Marshall is undefeated through eight games, just four wins away from scoring its first perfect run since going 13-0 in 1999.
That was the same year the Thundering Herd won the MAC title, beat BYU 21-3 in the Motor City Bowl and were ranked No. 10 in the final AP poll.
Included in the run was a 13-10 win at Clemson in the opener.
Though these were all high-marks for Marshall, a conference crown and a decent bowl game was the best it could get for its undefeated record back in 1999.
Compare this with Wisconsin, who that same year lost early back-to-back games to unranked Cincinnati and No. 4 Michigan, finishing the regular season 9-2. That didn’t stop the Badgers from winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl, where they knocked off No. 22 Stanford 17-9.
At 10-2, Wisconsin finished ranked No. 4, six spots better than 13-0 Marshall.
Though lots have changed in college football in the 15 years since the 1999 season, one thing hasn’t: If your team doesn’t play in a power conference, you won’t play for a national title.
No matter how good you are.
Even though the BCS and new College Football Playoff scheme were both supposed to right the wrongs inherent to a sport with 120-plus teams competing for a single title, both have fallen short.
That is, if we’re ever going to take a team from the American Athletic, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West or Sun Belt seriously.
That is, if we’re ever going to stop acting like Arkansas and Arkansas State—both full-fledged FBS members—are playing for the same prize.
What’s wrong with 8-0 Marshall being completely left out of the College Football Playoff rankings?
I mean, come on, the Thundering Herd got the coveted No. 23 nod from the AP, and if they don’t lose, they may even get a chance to square off with Rutgers in the highly-fantastic Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The case of Marshall, whether they go undefeated or not, highlights a blaring inequity in big-time college football.
It’s simple: Thundering Herd head coach Doc Holliday could never get up in front of his team and in good faith say, “Boys, if we win every single one of our 12 regular-season games and then beat the winner of the Conference USA West division, then we’ll play for a national championship.”
No, instead he, along with the other 59 coaches of non-power teams, will have to dumb that message down to, “Boys, if we win every game, including the conference championship, we may get to play in the Cotton Bowl Stadium, but not in the actual Cotton Bowl.”
Do wins over Miami (Ohio), FCS Rhode Island, Ohio (not State), Akron, Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee, FIU, FAU, Southern Miss, Rice, UAB and Western Kentucky mean that Marshall should play Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, with the winner going on the national title game?
Because comparing Marshall to Florida State is like comparing apples to oranges, or apples to raisins.
Not because the Thundering Herd don’t field a championship-level football team, but because you’re comparing a mid-size company to a huge conglomerate.
That means the Seminoles have access to three times more cash than the Thundering Herd.
And where Florida State averaged 75,421 in home ticket sales last season at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, the Thundering Herd averaged 25,153 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.
This makes Marshall’s No. 61 average rank in recruiting from 2011-14 understandable and it underscores how Florida State got to an average of No. 5 over the same time period.
What it all comes down to is that the FBS operates like one big happy family, where every member program is treated equally, when in fact, there are two distinct levels existing under the guise of equal opportunity.
The message that 12-0 Marshall, or 12-0 Houston, or 12-0 Northern Illinois sends isn’t “the College Football Playoff has it all wrong!” but instead, it’s something more like, “the FBS has it all wrong!”
No perfect college team, in any sport, should be barred from playing for a national title because they have fewer resources or because they are smaller.
This is why programs move from one division to the next. And this why the FBS needs to be split into two separate divisions, operating independently from one another, providing each member school the opportunity to play for a true national title.
Marshall deserves to play for such a prize, and Doc Holliday deserves to advertise such an opportunity to the athletes he signs to represent the Thundering Herd football program.