(CBS Local)- This Saturday marks 50 years since tragedy struck the Marshall Thundering Herd football program when their plane crashed on the way home from a game against East Carolina. 75 members of the football program lost their lives that day. Now, 50 years to the day later, the Thundering Herd will play host to Middle Tennessee State as one of the best Group of 5 programs in the country.
The Herd enter the game ranked 16th in the latest AP Top 25 poll, the program's highest ranking since the 2002 season and their first appearance in the poll since 2014.
"Marshall is one of the best stories in college football and I hope people are paying attention," said CBS Sports Network host Brent Stover in an interview with CBS Local's Ryan Mayer.
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Led by a dominating defense, Doc Holliday's group ranks 2nd in the country in scoring defense (9.5 PPG), first in rush defense (66.8 YPG) and 17th in pass defense (185.3). That unit is complimented by an offense which has also thoroughly impressed Stover. Undefeated with just four games remaining, the Herd are catching the eyes of college football nation.
"Brenden Knox is one of the best running backs in the country. He's a bowling ball back there. Their defense has been phenomenal as well," said Stover. "I think it was hugely beneficial for them that they got that early season game on CBS and they were able to take down Appalachian State."
Beating the perennial powerhouse Mountaineers vaulted the Herd into this year's conversation for best Group of 5 team. For Stover, he has them third at the moment behind only #7 Cincinnati and #8 BYU. Those three teams are all jockeying for this year's Group of 5 New Year's six bowl slot. Though he has them third, Stover believes very much that the Herd would be capable of competing with those two squads.
"I think they're third, ahead of Boise State. But, I would say it's Cincinnati, BYU and then Marshall. Grant Wells, nearly 1,400 yards through the air, 65 percent which is good. 11 touchdowns four picks which is good because he doesn't make many mistakes and he's kind of got that gunslinger mentality a little bit like Josh Allen when he was with Wyoming. Brenden Knox and that running game," said Stover. "If you put them on the same field with BYU and Cincinnati they'd absolutely be competitive but right now I have them as my third Group of 5 team."
This Saturday's game, set to air on CBS Sports Network at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time seems to be well in the Herd's favor as they enter 24-point favorites over MTSU. But, it marks an opportunity for the country to see a Marshall program on the rise once again, 50 years after that fateful day in 1970.
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