A matchup between the ACC and Conference-USA normally wouldn't be seen as a win for the the C-USA team. But with the season that the Marshall Thundering Herd have put together and the offensive attack that they possess, they are expected to down the Maryland Terrapins in the Military Bowl.
The Herd have one of the most explosive offenses in the nation that ranks seventh in points per game and has defeated opponents by an average of nearly 20 points per game.
As for the Terrapins, if they plan to make this one close they will need senior quarterback C.J. Brown to continue playing the way he did in the final two games of the season. Before the game finally kicks off on Friday, Dec. 27, at 2:30 p.m. ET, here are the X-factors to watch for in the Military Bowl.
Tommy Shuler, Wide Receiver, Marshall
After losing wide receiver Aaron Dobson, who was drafted by the New England Patriots in the 2013 NFL draft, the Herd were expected to see a drop-off in the passing game. But Tommy Shuler proved once again that receivers at any height can get the job done in the college game.
Shuler set the school record last season for receptions with 110 and needs just three more in the Military Bowl for his second straight season with 100 catches. Standing at just 5'7", he has been the most reliable receiver for an offense that ranks 21st in the nation in passing yards per game.
One of Shuler's more memorable games this season came against another ACC team in Blacksburg, Va. when Marshall played Virginia Tech. Though the Herd were unsuccessful in a triple-overtime loss to the Hokies, Shuler put up 120 yards, his second most in a game this season.
He may not be a household name or even projected as a high draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft, but Shuler will certainly make some noise on Friday in the Military Bowl and is a big reason why Marshall is expected to win this game.
C.J. Brown, Quarterback, Maryland
When it comes to dual-threat quarterbacks, C.J. Brown might be a little more on the side of great rushers than the great passers. But when he's on, Maryland's offense thrives. Brown was injured earlier in the season and it cost him two games in which the Terrapins went 1-1 in his absence.
Since his full return against Syracuse, the team has gone 2-2 and secured a bowl game. In the games that the Terps won since his return, Brown threw for three touchdowns and one interception, and he rushed for five more touchdowns. In losses, he threw one touchdown and two interceptions, and he rushed for one.
Speaking about Brown's offensive abilities, Marshall coach Doc Holliday told John McNamara of the Capital Gazette, "He can beat you with not only his arm, but with his feet. He runs the ball extremely well."
Without two of its most talented wide receivers, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, on the field for the last five games of the season due to injuries, Maryland will once again have to rely heavily on Brown to carry it to victory.
Rakeem Cato, Quarterback, Marshall
Putting it simply, Maryland coach Randy Edsall told McNamara that the Marshall quarterback is "the guy that stirs the drink." In other words, Cato is the guiding force behind a team that has scored an average of 43 points per game and won seven of its last nine games.
Who will be the better starting quarterback in the Military Bowl?
The junior signal-caller has thrown for 36 touchdowns this season and added another six with his legs. When it comes to dual-threat quarterbacks, Cato is closer to the passing end of the spectrum than Brown thanks to his 3,579 passing yards this season.
Cato needs just 161 passing yards in the Military Bowl to eclipse 10,000 passing yards in his career, which would put him in impressive company.
With one more season remaining and his high school teammate Shuler with him once again, Cato has a chance to eclipse Chad Pennington (13,143) for the Marshall career record.
If Cato can continue carrying Marshall past Maryland, he would lead the Herd to their first 10-win season since the 2002 season—Leftwich's senior season.