Marshall is 11-0, two wins away from a perfect season. No one knows where exactly the Thundering Herd would rank in the College Football Playoff's Group of Five hierarchy, but the folks at the Conference USA league office and those wearing green in Huntington, W. Va., like their chances should Marshall remain unscathed.
"It’s huge for all of the members of our conference," Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky told HerdZone.com, Marshall's official athletics site. "We’ve had teams in this position before (in the Bowl Championship Series era), and there is still football to be played. But if Marshall gets that opportunity to get into one of those Playoff access bowls, it would be great."
To get there, though, Marshall must beat Western Kentucky this weekend and either Louisiana Tech and Rice a week later in the Conference USA championship. Banowsky didn't come out and say he's rooting against the Hilltoppers on Saturday, but he didn't have to; Marshall's success will come at the expense of a 6-5 Western Kentucky team looking to secure a bowl berth under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm. There's no way around it.
And Banowsky isn't wrong here. Not at all. His job is to secure the best possible footing for his conference, and a Marshall appearance in the Peach Bowl is just that in terms of exposure and in real dollars - millions of them, in fact. C-USA is already in line for upwards of $12 million thanks to the new playoff system, but a Marshall appearance would generate an extra $6 million for the conference.
There are no guarantees Marshall receives the Group of Five automatic berth even if the Thundering Herd finish undefeated. The selection committee has not ranked Marshall yet, but they haven't ranked current Mountain West leader Boise State or current American leader Memphis yet, either.
Still, the league as a whole has much more to gain with a Marshall win on Saturday than seeing Western Kentucky move to 7-5.
It's an odd position, though, for one team to potentially take a giant leap forward on behalf of its conference, but do so while stepping on the shoulders of its C-USA siblings.
"We went through realignment again (losing seven members) and now we have Marshall having a great season. Having a bell cow like Marshall this season is big for us," Banowsky said. "It’s cool. It’s a great opportunity for the conference."