As we've discussed before, every year there are one or two teams that DUSHEE seems to think way more highly of than almost anybody else. I lovingly call this team the DUSHEE WTF team. This year's WTF team appears to be the Thundering Herd.
Not that Marhsall is completely disrespected. They are 23rd and 22nd in the AP and Coaches' Polls. The Massey Composite Index has Marshall at 18 and includes a handful of computer polls that place Marshall even higher than DUSHEE's 8th.
But the human polls have consistently put an undefeated Marshall behind one-loss and non-Power-Conference darling East Carolina. And it's not hard to understand why. Marshall, by DUSHEE's reckoning, has had the 114th ranked schedule, with games against Miami (the Ohio version), Ohio U, Akron, Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee, and Florida International -- not a single above average team in the lot.
But we know the strength of schedule argument all too well. The strength of their opponents really has no bearing on how good a team they are. Put the 1985 Bears in the Sun Belt Conference and they're still the 1985 Bears. If they beat all their opponents by 70, as an elite team should, the fact that they play a terrible schedule doesn't make them NOT the 1985 Bears.
It is really easy to dismiss Marshall because of their schedule. And even from the standpoint of a computer model like DUSHEE, the fact that the team's schedule is not more evenly distributed throughout colloege football quality makes it more difficult to assess their quality, even if opponents' opponents also factor into the equation.
So let's take a look at Marshall's performance this year.
Opp | MiaOh Ohio Akr | ODU MTSU FIU
PD | 5.33 24.17 36.00 | 39.00 25.67 30.20
YD | -82.00 318.00 210.80 | 283.00 204.00 -11.40
So aside from Marshall's first game against Miami, Marshall has done to bad opponents what good teams should do, much like TCU would do against the Wyomings, UNLVs and New Mexicos of their schedule in the MWC days. Marshall beat all of their other opponents at least 3 TDs worse than their other opponents beat them, on average. The closest any opponent has gotten to Marshall outside of their relative dud against Miami (15 points) is Middle Tennessee (25 points). Against their other opponents, Middle Tennessee has been the textbook definition of average with a PM of 0.67 points per game.
Let's compare these numbers to the same numbers for East Carolina.
Opp | SoCar VaTech UNC | SMU USF
PD | -13.00 15.20 23.00 | -24.60 2.00
YD | 5.60 171.20 302.00 | -133.80 -2.40
East Carolina has gotten a secondary boost from SEC bias. South Carolina simply isn't that good this year. DUSHEE has the Gamecocks as the 50th best tem in the country. Losing by 10 to teh 50th best team in the coutry isn't that impressive, but ECU seems to be getting credit in the pollster's minds for beating a top 25 SEC team. Combine that with only a 3 TD win over what is now the worst team in the country according to DUSHEE, SMU, when everyone else has been beating them by an average of 45 points. The Virginia Tech win has held up as a solid win and their beatdown of a bad North Carolina team make them an above average team. The 55th team in the country according to DUSHEE; 31st according to the Massey Composite, to be exact.
So my word of warning is don't fall into the Strength of Schedule trap that was used against us for so many years. Yes, it is hard to know how good Marshall really is given their schedule, but there is some information there. They have beaten their bad teams a lot worse than other schools have beaten those same oppoenents. We may not know how Marshall fares against a quality opponent until their bowl, if then. But until then, don't dismiss them outright.
For informational purposes, here are TCU's numbers against their opponents:
Opp | Minn SMU OU | Bay OkSt
PD | 33.40 17.40 23.50 | 20.00 44.60
YD | 184.20 79.80 86.67 | -104.80 449.00
Not surprisingly, the Baylor game comes out as the Frogs' worst performance, but even there TCU's PD is almost 3 TDs. And even with that Alabama-A&M outlier, last week's OSU game was among the top 3 performances in the country.