshall) and the MAC (Northern Illinois) should provide for a good, quality game. For Marshall, it may be one last attempt to prove itself to be the top non-power conference champion after passed over by Boise State for a spot in the New Years Six line-up. Marshall and NIU combined for a record of 23-3 this season.
Marshall’s offense centers around the veteran quarterback Rakeem Cato. Cato should be able to find his targets — Tommy Shuler and Davonte Allen are his top two receivers — against NIU’s secondary, which ranks 64th in the nation in pass defense. Cato may have to extend some plays with his feet though, as NIU should be expected to bring pressure in the backfield. NIU recorded 30 sacks this season, but they go up against a Marshall offensive line that has done well in protecting their quarterback. Cato may have to extend some plays with his feet at times. Fortunately for the Conference USA champions and head coach Doc Holliday, this is something Cato does well. Cato has rushed for 457 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Marshall went 3-0 against the MAC this season with wins against Miami, Ohio and Akron, but NIU will be the biggest test for the Thundering Herd. NIU started the season off a little bit on a slow note as they looked to replace Jordan Lynch, but the Huskies ended the season hitting their stride at a very good time. Drew Hare has come along as a dual-threat player under center, but the running game is powered mostly by Cameron Stingily, a tough and physical back with the ability to wear down Marshall’s defense.
Marshall has won three straight bowl games dating back to 2009. The Huskies of NIU are looking to snap a two-game losing streak in postseason bowl action. Head coach Rod Carey is 0-2 in bowl games, including one Orange Bowl loss to Florida State in an interim role at the end of the 2012 season after Dave Doeren left the Huskies for NC State.
THE PREDICTION: NIU 34, Marshall 31
Marshall honored a tragic moment in school history today by honoring the victims of Southern Airways Flight 932, which crashed en route from North carolina to West Virginia on November 14, 1970. On that flight were 37 members of the Marshall football team including players and coaches as well as a number of prominent boosters for the program. The crash decimated the football program at the time and put the entire program in danger of folding. But the football program, university and community rallied and today was a time to pay tribute to the victims of the crash. Marshall’s football team, on the road for a Thursday night game at Tulsa, took time out of their day to watch the campus ceremonies as a team.
Head coach Doc Hollliday joined his team in watching the Marshall memorial service from Tulsa.
Tonight the football team is wearing a special memorial helmet with the number “75” on one side of the helmet. That number represents the 75 passengers and crew of the flight killed in the crash.
Marshall is off to a fast start in the game tonight. The Thundering Herd are up 14-0 midway through the first quarter. Rakeem Cato has already gone over 140 passing yards and has three touchdown passes. Former Penn State wide receiver Devon Smith, who once ran in to Joe Paterno during practice to fracture the coach’s hip, has one touchdown and 65 receiving yards thus far. A win for Marshall tonight would put the Thundering Herd in a first-place tie in the division with East Carolina.