Better overall talent should trump home field on Saturday afternoon when the favored Marshall Thundering Herd (9-3, 3-3 away) pay a visit to the Rice Owls (9-3, 5-1 home) in the Conference USA Championship Game from Rice Stadium in Houston, TX at 12:00 Noon ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN2.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Marshall as a moderate favorite for this contest with the current line at -5 with odds of -107.
This is one of several college football championship games played on the home field of one of the combatants this week, but as we said before, we tend to migrate to the better teams in these championship games than we do to the home teams and there is a reason that Marshall is favored at Rice Stadium.
These teams finished with identical overall records of 9-3 and with identical conference records of 7-1, although Marshall is ranked 53rd in the country on the Sagarin Ratings while Rice is ranked 72nd, even ranking behind one of the teams it finished ahead of in the West Division in North Texas (67th).
Marshall enters this contest on a major roll, as not only have the Thundering Herd won five straight games since their only conference loss by two points to Middle Tennessee State, but they have scored at least 45 points on all five of those contests, culminating with a 59-28 blowout of a good East Carolina team to wrap up the East Division in the regular season finale last week!
The Herd are ranked ninth in the country in total offense averaging 513.2 yards per game with great balance, averaging 219.9 rushing yards and 293.3 passing yards while also ranking sixth in scoring averaging 44.6 points. They are led by junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who while not matching the 4201 yards he passed for as a sophomore last season, still threw for over 3300 yards this year with a great ratio of 34 touchdown passes vs. eight interceptions.
A key reason why his passing yards are down this year is the emergence of the Marshall running game, paced by Essray Taliaferro who rushed for 161 yards in the division-clinching blowout of East Carolina to go over 1000 yards for the season. Furthermore, Marshall is a complete team with a good defense that is allowing only 3.5 yards per rush and 6.1 yards per pass attempt.
While Marshall is rolling, Rice is doing anything but. Yes the Owls have won three straight games since a 28-16 loss at North Texas, but they are 1-3 ATS the last four games including that loss as they have struggled vs. weak competition the last two weeks, first needing overtime to nip a 2-10 UAB team 37-34 and then struggling offensively in a 17-13 non-covering win over Tulane last Saturday.
Rice has a one-dimensional running offense that ranks 17th nationally in rushing with 239.5 yards per game, but that is more than the 181.0 passing yards the Owls average, which ranks them 103rd. As mentioned, the Marshall defense has been equally stout vs. the run and the pass, but only having to worry about the run makes life even easier for the Thundering Herd.
Rice is not a team equipped to come from behind and we could easily see the potent and balanced Marshall offense jumping out to a quick lead here. If that happens, being at home will not help Rice as the Thundering Herd get the safe covering win on Saturday.
College Football Pick: Marshall -5 (-107)