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How good is Marshall, the other undefeated college football team?

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Six unbeaten FBS teams remain. This one might have the best chance of staying out of the loss column the longest.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard to have too many college football seasons without a year in which a non-power team starts to build a case for a championship shot. This year, that team is the Thundering Herd from Marshall.

Now, the Herd are probably not going to be included in the four-team Playoff, even if they finish 12-0. Their most impressive foes at the end of the year will have included such teams as Rice, FIU, or UAB. Though only five undefeated power teams remain, teams with one or two losses will stay ranked ahead of the Herd, at least for a while.

That said, you'll still find Marshall as the current No. 25 in the AP poll and ninth in S&P. People will always wonder how such a team might fare in a postseason against the big boys, especially after considering college basketball's typically upset-heavy March Madness. At the very least, it's worth wondering how it is that Marshall has been able to put whoopings on its schedule that compare favorably to how a power-conference school would handle this slate -- through six games, the Herd have won by an average of 47.8-17.2, a margin trailing only No. 4 Baylor.

The easiest answer is that head coach Doc Holliday and the Marshall program are a match made in heaven. For years, former Florida Gators recruiting coordinator Holliday helped load the Mountaineers with talent from South Floridaarguably the most athlete-rich region in the country. And at Marshall, Holliday is often able to accept non-qualifiers who are unable to get into larger schools, because of grades or other reasons.

Might a player be unable to sign a letter of intent to SEC school X? Marshall might be ready to take him in. This year's top late addition was four-star safety Kendall Gant from Florida, a former Georgia commit.

When you evaluate the strategies of the Herd on the field, you see how this plays out. Marshall's competitive edge is drawn largely from fielding athletes all over.

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Pure speed at skill spots, veterans on the line

Marshall runs as true a spread offense as anyone in the country. They base out of an 11 personnel set, meaning one running back and one tight end, along with three receivers. That TE is 6'7, 235-pound Eric Frohnapfel, a solid blocker, but essentially an oversized slot receiver who regularly flexes out.

Without having to change personnel much, the Herd will run four-wide and empty sets to create stress downfield for opposing defenses. Despite it being easy to switch back and forth, the difference between the stresses created by their 11 personnel formations and their empty sets are considerable.

From left to right, the Herd OL goes redshirt senior, redshirt senior, redshirt senior, sophomore, and redshirt junior. And with all that experience, they primarily run two running plays.

One is veer zone with a double team on the backside defensive lineman:

And the other is power to the tight end side:

They'll mix in outside zone as well, but they love to block at horizontal angles and get 243-pound running back Devon Johnson (No. 9 in the country with 135.67 rushing yards per game) downhill as quickly as possible. Much like Baylor, their goal for their running game is to attack the middle of the field. The passing game and QB keeper are their primary means for attacking the perimeter.

Their passing game is actually the more serious issue for opponents, because senior quarterback Rakeem Cato is mobile (he's on pace for 400-plus yards rushing), has endless time in the pocket, and always knows where to go with the football. His 163.59 passer rating against FBS opponents ranks 10th in the country. If you play your base defense against their spread sets, he'll sit back behind his veteran line and pick you apart.

And if you blitz those spread formations?

Their spread alignments, excellence at WR, and experienced QB combine to get the ball to the right spots in a real hurry. They always have a mismatch to attack, particularly in four- and five-receiver sets, and Cato is generally going to find it.

At the end of the day, Marshall's attack is all about having more speed than its opponents. Opposing teams simply can't handle a spread passing game thrown to receivers who could have been starting in power conferences. Here's former Miami commit Angelo Jean-Louis, a four-star freshman who's third on Marshall's receiving list:

And on defense, athletes everywhere

The starting defensive tackles for Marshall, Jarquez Samuel and James Rouse, were listed as defensive ends as recruits. They only weigh 273 and 271 pounds, respectively, even now. The Herd's 214-pound starting outside linebacker? A former three-star cornerback prospect out of Ohio named D.J. Hunter.

Holliday, like other coaches who've relied on Florida athletes to key their teams, is always recruiting speed. He's spinning down the kids who grow, getting them closer to the action. It's a time-honored strategy for fielding fast and aggressive teams. The Herd do it well.

Their defensive speed is perhaps best demonstrated by the way they line up in base defense:

It's a classic Miami-style 4-3 over. The Herd will often line up in press coverage alignments and either play cover 1 with a down safety or an aggressive brand of quarters to get safeties involved in run fits. They play their ends wide and focus on penetration while their speedy LB corps and extra safety flies to the football.

It becomes very difficult to attack the Herd downfield because of the quality of their secondary and their ability to man up the three most dangerous receiving threats deep and hold up:

On this play, the nickelback has responsibility against the run. He's sucked in by play action, leaving the safety behind him to handle a vertical stem route in wide open space. This is what burned TCU against Sterling Shephard of Oklahoma and then Baylor the following week while playing a similar coverage. The safety holds his own, and the field corner who subsequently receives no deep help on a post route breaks up the pass.

When a secondary can withstand deep shots and allow a defense to flow hard to the ball like this, the defense becomes very dangerous. It can attack an offense with impunity. Such is the case with the 2014 Thundering Herd.

So how might this translate against a power foe?

Marshall has the skill talent of a good power-conference program. Cato is the type of athlete who excels in the spread, and Marshall's surrounded him with an overabundance of weapons to target. Its speed on defense is excellent, and the secondary is comparable to what many SEC teams have in their backfields.

But the Herd wouldn't have the same advantages if they played bigger teams. Conference USA opponents cannot get good pressure on Cato with a base pass rush, and they can't cover up his receivers well enough to blitz without getting burned, particularly by slot receivers like 5'7 Tommy Shuler. Marshall rarely faces teams that can win matchups against its DBs or WRs. How might it respond if it did?

In the trenches, the Herd would really be in trouble. There are more than a few power defenses with defensive linemen that could create a nasty pass rush on this relatively small offensive line (299-pound average) without blitzing. A top pass-rushing defensive tackle could cut through like a knife through hot butter. The line might also struggle to keep the smaller Marshall linebackers clean. How would 5'11, 232-pound middle linebacker Jermaine Holmes or 6'2, 208-pound weakside backer Evan McKelvey hold up to repeated lead or power runs against an SEC or Big Ten program? What happens if they play a team with 320-pound linemen who can actually reach them at the second level?

You never know, unless they get the chance. But I imagine Holliday and Marshall are more than happy to continue to dominate exactly where they are. For now.