Marshall-UAB Preview

BY foxsports • November 18, 2014

Marshall is one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the FBS and ranks among the nation's best on both sides of the ball.

None of that has been enough for the 18th-ranked Thundering Herd to impress the College Football Playoff committee, but they're not about to fret over their national standing as they prepare for a visit to UAB on Saturday.

"I have no idea about the bowls or the rankings. We're just worried about UAB right now," said quarterback Rakeem Cato, who has thrown a touchdown pass in an FBS-record 42 straight games. "We're trying to complete our (regular) season 12-0 and let everything else take care of itself."

Marshall (10-0, 6-0 Conference USA) has been in this position before. It was the only unbeaten team other than national champion Florida State after finishing 13-0 in 1999, but was left out of top-tier bowl games due to the lack of quality opponents on its schedule and settled for a win over BYU in the Motor City Bowl.

The Seminoles again are the only other undefeated team this season, but they're in position to qualify for the four-team playoff. The Thundering Herd, meanwhile, haven't sniffed the top four thanks to their schedule despite ranking second in the nation in total offense (567.2 yards per game) and fifth in scoring defense (16.3 points per game).

Marshall also is the only team in the country that has scored at least 35 points in every game, ranking second in the FBS with 47.1 per contest.

''There's always been the gripe all season that we don't have the strength of schedule,'' tight end Eric Frohnapfel said. ''Eventually we're going to get the attention we deserve.''

Marshall is getting more attention for the opportunity it's going to miss out on rather than the success it has accomplished. Cato threw four touchdown passes for the third time this season in last week's 41-14 win over Rice as Marshall clinched a second straight berth in the C-USA championship game. He broke Chad Pennington's school record for TD passes and now has 117.

''People probably won't appreciate what he's done until he's gone,'' coach Doc Holliday said. ''The kid deserves everything he gets. He's the most competitive quarterback I've ever coached.''

Cato tossed three touchdowns and the Herd rushed for 381 yards in last season's 56-14 win over UAB. Devon Johnson didn't have a carry in that contest, but he's flourishing in a much larger role in 2014.

Johnson ranks fourth in the nation in rushing yards (1,402) and yards per game (155.8) while adding 18 total touchdowns (two receiving). He finished with 199 yards and a score last Saturday after missing the previous week's victory over Southern Miss with a knee injury.

"I felt great. They really took control of me in the training room and were a big help making me rest and stay off of it as much as possible," Johnson said. "It was just great to be able to get back out there."

Marshall gave up only 180 total yards and held its eighth opponent to fewer than 20 points. Those numbers are what impress UAB coach Bill Clark the most.

"That is what good football is all about," Clark said. "They start with good defense and special teams. You look at the margin of victory and it's obvious they know what they are doing."

The Blazers (5-5, 3-3) can become bowl eligible by pulling off the upset, and rank fourth in C-USA in total offense at 428.9 yards per game. They were held well below that mark in their last game, though, totaling 326 yards in a 40-24 loss to Louisiana Tech on Nov. 8.

Jordan Howard, the conference's third-leading rusher, finished with 148 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 123 on 23 carries in last year's loss to Marshall.

"We have approached every conference game as a playoff game, and obviously this game is big for (Marshall)," said Clark, whose team has lost three of four. "We know we need a good effort to compete."