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NM Bowl: Tough offseason fuels Marshall’s turnaround

Inquiring Lobo minds want to know, or, at least they should. How did the Marshall Thundering Herd bounce back from a 3-9 football season and go 7-5 with a bowl bid the following year?

The rebound recipe, Marshall coach Doc Holliday says, was simple if not necessarily easy.

“You just have to get back to doing what you did well,” said Holliday, who was in Albuquerque on Wednesday for the annual Gildan New Mexico Bowl team announcement luncheon. “It starts in January, and you get back to making it the toughest offseason we’d ever had.

“You’ve got to separate the guys that love football and that it’s extremely important to them, and make sure those are the guys you go practice with every day.”

Joining Holliday at the Canyon Club at Four Hills on Wednesday was Colorado State coach Mike Bobo, whose Rams (7-5) will face the Thundering Herd on Dec. 16 in the 12th annual New Mexico Bowl.

It will be the Rams’ second visit to Dreamstyle Stadium this year. Their 27-24 victory over New Mexico on Oct. 20 helped grease the skids for UNM’s eventual 3-9 finish.

Bobo is 2-0 in Albuquerque, having coached the Rams to a 28-21 victory over New Mexico here in 2015 — his first season at CSU.

Mike Bobo, Colorado State head football coach.
Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal

In contrast, Marshall hasn’t been this far west since 1994, when the Thundering Herd lost 28-24 at Boise State.

Familiarity with the surroundings won’t win the New Mexico Bowl by itself, Bobo said, but he believes it’s a leg up.

“This will be the third time in the same hotel (the Marriott on Louisiana),” he said. “… I’m 2-0, so hopefully we can be in that hotel and be 3-0.

“The familiarity will help with our guys, that we’ve played here. We haven’t played this opponent, but anytime you go to a place that’s familiar, where you’ve got a little bit of a routine, your guys always tend to do a little better.”

A POLITICAL FOOTBALL: At least UNM coach Bob Davie, in his team’s struggles this year, doesn’t have the state’s governor trying to get him fired.

In April, during Marshall’s spring practice, several West Virginia media outlets reported that Gov. Jim Justice was seeking to oust Holliday and replace him with former Marshall coach Bob Pruett. Justice neither confirmed nor denied the story at the time but said he felt Marshall football and Marshall athletics in general were not progressing.

Before last year’s 3-9 season, Holliday had coached the Thundering Herd to 33 victories and three bowl victories the previous three years. In 2014, Marshall came within a single point of a perfect 14-0 season.

EXAM TIME: Next week means final exams as well as a bowl game for both Marshall and CSU. Neither Bobo nor Holliday has experienced that situation before, never having participated in a bowl game this early in December.

“It’s a little bit of an adjustment,” Bobo said, “but our operations people and some of our administration have been through it before. We’re working to reschedule some exams, and we’ll have some tests proctored here at the hotel. We’ll make it work.”

For Marshall, this is virgin territory for all concerned.

“It seems like every bowl we’ve played has been either right before Christmas or right after,” Holliday said. “But our administration’s been tremendous and our faculty’s been tremendous.

“We’re working really hard to get finals taken this week and the first couple of days next week before we head out (to Albuquerque) on Wednesday.”

HERD IT HERE FIRST: A visit to Travelocity on Wednesday reflected prices starting at $510 round-trip for a two-stop, nine-hour flight from Huntington, W.Va., to Albuquerque on Wednesday (returning Dec. 17).

By car, according to Google Maps, it’s a 1,550-mile, 22-hour trip one-way if driving straight through.

Nonetheless, Holliday believes Marshall will have significant fan support in the Dreamstyle Stadium stands come Dec. 16.

“We have tremendous fans,” he said. “They’ll show up. I’m sure we won’t have quite as many as Colorado State has here, but our fan base, they show up everywhere we go.”

Dec. 16

Gildan NM Bowl

Colorado State vs. Marshall

2:30 p.m., ESPN, 101.7 FM