When bowl season rolls around, Marshall football typically shifts into another gear and it has resulted in tremendous bowl game success over the past two decades for the Thundering Herd.
With a win in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl on Dec. 20, Marshall is now 12-2 all-time in bowl games and owns the highest bowl game winning percentage in the FBS at 85.7 percent. The Herd also owns the current FBS-best bowl winning streak of seven straight dating back to 2009.
Marshall’s 12 all-time bowl wins is also currently tied for the most bowl wins among all Group of Five teams with Boise State, Fresno State, and Air Force having 12 bowl wins of their own. But which bowl wins stand out above the rest for the Herd? Here are all 12 of Marshall’s bowl wins ranked from worst to best.
12. St. Petersburg Bowl: December 26, 2015
Marshall was in the midst of back-to-back 10-plus win seasons heading into the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl, but for the Herd to reach three straight seasons of double-digit wins, it had to take care of business against the UConn Huskies of the American Athletic Conference.
In what was dubbed a battle of two defensive juggernauts, this game lived up to that billing. The Herd opened up a 13-7 halftime lead, but the Huskies wouldn’t go away and managed to cut the lead down to 13-10 in the fourth quarter. A late field goal for Marshall extended the lead back up to 16-10 with under two minutes to go in the game.
UConn had one final chance to win the game, but Marshall’s defense forced a turnover on downs to give the offense the opportunity to run the remaining seconds off of the clock. The Herd did just that and Marshall walked away with the 16-10 win to finish the 2015 season at 10-3 overall, the third straight season of 10-plus wins while UConn finished 6-7.
This was probably the least entertaining bowl win Marshall has had and probably the overall weakest opponent it had defeated in a bowl, but for two defenses that wound up ranked in the top 15 in scoring defense in 2015, it was no wonder why.
11. Motor City Bowl: December 27, 2000
Heading into the new millennium, Marshall football was on an unprecedented roll that featured 114 wins throughout the 1990s, the most wins of any team in college football during that decade. However, the 2000 season would prove to be much more difficult.
Losing many standout players from the 1999 team, the Herd began the 2000 season just 2-4 overall. But Marshall rallied all the way back to eventually win the MAC Championship for the fourth straight season and head into its fourth straight Motor City Bowl appearance with momentum to battle the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Cincinnati held the halftime lead at 14-9, but the Herd took over from that point behind the arm of a young, first-year starting quarterback in Byron Leftwich and a defense that pitched a second-half shutout. Marshall outscored the Bearcats 16-0 in the second half to ensure the 25-14 win and finish the 2000 season at 8-5 overall while Cincinnati finished 7-5 overall.
The 2000 season was a bit tumultuous for the Herd, but it still made the most out of it and wrapped up another championship season with a third straight bowl win.
10. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl: December 20, 2011
Year one under new head coach Doc Holliday saw Marshall miss out on a bowl game with a 5-7 final record. But in his second season with the Herd in 2011, Marshall managed to sneak into a bowl game after a dramatic regular-season finale win over East Carolina to finish with six wins.
The Herd earned a bid into the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl to battle the Florida International Panthers, future C-USA foes and then-Sun Belt standout that came into this game with momentum under future Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal. A late touchdown in the second quarter by the Herd set the halftime score at 10 apiece.
There was no scoring in the third quarter, but after a huge blocked punt midway through the fourth quarter, Marshall tacked on a field goal to gain a 13-10 lead. One final touchdown late in the game propelled the Herd to a 20-10 win over FIU to finish the 2011 season at 7-6 overall. The Panthers finished 2011 at 8-5 overall.
This was an important game for the Marshall program under Holliday and would be the first of many bowl wins in the Holliday era.
9. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl: December 26, 2009
The Marshall football program had 21 straight winning regular seasons from 1984-2004, but nothing stays perfect forever and by 2009, the Herd was in the midst of four straight losing seasons since joining C-USA under head coach Mark Snyder.
The 2009 season saw the Herd finally capture bowl eligibility at 6-6 overall, but a regular-season finale blowout loss to UTEP ultimately cost Snyder his job. Interim head coach Rick Minter led Marshall into the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against former MAC foe and rival Ohio. The Herd started about as fast as possible against the Bobcats.
Marshall opened up a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, but Ohio rallied back to cut the lead to 21-17 late in the fourth quarter. The Bobcats had one final chance to win the game, but a late interception sealed the 21-17 win for the Herd to clinch its first outright winning season since 2003 and first bowl win since 2002. Ohio finished 2009 at 9-5 overall.
Many wondered if Marshall would ever breakthrough around this time, and this game was the start of the positive momentum the program would see over the next few years.
8. GMAC Bowl: December 18, 2002
The 2002 season for Marshall was one of the best and most memorable seasons in program history. The Herd headed into the GMAC Bowl for the second straight season with a MAC Championship, top 25 ranking, and national darling quarterback in Byron Leftwich.
Marshall’s opponent, however, came in with a much different feel. Louisville began the season ranked in the top 25 and even knocked off No. 4 Florida State at one point, but heading into this bowl game, there was disarray with the Louisville program that included rumors of its head coach leaving.
The game showed how different both teams were at that point with the Herd blowing past the Cardinals. Marshall never trailed and opened up a sizeable lead before rounding off a dominant 38-15 win to finish 2002 at 11-2 overall with a final national ranking of No. 19 and No. 24 in the Coaches and AP Poll respectively. Louisville finished 7-6 overall before head coach John L. Smith left to become Michigan State’s head coach.
This would be the Herd’s last bowl win in nine years and its last conference championship season in 12 years, so it was an important game for the program.
7. Gildan New Mexico Bowl: December 16, 2017
Nobody saw Marshall’s shocking 3-9 season in 2016 coming after a 33-8 overall record from 2013-2015. The 2017 season demanded a bounce-back campaign from the Herd, and despite a few ups and downs, Marshall more than doubled its 2016 win total.
The Herd earned a bid into the New Mexico Bowl to battle the Colorado State Rams, a team Marshall had never faced before and a team featuring future NFL wide receiver Michael Gallup. The first quarter didn’t see any scoring, but both teams got going offensively in the second quarter.
Marshall took a 21-14 lead into halftime and extended its lead up to 31-14 heading into the fourth quarter. However, Colorado State made a furious comeback in the fourth quarter to cut the lead down to 31-28. The Herd was able to close things out, however, and escape with a 31-28 win to finish 2017 at 8-5 overall. The Rams finished 2017 at 7-6 overall.
Everyone associated with Marshall football expected to rebound from the disastrous 2016 season, and ending the 2017 season with a bowl win helped meet some of those expectations.
6. Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: December 20, 2018
The most recent bowl game on this list occurred just over a week ago when the Herd took on an opponent it had never faced before. A solid regular season, despite missing out on the C-USA Championship game, led to Marshall earning a bid into the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl to battle the South Florida Bulls.
Marshall had played in this bowl with a different name twice before (2011 and 2015) and would be squaring off with a USF team that began the 2018 season at 7-0 and nationally ranked, only to lose its last five games of the regular season. The Bulls, however, would be playing in the Gasparilla Bowl on their home field of Raymond James Stadium.
The Herd played well from the start and opened up a 14-0 lead in the first quarter before holding a 28-10 advantage at halftime. USF managed to get the score within 11 at 31-20 in the fourth quarter, but Marshall scored one final touchdown to set the final score at 38-20 to finish the 2018 season at 9-4 overall. USF finished 2018 at 7-6 with six straight losses to end the season.
This was one of Marshall’s most complete bowl performances in a game that was more of a road game than a neutral site game.
5. Boca Raton Bowl: December 23, 2014
Marshall’s first conference championship in 12 years was a big moment for the football program and fan base. The Herd’s first C-USA Championship made up for missing out on an undefeated regular season by the narrowest of margins, as did a bowl game against the 2014 MAC Champions.
The Herd played in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl against the Northern Illinois Huskies, the 2014 MAC Champions. In the only game outside of the playoff in 2014 to feature two conference champions against each other, Marshall played well and ultimately left no doubt who the better team was.
NIU held a 7-0 lead at one point, but the Herd turned things around quickly and held a 24-13 halftime lead before putting things away in the second half. Marshall wrapped up an impressive 52-23 win over the Huskies to finish 2014 at 13-1 overall with a final national ranking of No. 22 and No. 23 in the Coaches and AP Poll respectively. NIU finished the season at 11-3 overall.
In the only bowl game in Marshall history in which the Herd defeated a 10-plus win team, the 2014 Boca Raton Bowl capped off a tremendous season.
4. Motor City Bowl: December 23, 1998
By 1998, Marshall football was in the midst of a decade most teams in college football could only dream about. However, one major accolade eluded the Herd at that point in the form of the first bowl game win in Marshall football history.
The Herd’s 1997 Motor City Bowl loss to Ole Miss by three points served as more motivation for the 1998 matchup against the Louisville Cardinals. Marshall came into this game with a MAC Championship and the Cardinals came in with the biggest turnaround in college football after a 1-10 season in 1997.
The first half was close the entire way with both teams deadlocked at 21 at halftime. However, the second half was where the Herd began to pull away and after outscoring Louisville 27-8 in the second half, Marshall had secured the 48-29 win and, for the first time in program history, a bowl game victory that wrapped up 1998 at 12-1 overall. Louisville finished the season at 7-5 overall.
This game served as the start of what would become a historic bowl run for Marshall football.
3. GMAC Bowl: December 19, 2001
There are those games over time that will be forever remembered and viewed at as all-time classics. Marshall had one of those in 2001 when the Herd competed in the GMAC Bowl for the first time after ruling the Motor City Bowl in previous years.
Marshall failed to win the MAC in 2001 for the first time since rejoining the league in 1997 after a narrow loss to Toledo, but the East Carolina Pirates didn’t feel sorry for the Herd in the slightest. ECU stunned Marshall in the first half with a 38-8 halftime lead in a half in which the Herd couldn’t do anything right. It’s a four-quarter game, however, and Marshall rallied all the way back to tie the game at 51 and send it into overtime.
One overtime wasn’t enough and after holding the Pirates to a field goal in the second overtime, a final touchdown secured the improbable 64-61 double-overtime victory for the Herd. Marshall finished 2001 at 11-2 overall with a final national ranking of No. 21 in the Coaches Poll. ECU finished 2001 at 6-6 overall.
In what still stands as the highest scoring bowl game in history and one of the largest comebacks in bowl history, Marshall left an indelible mark on college football history on this night.
2. Military Bowl: December 27, 2013
The 2013 season was a season over a decade in the making for the Marshall football program. The Herd reached a level of success it hadn’t reached since 2002, and it would be capped off with a successful bowl game appearance.
Marshall did miss out on winning a C-USA Championship in 2013 after a championship game loss to Rice, but the Herd still earned a bid into the Military Bowl to battle the Maryland Terrapins of the ACC. This was the first time Marshall had played a Power Five opponent at the time of the bowl game, and the Herd made the most out of it.
The Herd maintained a one-score lead throughout the majority of the first three quarters, but Maryland managed to gain a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. Marshall responded, however, and closed the game out with two final touchdowns to earn a 31-20 win over the Terps to finish 2013 at 10-4 overall, the first 10-win season for Marshall since 2002. Maryland finished the 2013 season at 7-6 overall.
This just felt like a big deal for the Herd from the start, and it made sure to capitalize on the opportunity to play in a great bowl game against an ACC team.
1. Motor City Bowl: December 27, 1999
Bob Pruett is the winningest head coach in Marshall history with a 94-23 overall record, but his best season came in 1999 when the Herd had what still stands as its best FBS season, featuring an undefeated season.
The Herd won its third straight MAC Championship in dramatic fashion to earn a bid into the Motor City Bowl for the third straight season, but this time Marshall would battle then-No. 25 BYU, the co-champions of the Mountain West. In a battle of ranked teams, the Herd’s juggernaut defense shined brighter than it had all season long and shut down the Cougars’ offense.
BYU came in averaging over 30 points-per-game, but Marshall’s defense held the Cougars to only three points and a big final quarter and a half offensively propelled the Herd to a 21-3 win to wrap up a 13-0 season with a final national ranking of No. 10 in the AP Poll. BYU finished the 1999 season at 8-4 overall.
This win marks the only time Marshall played a ranked team in a bowl game and it capped off the best FBS season in program history, culminating in the only FBS top 10 ranking in Marshall history.