Northern Illinois vs Marshall, in fact, is the only bowl outside the playoffs to feature two conference champions. The two will square off in the Boca Raton Bowl Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET. Northern Illinois captured its third MAC championship in five years Dec. 5 when it dominated East champ Bowling Green in the title tilt. Marshall won its first Conference USA championship on its home field with a 26-23 victory over Louisiana Tech in the title game.
Here’s a look at the Marshall Thundering Herd:
► It’s hard to understate the contributions and impact of senior quarterback Rakeem Cato. A four-year starter, he was recently named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. He was league Most Valuable Player the previous season.
The 6-1, 170-pound native of Miami, Fla. Has completed 242-of-414 passes (58.4%) for 3,622 yards with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this year. He has also rushed for 457 yards and six touchdowns.
► Seven different Herd receivers have at least 19 catches and four have five or more receiving TDs. The top target is Tommy Shuler, another senior from the Miami, Fla. area. Shuler has recorded 74 catches for 953 yards with eight touchdowns thus far. Eric Frohnapfel, 6-7, 235-pound brother of UMass QB Blake Frohnapfel, is Marshall’s starting tight end and is second on the team in catches (35/404 yards, 5 TDs).
► Marshall ranks 18th nationally (287.8 ypg) in passing and is seventh is rushing (275.8 ypg).
► Junior running back Devon Johnson (6-1, 243) has been the MU ground game workhorse. He has 1,636 yards and 16 rushing TDs off of 191 carries.
► Steward Butler (5-9, 185, R-JR) has 102 carries for 781 yards with 7 touchdowns. Remi Watson is also a significant contributor with 96 carries for 521 yards and six trips to the end zone.
Put the running and passing games together and it adds up to a very productive offense. Marshall ranks fifth among FBS teams in scoring (45.1 ppg).
► Linebacker Neville Hewitt, 6-2, 219, SR) was tabbed Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. He leads the team in tackles with 114 stops, including 12.0 TFL and 4.5 sacks with 1 interception. Middle linebacker Jermaine Holmes is next with 96 tackles).
► Marshall ranked fourth among Conference USA teams in scoring defense (22.9 ppg). The Herd was fifth in total defense (368.6 ppg), fifth in rushing defense (160.5 ypg) and fourth in pass defense (208.1 ypg). MU was second in pass defense efficiency(110.9).
► Marshall ranked third among Conference USA teams with 18 interceptions. Three were returned for touchdowns.
► Marshall was next-to-last (12th) in punting (34.9 ypk) and fifth in field goals 11-of-16). Senior kicker Justin Haig was good on all 75 extra point tries over the year. He converted all four field goals tries (40, 46, 40 and 24) in the conference championship tilt.
► The Herd faced three MAC teams over the first four weeks of the campaign. They defeated Miami in the season opener (42-27), Ohio in Week 3 (44-14) and Akron (48-17) the following week.
► MU defeated NIU, 37-15 in their last meeting back on Oct. 6, 2001. Quarterback Byron Leftwich three touchdown passes, while the Herd defense recorded three interceptions and ran a fumble back for a TD.