Following a disappointing 38-28 loss in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game against Ball State, the Bulls (5-1) have a chance at redemption in the Camellia Bowl on Dec. 25 against the Marshall Thundering Herd (7-2).
Despite posting an undefeated record during the regular season, UB fell short of winning its second MAC title in three tries.
The Bulls didn’t have a chance to hoist the MAC trophy this season, but they have plenty of positives to build on. UB averaged 47.8 points per game this season, good for third in the nation. The school also scored 287 total points in just six games. The rushing attack, led by junior running back Jaret Patterson, ranked first in the nation with an average of 309.5 yards per game. UB placed in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in school history.
The Thundering Herd’s season was much like the Bulls’ as they won seven straight games out of the gate but lost the Conference USA Title game to UAB, 22-13. Marshall averaged 30.6 points per game, ranking third in C-USA; the school also averaged 407.1 yards per game.
Like Patterson, MU redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells was brilliant this season. Wells led C-USA in passing yards per game, passing touchdowns and had the third-highest passer rating out of all conference quarterbacks.
Both the Bulls and Thundering Herd rarely trailed in regular-season games, but in their respective championship games, they couldn’t manage to take the lead at any point.
In a game that should be filled with big, flashy plays and lots of scoring, here’s what to expect from Marshall:
Coach: Doc Holliday, 85-53, currently in 11th season with Marshall
Eleventh-year coach Doc Holliday has reignited the flame of what once was Marshall football and put the university back on the national map. After an electric finish to the 2019 season and an 8-5 record, expectations were high heading into the 2020 campaign.
Marshall averaged 25.8 points per game last season, ranking No. 8 in C-USA while allowing 25.0 points per game to opponents, fifth-best in the conference.
The team started off slow, going 2-3 in its first five games, but turned it around during the back half of the season, winning six of its last seven contests.
The Thundering Herd ended with a 6-2 conference record but failed to qualify for the C-USA title game.
Marshall lost a number of key players to graduation and the transfer portal before the 2020 season, including star linebacker Omari Cobb, who was second in the C-USA in total tackles in 2019 with 114. Cobb also had 7.5 tackles for loss. The Florida native recently signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent.
The Thundering Herd also graduated its leading receiver from a year ago in tight end Armani Levias. Levias was second among C-USA tight ends in receiving yards with 553, trailing only Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant, who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns.
Junior quarterback Isaiah Green entered the transfer portal before the start of the 2020 season after throwing for 2,438 yards and 20 total touchdowns, which opened the door for redshirt freshman Grant Wells to come in and claim the starting spot.
The Herd’s roster consists of over 40 newcomers, the majority being underclassmen, making this team full of young yet inexperienced players. At least 28 of the newcomers are freshmen, including Wells.
Redshirt junior running back Brenden Knox returned to the roster after his impressive 1,387 rushing yard and 11 touchdown 2019 campaign. Knox led the C-USA in carries, rushing yards and rushing yards per game, all of which led to him being given the 2019 C-USA Most Valuable Player Award.
On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker Tavante Beckett and redshirt junior defensive lineman Darius Hodge returned to the team for the 2020 season after putting up impressive numbers in 2019. Beckett led the C-USA in total tackles with 121 while averaging 9.31 per game. After accumulating 8.5 TFL in 13 games in 2019, Hodge will look to build on that and replace Omari Cobb’s role in the defense as the run-stuffer. Through just nine games this season, Hodge surpassed his previous season total by 0.5, ending with 9.0 TFL.
This may be the most even matchup of the season for the Bulls as both teams move the ball with ease on offense. The Bulls averaged 509 yards per game compared to Marshall’s 407.1. UB scored 287 total points in six games while Marshall scored 275 points in nine games.
The Bulls have some advantages over the Herd, but UB is 1-8 all-time against them. Marshall was a part of the MAC from 1997-2005 and the last time they faced UB was in 2004. From 1992 to 2002, Marshall won five of six MAC championships.
After dominating the regular season and losing in the game that mattered most, both teams will look to overcome their conference championship losses and capitalize with a bowl-game win.
The two teams will clash on Christmas Day at 2:30 p.m. The game will be on ESPN.
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Hunter Skoczylas is the sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found looking up random sports statistics, jamming to Fleetwood Mac and dedicating his Sunday afternoons to watching the Buffalo Bills.