Inside Marshall Sports

Darius Marshall, Memphis media

Good evening from Cam Henderson Center, where the game is late and my deadline is no earlier …

I will seek a little additional confirmation to make sure, but I was told tonight that Darius Marshall has been invited to the Combine. If so, I consider that a pleasant surprise… hey, I do want him to do well, as Ahmad Bradshaw before him.

In case you haven’t gleaned from some of my comments on the subject, we are being visited by part of Conference USA’s most arrogant press corps. And it’s not close, either. And Commercial Appeal beat writer has about as much love for this part of the world as I do Detroit, probably moreso. Check out his Twitter page, if you dare… keep scrolling down, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Stuff on the Memphis game

My preview comes in the a.m. (actually, it will be first posted tonight, Tuesday), but some stuff from the Memphis Commerical Appeal:

On Wesley Witherspoon, who will cause mismatch problems.

On how the Tigers’ win over Houston was critical.

Recap of Memphis-Houston.

And going back, the Tigers’ loss to UTEP.

And see if you find anything slightly awry at the end of one of those stories.

Herd at UCF

So whaddya know? A Marshall game on the tube, albeit for the digital tier. And I guess I will miss it, as I will staff a high school game, Spring Valley at St. Albans.

First, let’s review last season. As you know, the Herd and UCF play twice each year in a rotation that Conference USA may never change until the next realignment.

At Orlando, the Knights ran roughshod over a Herd team that had no clue on the road — it was the fifth roadie in a row in which the Herd fell behind by 21 or more. Final score: UCF 87, Herd 69, with Jermaine Taylor & Co. going 11-of-15 from 3.

At the Henderson Center, the Herd won 67-62, sealed after Taylor badly missed a late 3-pointer — a shot that sent him all the way to second team on my all-conference ballot. (He only won Player of the Year, but who am I?) Shaquille Johnson hounded Taylor into 2-of-11 shooting from the arc. The crowd was a season-high 6,153, and it was pretty loud.

The game also was memorable for the time A.J. Rompza stole a Chris Lutz pass and zipped up court, flinging a perfect pass to Isaac Sosa for a wide-open 3-pointer — only to have a referee get in the way and inadvertently knock the ball out of bounds. Coach Kirk Speraw was so honked off, he cut his press conference short, telling us, “Have a good weekend.”

Anyway… 2010 is here and Taylor is a lightly used Houston Rocket. With that overwhelming scoring presence gone, Coach Jones called the Knights a more complete team, and they did dispatch what I think will be another cellar-dwelling Rice team, 77-58.

But are they going to be that good, overall? I’m not so sure — I picked them 7th in my early January rankings, a long, long spot behind Marshall. But they are 3-1 all-time against Marshall in Orlando.

Talked to Pete Gillen of CBS College Sports tonight. He is really, really interested in seeing the Herd for the first time, and was very curious about Hassan Whiteside, as you can imagine. He has seen a bit more of UCF, it seems.

He loves Rompza’s toughness — you may recall that he’s that he’s a 5-9 point guard from Chicago who plays like he’s channeling Al Capone. Shoot, I thought he was going to start a hockey fight at Marshall!

He loves Keith Clanton, the 6-8 freshman. He does, however, call him a “Bambi on Ice,” saying he is committing too many turnovers and is still making the transition from Class 1A high school ball. Still, Gillen says Clanton is the brightest prospect UCF has landed and predicts “Bambi will turn into a bear.”

Elsewhere in C-USA, Gillen says he saw UAB beat Cincinnati and came away *really* impressed. He did not expect Mike Davis to integrate the transfers so well — 5th-year seniors Kenneth Cooper and George Drake, plus junior Elijah Millsap. He says Aaron Johnson has really picked up the pace at point guard.

If you can watch the Herd-UCF game, enjoy …

My C-USA basketball rankings

As you may know, I like to take a stab at ranking the Conference USA teams on the eve of league play beginning. And here it is, in short form:

1. UAB
2. Memphis
3. Tulsa
4. UTEP (beware of these guys)
5. Houston (grudgingly)
6. Marshall
7. UCF
8. Southern Miss
9. East Carolina
10. Tulane
11. SMU
12. Rice

I explain that in some detail in Monday’s column.

I still stand stunned over East Carolina losing the Liberty Bowl despite not giving up a third-down conversion defensively. And Ben Hartman? He probably led the program in game-winning field goals, though he wasn’t quite as good as the guy ECU had back in 2001, whose name escapes me…

A word about bowl payouts

While it would be nice for Marshall to play in a higher-tab bowl, don’t get too wrapped up in that. The dough goes to Conference USA, which puts all the payouts into a single pot and pays most expenses for every team. So really, MU probably gets about the same benefit from the NO Bowl, which pays out a fraction of the $1 million from the EagleBank Bowl.

It won’t happen, but I’d bloody rather go to New Orleans…

Bowl picture, I guess

A whole bunch of potential 7-win teams went by the wayside, but one has popped up: Hawaii. The Warriors beat Navy to go to 6-6, and face Wisconsin next week … on the island … with CFO West officials… you never count this one out.

So here are the excess 7-win teams:
Middle Tennessee
Northern Illinois
Bowling Green

Here are the bowl openings:
Mobile
D.C. (ACC spot)
D.C. (Army spot, probably, then to C-USA)
Detroit (if Iowa/Penn State goes to BCS) or Texas (If Nebraska upsets Texas), but not both
Humanitarian (MWC spot)

That’s all, folks. So I guess we’re waiting on the Hawaii-Wisconsin game to see if the bowls get to arm wrestle for 6-6 Notre Dame. And then the Army-Navy game. And the appointment of an interim coach at Marshall.

Argh… BG is 7-win bowl eligible

The Falcons got a turnover deep in their territory, and have scored to make it 38-24 with 1:27 left over Toledo.

They will be the second surplus 7-5+ team in the MAC, and they join Middle Tennessee State out of the Sun Belt. There appear to be four other possibilities:

Louisiana-Monroe (home Sat vs. Middle Tennessee)
Louisiana-Lafayette (home Sat vs. Troy)
Pac-10 — UCLA 6-5 (At USC, late Saturday); Arizona 6-4 (At Arizona State today, USC the next week), both must hit 7 wins to give that league one extra team… assuming only Oregon makes BCS.
Notre Dame (At Stanford, 8 p.m. Saturday)

The bowl openings, as it looks now
EagleBank (ACC spot) DEFINITE
EagleBank (Army spot) LIKELY, to C-USA (and one hopes, C-USA gets other spot early and some poor at-large team gets this one instead)
Mobile (ACC spot) DEFINITE
New Mexico (or other WAC Bowl) LOOKS LIKELY
Texas Bowl (Big 12 No. 8) THIS CAN HAPPEN, AND C-USA GETS A CRACK.

This will be updated with further developments.

Orlando reports on the bowl picture

They’re breaking this puppy down HARD at the Sentinel.

One little correction here: If Notre Dame does not get a Gator Bowl bid (and it will have to beat Stanford to even get a sniff), it will NOT NOT NOT NOT get another Big East bowl. It is out of the Big East picture. I did call the Big East office to confirm that.

I also talked to Russ Anderson and he “understands” that C-USA will be given the ACC spot in the EagleBank Bowl to move things along, as Orlando reports. And C-USA, as a league, has a big interest in getting that done — its first bowls are Dec. 19 and 20, and really doesn’t want to have a spot hanging in the balance all the way to Dec. 12 (Army-Navy game).

I do, however, want to get that confirmed by Steve Beck, exec director of the EagleBank Bowl. I still wonder if those folks won’t make a play for 7-5 Notre Dame or the surplus seven-win team from the Pac-10, if there is one. (UCLA?)

If UCLA beats USC and Arizona beat Arizona State (and the Pac-10 does not get an extra BCS berth), then you have that extra team there. Stay tuned.

With all those possibilities, I still don’t see UCF going to Washington. I surely don’t see the Knights going to play a MAC team, and I don’t see them volunteering to take the “if” spot and wait for the Army-Navy game. I still consider that the worst possible position, one to be avoided, no matter how much of an underdog Army will be.

I can see East Carolina making a play for the EagleBank if the Pirates lose to Southern Miss. Shoot, I’m rooting for it. Let’s see … the 29th at RFK Stadium, or my birthday in New Orleans (18th, 2 days before the game)? Tough call!

Failing that, let’s also root for Toledo to upset Bowling Green … don’t need an MU-BG rematch…. ugh.

Some bowl notes

I’ve been asked if Texas A&M has a chance at landing in the EagleBank Bowl … the answer is very likely not.

The Big 12 probably won’t even have a surplus of teams. If you’re looking at the standings, keep in mind that Kansas State is DEAD despite its 6-6 record. The Wildcats played two FCS teams, and are richly deserving of their fate.

So…. the Big 12 has eight teams eligible for eight bowls. That becomes nine only if Kansas beats Missouri… and if Oklahoma State is somehow tabbed for the Fiesta Bowl (and I have heard that speculation), the Big 12 suddenly needs a ninth team, or the Texas Bowl becomes an open spot.

Even if the Big 12 has nine teams for eight spots, the surplus team will be one of probably three 6-6 teams. Again, a 7-5 MAC team will have precedence, and we know there will be one MAC team swimming around, maybe two. Add Middle Tennessee and maybe one of the Louisiana schools.

Notre Dame’s situation does bear watching. If the Irish somehow beats Stanford, it goes to 7-5. I know, the Gator Bowl will still consider the Irish, but one hopes common sense will win out and the folks in Jacksonville will opt for a better game, period.

Other open bowls to watch for: The Pizza Bowl in Detroit probably opens up, as the Big Ten gets an extra BCS team. The Mountain West, as long as TCU moves to the BCS, won’t fill its fifth bowl (Boise?). It may make sense to bus the Irish to Detroit, but I figure the folks in Washington will make a heavy play for ND.

But if the Irish finish 6-6, all hands will be tied…

Before the SMU game

First things first: The ACC side of the EagleBank bowl is wide open after Duke lost. The Blue Devils could not count a win over reclassifying North Carolina Central, so they needed to get to 7 wins. The ACC picture is closed, with 7 teams qualifying.

TE Robert Henry is in street clothes, once again. (updated) Darius Marshall is on the field in full gear and working out.