A busy Friday night in college football will get started with a Conference-USA clash between the Marshall Thundering Herd and the Florida Atlantic Owls. Kickoff is set for 6:30 EST on Friday, October 18 at FAU Football Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida. The game can be seen on the CBS Sports Network.
According to the Week 8 college football odds, Florida Atlantic is favored by 5.5 points at home. The game also has an over/under of 57 points.
After opening the year with back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Central Florida, the Owls are on a roll with four straight wins. Florida Atlanta has notched wins over the likes of Ball State and Middle Tennessee to put themselves at 4-2 overall and 2-0 in conference play. Heading into the second half of the season, the Owls are surely in the running for the top spot in the Conference-USA East division. However, there are several games left on their schedule that will go a long way toward determining whether Lane Kiffin and company have a chance to play for their second conference title in three years, starting with Friday’s game against Marshall.
The Thundering Herd enter this week’s game with a modest 3-3 record. Those losses have come against Boise State, Cincinnati, and Middle Tennessee. However, Marshall is coming off a 31-17 win over Old Dominion to get to 1-1 in conference play. The Thundering Herd, like FAU, is not only playing to get to a bowl game but also to win the C-USA East division. With back-to-back games against Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky, we’ll soon find out if Marshall is a contender or a pretender in the East division. If Marshall ends up losing both games, they could struggle down the stretch just to become bowl eligible, so Friday’s game carries great importance for them.
The good news for the Thundering Herd is that they’ve beaten Florida Atlantic in five of the last six years. Florida Atlantic’s only win in the series came two years ago, the same year they won the Conference-USA championship. However, Marshall has had their number otherwise, including a 31-7 win last year.
Florida Atlantic is rolling and playing with a ton of confidence after winning four in a row. But they’ve yet to beat a quality team, so none of their wins are that impressive. I think the Owls will be challenged by Marshall and will have some weaknesses that could be exposed. In the end, I think this will be a close game, which makes me lean toward the Thundering Herd and the points.
I’m not sold on the FAU defense at this point in the season. At times, they’ve managed to keep teams out of the end zone. But they were vulnerable in the air against Ball State earlier in the season and were unimpressive against a weak Charlotte team a couple of weeks ago. They’re going to need a strong effort from their defense if they’re going to win by at least a touchdown and cover, which gives me second thoughts about eating the points.
In fairness, the Marshall offense has sputtered at times against Boise State and Cincinnati. But the FAU defense isn’t on the same level as those teams. The 13 points Marshall scored in a loss to Middle Tennessee is also misleading. The Thundering Herd hurt themselves in that game with four turnovers, which kept them from putting more points on the board despite amassing nearly 600 yards of offense.
If Marshall can avoid turnovers, I have little doubt that they’ll score points against Florida Atlantic. Quarterback Isaiah Green is a dual-threat who is growing as a passer every week. The Thundering Herd also has a potent backfield led by Brenden Knox, who has rushed for at least 99 yards in three of his last four games. With the Owls having to account for both Knox and Green as running threats, it should help open up Marshall’s passing attack.
On the other side of the ball, I think the Marshall defense is a little better than advertised. The Cincinnati game got away from them, but they only gave up 14 points on the road against Boise State in a game that the offense produced next to nothing. The Thundering Herd has improved in leaps and bounds at defending the run over the past couple of weeks, which should come in handy against FAU.
The Owls struggled to run the ball this year until the emergence of freshman Malcolm Davidson the last two games. Of course, now the secret is out about Davidson and Marshall should have a good plan for how to keep him contained. That will shift the pressure to quarterback Chris Robinson, who has posted impressive numbers this season. However, he’s struggled against good defenses, including a 15 for 30 performance for just 145 yards last week against Middle Tennessee.
Ultimately, I think the Marshall offense will be able to match whatever the Florida Atlantic offense produces. The Owls are probably a little better, but there’s not enough separation between these teams to make me want to lay down the points. I’ll take my chances with the underdogs on the road.