Championship Week: Marshall travels to Houston to take on Rice for the Conference USA crown

Sam Cooper

Conference USA Conference Championship
Marshall at Rice
Dec. 7, 11 a.m. CT, Rice Stadium

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE:
Marshall: The Thundering Herd averaged 44.6 points per game en route to a 9-3 regular season record (7-1 in conference play). MU is looking for its first Conference USA title since moving over from the MAC in 2005. The Herd reeled off five straight wins to end the regular season, including a dominating 59-28 performance in the season finale at home over East Carolina to clinch the C-USA East and a berth in the championship game.

Rice: Like Marshall, the Owls reeled off a 9-3 overall record and won seven conference games to lock up the Conference USA West Division. Also like Marshall, Rice has never won a Conference USA title since joining the conference in 2005, but reeled off three straight wins over Louisiana Tech, UAB and Tulane to close out the year and claim a spot in the title game.

Note: The two teams did not face another during the regular season so Rice was chosen to host the game due to a higher BCS ranking.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Tommy Shuler, WR, Marshall
: Though he’s only 5-foot-7 and 190 pounds, Tommy Shuler can ball. A year after pulling in a school record 110 catches in 2012, the junior has hauled in 89 receptions for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns from high school teammate Rakeem Cato. Shuler, who averages 11.5 yards per reception, is not necessarily a deep-threat, but is an extremely reliable target for Cato.

Charles Ross, RB, Rice: Charles Ross is an absolute load to bring to the ground. The bruising 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior has averaged 6.2 yards per carry on the season, and many of those yards came after first contact. A knee injury caused Ross to miss two games earlier in the season, but he still racked up 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 10 games played.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: These are two really even-matched, high-scoring teams that feature a few of the nation’s under the radar stars you should know about. The Cato-to-Shuler connection for Marshall is really special to watch and Rice has a plethora of playmakers in Ross, quarterback Taylor McHargue and receiver Jordan Taylor. On top of that, four of the last five C-USA title games have been decided by 10 points or fewer.

WHAT’S ON THE LINE: Conference-USA glory! Neither of these teams has a chance to play in a BCS at-large bowl, so they’ll have to settle for the conference title game and a berth in a bowl game like the Liberty Bowl.

PREDICTION: Rice has the advantage of playing on its home field, where the Owls are 5-1 on the year, but Marshall’s offense has been on fire. The Cato-to-Shuler connection, with an assist from 1,000-yard rusher Essray Taliaferro, will prove too much for the Owls defense. The hometown Houston crowd will help Rice stay in it, but I like Marshall to win 42-31.

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