Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Does strength of schedule really matter? We'll see

       Marshall looks every bit like a borderline entry for anybody’s bowl game. Looks, however, can be deceiving. I’ve scanned one bowl preview after another—everything from Sports Illustrated to the Bleacher Report website—and all the pundits have reached the following consensus:
       The Herd will find itself in deep water without a paddle in tonight’s Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl against Florida International (8 o’clock kickoff on ESPN).
       According to the pundits, Marshall is due for a stomping because:
  • Doc Holliday’s team barely made the postseason scene with a modest 6-6 record;
  • MU has looked awful in defeat – 64-28 to Houston; 59-17 to Tulsa; 30-10 to Virginia Tech; 44-7 to Ohio University; 34-13 to West Virginia.
  • Offense doesn’t score enough (22 points per game); defense is too generous (30.2  points per game)
  • Florida International has too much for the Herd to deal with: break-away receiver/return artist T.Y. Hilton; all-everything back Kedrick Rhodes; forbidding defense spearheaded by linebacker Winston Fraser.

       But … here’s what the pundits aren’t saying:
  • Marshall saved its season with “must have” back-to-back wins, which included an overtime victory over East Carolina, who needed a win to become bowl eligible.
  • The Herd had a tougher schedule (losses to Virginia Tech, Houston and West Virginia, all of whom are ranked in the Top 25). The Panthers did not play any nationally ranked teams.
  • Let’s not forget about a road win over Louisville, this year’s co-champion in the Big East with West Virginia and Cincinnati. Visiting FIU also topped Louisville.
  • Now here’s the kicker that cannot be overlooked. Marshall beat Southern Mississippi 26-20, and it was no fluke, especially when you consider that Southern Miss stuffed Houston (ranked 7th nationally) to win the Conference USA championship game. USM’s upset knocked Houston out of a likely BCS bid to the Sugar Bowl.
       It’s important to note that the Herd hasn’t always played with the same intensity in road games as it has on its home turf at Edwards Stadium. This is a home game for Florida International. Panthers’ fans only have a four-hour drive from Miami to the bowl site in St. Petersburg.
       Marshall’s players are probably tired of hearing all the constant talk about how Florida International is on a mission to establish its credentials as a budding football power. Stats aside, home field advantage aside, it all comes down to which team is ready to play from start to finish. Strength of schedule, which favors the Herd, should make a huge difference. But that’s hardly a guarantee for a Marshall victory.
       That’s why they play the games.

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