Marshall is a college football program that has a lot to be proud of with a story unheralded in college football history, but one thing that the Thundering Herd stands out above the rest in is bowl game success.
Not only has the Herd had tremendous bowl game success over the past two decades, but it has bowl game success no other current team has. Marshall has an 11-2 all-time record in bowl games, the number one FBS all-time bowl winning percentage of 84.6 percent with a minimum of 10 bowl games played.
In addition, Marshall has the current FBS-best bowl winning streak of six straight dating back to the 2009 season. The Herd knows how to get it done in the postseason, and it all started back in 1998 while the program was the dominant force in the MAC.
To close out the 1998 season, Marshall won its first bowl game in program history by defeating Louisville 48-29 in the Motor City Bowl to cap off a 12-1 season that also featured a MAC Championship. The Herd fell in the inaugural Motor City Bowl just one year earlier to Ole Miss by a final score of 34-31.
The Motor City Bowl came calling once again in 1999 when Marshall put its perfect record on the line against then-No. 25 BYU in a battle of ranked teams. The Herd came in ranked No. 11 in the country and 12-0, but would face its toughest test of the season on paper. However, the Cougars would be no match for the powerful Herd.
Marshall shut down BYU like no other team had done during the 1999 season and defeated the Cougars 21-3 to finish 13-0 with a MAC Championship, Motor City Bowl victory, and final national ranking of No. 10 in the AP Poll. Wouldn’t you know, the Herd made another appearance in the Motor City Bowl the following year.
It might have been a new millennium this time around, but Marshall continued on its same path of winning the Motor City Bowl when the Herd knocked off the Cincinnati Bearcats 25-14 to win its third straight Motor City Bowl. Marshall finished the 2000 season at 8-5 overall with a fourth straight MAC Championship along with more success in the postseason.
The scene finally changed for the Herd’s bowl destination in 2001 when then-No. 25 Marshall took on East Carolina in the GMAC Bowl in a game that is still regarded as arguably the best bowl game in history. The Pirates opened up a commanding 38-8 halftime lead, but Marshall came all the way back to tie the game at 51 and send it into overtime.
A Byron Leftwich to Josh Davis touchdown in the second overtime propelled the Herd to the improbable 64-61 win. It still remains the highest-scoring bowl game in history and capped off the 2001 season for the Herd with an 11-2 overall record, MAC East Division Championship, and final national ranking of No. 21 in the Coaches Poll.
The GMAC Bowl came calling again in 2002 when the Herd returned, this time to battle the Louisville Cardinals in a rematch of the 1998 Motor City Bowl. Unfortunately for Lousiville, this game wouldn’t turn out any better than the first matchup and Marshall left no doubt in a 38-15 win.
Marshall would finish the 2002 season at 11-2 overall with a MAC Championship and final national ranking of No. 19 and No. 24 in the Coaches Poll and AP Poll respectively. The Herd was in the midst of five straight bowl wins in as many seasons, but failed to make the postseason in 2003 despite an 8-4 final record.
The 2004 season saw the Herd finish just 6-5 overall in the regular season, but it still managed to earn a bowl bid in the Fort Worth Bowl against Cincinnati. However, Marshall’s bowl game success didn’t show up this time around and the Bearcats got the 32-14 win to drop the Herd to a 6-6 final record, the first non-winning season for Marshall since 1983.
A rough stretch for Marshall football followed and the program wouldn’t reach another bowl game until 2009 when the Herd earned a bid into the Little Caesar’s Bowl to battle former MAC foe and rival Ohio. Marshall opened up a 21-0 lead, but Ohio scored the next 17 points to make things interesting before the Herd closed out a 21-17 win.
The Herd finished the 2009 season at 7-6 overall, the team’s first outright winning season since 2003. Marshall would have to wait two more years to return to the postseason, but in 2011, the Herd would make it to the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl to battle Florida International. A late touchdown closed things out for Marshall and it walked away with a 20-10 win.
The 2011 season finished at 7-6 overall for the Herd, but once again, Marshall had to wait two more years to return to a bowl game. The 2013 season was a breakthrough one for Marshall, which led to a Military Bowl bid to battle the Maryland Terrapins.
The Herd played well and knocked off Maryland 31-20 to finish 2013 at 10-4 overall with a C-USA East Division Championship, Marshall’s first 10-plus win season since 2002. This also marked only the second time the Herd played a then-current Power Five team in a bowl game, resulting in the only Power Five win in a bowl game in Marshall history.
The momentum continued for the Herd in 2014 and after winning its first-ever C-USA Championship, Marshall earned a berth in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl to battle the 2014 MAC Champions, the Northern Illinois Huskies. In a battle of 10-plus win conference champions, the Herd dominated the Huskies 52-23 to win the Boca Raton Bowl.
Marshall finished 2014 at 13-1 overall and a final national ranking of No. 22 and No. 23 in the Coaches Poll and AP Poll respectively. The streak of 10-plus win seasons would reach three straight the following season when the Herd defeated the UConn Huskies in the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl by a final score of 16-10 to finish the season at 10-3 overall.
A shocking 3-9 season in 2016 caught everyone by surprise, but the Herd was back in the postseason in 2017 when it earned the right to play in the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State. Despite Marshall opening up a 31-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Rams never went away and cut the lead down to 31-28 late in the fourth.
However, the Herd was able to close things out and defeated Colorado State by that 31-28 margin. The win closed out a bounce-back season for Marshall that resulted in an 8-5 final record. And in just a matter of days, Marshall returns back to the postseason to battle the South Florida Bulls in the 2018 Gasparilla Bowl looking to improve its bowl winning streak to seven straight.
Marshall has gotten it done in bowl games over the years, and for all of the people that say bowl games are meaningless anymore, winning them is always a nice feather in your cap. Just ask the Herd.