College Football Conference USA Championship Betting: Marshall Thundering Herd at Rice Owls

2013 Conference USA Championship Game
Marshall Thundering Herd at Rice Owls

Rice Stadium – Houston, Texas
Saturday, December 7, 2013, 12:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN2
Opening Line: Marshall -4 1/2
Current Line: Marshall -5
Opening Total; 59 1/2
Current Total: 60 1/2
Opening Money Line: Marshall -190 / Rice +162
Current Money Line: Marshall -210 / Rice +180

Marshall is a 5 point favorite at Rice in the Conference USA Championship game.
Marshall is a 5 point favorite at Rice in the Conference USA Championship game.

Both the Marshall Thundering Herd and Rice Owls were 9-3 this season and 7-1 in Conference USA. They each won their respective divisions and will meet for the Conference USA Championship Saturday in Houston. The winner will get a trip to the Liberty Bowl. Although neither team is in the top 25, Rice will host the game because they are higher in the BCS standings. The two teams did not play each other this season.

Neither Rice nor Marshall has ever played in the Conference USA Championship game before this year. Rice hasn’t won an outright conference title since they won the Southwest Conference in 1957. The Owls did tie for the SWC title in 1994. Marshall is looking for their first conference title since they won 5 straight MAC titles from 1997 to 2002. Marshall leads the series against Rice 3-1, including a wild 54-51 overtime victory in Houston last year.

Marshall is coached by Doc Holliday. The Thundering Herd have home wins over Miami-(OH) 52-14, Gardner-Webb 55-0, Texas-San Antonio 34-10, Southern Miss 61-13  UAB 56-14 and last week against East Carolina 59-28,  along with road wins at Florida Atlantic 24-23, Tulsa 45-34 and at Florida International 48-10. The Thundering Herd have won five straight games. Marshall has road losses at Ohio 34-31, Virginia Tech 29-21 in triple overtime and Middle Tennessee 51-49. The Thundering Herd are 8-4 ATS and the total is 7-5 this season. Marshall was a 3 point favorite against ECU and the total was 70.

Marshall hosted East Carolina last week with the East Division title on the line in a winner take all battle. The Thundering Herd jumped out to an early 24-0 and would never trail in the game. East Carolina would score 10 points before halftime to make it 24-10. Marshall expanded the lead to 45-20 by the end of the third. The Thundering herd would cruise to a 59-28 win. Marshall had 539 total yards including 267 rushing yards. East Carolina had 440 total yards including 291 passing yards. The Pirates had 3 turnovers and the Herd had 2 of their own.

Marshall is outscoring teams 45-22 this season. The Thundering Herd are #6 in scoring and #26 in points allowed nationally. Marshall is averaging 513.2 yards per game including 293.3 passing and 219.9 rushing yards. The Herd are #9 in total offense and #21 in both passing and rushing nationally. On defense, Marshall is allowing 356.8 yards per game, including 206.4 passing and 150.4 rushing yards. The Thundering Herd are #32 nationally in total offense and #22 in passing defense. Marshall is +3 in turnovers with 25 takeaways. The Thundering Herd are averaging 46 penalty yards per game and opponents are averaging 44. Marshall is 106/197 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 80/222. The Herd have forced 29 sacks and allowed 22 this season. Marshall is 52/57 scoring in the red zone with 45 touchdowns and opponents are 37/46 with 26 touchdowns. Marshall has a punt return for a touchdown and 2 pick sixes this season and has allowed a fumble return and 2 punt returns for touchdowns.

Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato has completed 59.4% of his passes for 3,314 yards with 34 touchdowns and 8 interceptions along with 83 carries, 254 yards and 6 touchdowns. Back-up Blake Frohnapfel has thrown for 206 yards with 3 touchdowns and a pick, along with 11 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown.

Running back Essray Taliaferro has 185 carries, for 1,006 yards and 9 touchdowns, along with 10 catches for 111 yards. Steward Butler has 83 carries, 751 yards and 8 touchdowns, plus a catch. Kevin Grooms has 91 carries for 503 yards and 6 touchdowns, along with 9 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Wide receiver Tommy Shuler has 89 catches for 1,019 yards and 9 touchdowns. Gator Hoskins has 38 catches for 618 yards and 13 touchdowns.  Devon Smith has 31 catches, 575 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with a punt return for a touchdown.  Craig Wilkins and Demetrius Evans will both get significant catches as well. Two defensive players and two offensive linemen are listed as questionable or out Friday.

Rice is coached by David Bailiff. The Owls have road losses to Texas A&M 52-31, and North Texas 28-16, along with a neutral site loss to Houston 31-26 at Reliant Stadium where the NFL’s Houston Texans play their home games. Rice has home wins over Kansas 23-14, Florida Atlantic 18-14, UTEP 45-7, Louisiana Tech 52-14 and last week against Tulane 17-13, along with road wins at Tulsa 30-27 in overtime, UTSA 27-21, New Mexico State  45-19 and UAB 37-34 in overtime. The Owls have won three straight games.  Rice is 7-5 ATS and the total is 5-7 this season. Rice was a a 10 point favorite against Tulane Saturday and the total was 49.

After Tulane kicked a first quarter field goal, Rice scored 17 unanswered points before the end of the first half. The Green Wave scored 10 points in the second half to pull within 17-13 with 10:15 left in the fourth. Neither team would score again and Rice held to clinch the West Division title. Tulane had just 123 total yards with just 6 first downs. Rice had 304 total yards including 180 passing yards. Each team had 5 penalties. The Owls had 2 turnovers and the Green Wave had one.

Rice is outscoring teams 31-23 this season. The Owls are #35 in points allowed. Rice is averaging 420.5 yards per game including 181 passing and 239.5 rushing yards per game. The Owls are #17 nationally in rushing and #103 in passing out of 125 FBS teams. On defense, Rice is allowing 349.4 total yards including 189.9 passing and 159.5 rushing yards per game. The Owls are #19 in total defense and #12 in pass defense nationally. Rice is +8 in turnovers with 24 takeaways. The Owls average 45 penalty yards per game and opponents are averaging 41. Rice is 81/202 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 71/210. Rice has forced 16 sacks and allowed 33 this season. Rice is 41/46 scoring in the red zone with 34 touchdowns and opponents are 29/33 with 20 touchdowns. The Owls have 3 defensive touchdowns, and have allowed a punt return and a fumble return for touchdowns.

Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue  has completed 52.2% of his passes for 2,065 yards with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions along with 144 carries for 432 yards and 5 touchdowns. Receiver Jordan Taylor has 48 catches, 715 yards and 7 touchdowns. Dennis Parks has 25 catches, 433 yards and 3 touchdowns. Donte Moore has 19 catches for 264 yards. Mario Hull has 12 catches for 99 yards.

Running back Charles Ross has 183 carries for 1,143 yards with 12 touchdowns, along with 5 catches for 37 yards and a touchdown.  Jawon Davis has 88 carries for 455 yards and 3 touchdowns. Darik Dillard has 72 carries for 343 yards and 2 touchdowns along with 3 catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. Turner Petersen has 61 carries for 262 yards, plus 26 catches for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is out for the season with a knee injury. Driphus Jackson has a rushing touchdown. Luke Turner has two rushing touchdowns and also threw a touchdown pass.

Marshall is 4-0 ATS against teams with winning records, 5-1 on fieldturf, 4-1 after scoring more than 40 points, in Conference USA games, in December, and overall, 6-2 after rushing for more than 200 yards, 5-11 after a straight up win of more than 20 points, 2-6 after gaining more than 450 total yards.

Rice is 7-1 ATS after allowing 170 passing yards or less, 5-1 after allowing less than 275 total yards, 4-1 after scoring less than 20 points, 15-5-1 after allowing less than 100 rushing yards, and 13-6 overall.

This will be a battle between Marshall’s explosive offense and Rice’s top 20 defense. Rice can’t get into a shootout with Marshall. The Owls will try to control the clock with their running game. If they can do that, the Owls will pull off the upset at home. However, If Marshall scores more than 35 points, it will be hard for the Owls to keep up.

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