Marshall and Ohio renew rivalry in Pizza Bowl

DETROIT — Marshall and Ohio spent nearly a century fighting over a riverboat bell.

On Saturday, the teams will meet with something new at stake — the championship of the Pizza Bowl.

The schools, located 82 miles apart, played 52 times — the most Marshall has faced any other school — between 1905 and 2004. When Marshall played in the Mid-American Conference from 1997-2004, the schools' annual game was called "The Battle for the Bell," with the trophy symbolizing the Ohio River separating Ohio and West Virginia.

While the teams haven't played since the Thundering Herd bolted to Conference USA in 2005, the bowl matchup comes as they were already scheduled to resume their rivalry with a six-year deal that starts in 2010.

Ohio Coach Frank Solich says his program has some catching up to do. The Bobcats lost seven of the last eight meetings, including the final four, after dominating the first 75 years of the series.

"There was a time early on when Ohio did pretty well against Marshall," Solich said. "That wasn't the case at the end, though."

Things have changed drastically at both schools in the last five years. Marshall's new conference affiliation has been a disappointment on the field. Mark Snyder coached the Herd to losing seasons in each of their first four years in Conference USA, then resigned after going 6-6 this season.

Still, the .500 record was enough to get Marshall a berth in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. That meant defensive coordinator Rick Minter had to be promoted to interim head coach.

Although Minter hoped to be considered for the full-time job, the school hired John "Doc" Holliday, who was an assistant to Urban Meyer on Florida's 2006 national title team. Holliday, though, won't take over until after the bowl game.

Marshall played in the first four editions of the Pizza Bowl back when it was known as the Motor City Bowl and played at the Pontiac Silverdome, and Minter coached Cincinnati in the game twice. For the players, though, this is their first bowl, and they are more than happy to play it in a stadium that hosted Super Bowl XL.

Defensive end Albert McClellan was the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 but blew out his knee before the 2007 season and is now a fifth-year senior.

"We thought we were going to get a lot of chances to play in bowl games, and that didn't happen," he said at Ford Field. "But this is a big game at a great stadium. We've never played anywhere like this."

For Ohio, things have gone in the opposite direction. The program was a mess before the school convinced Solich to take over in 2005 — a year after he was fired by Nebraska despite a 58-19 record in six seasons.

Solich beat Pittsburgh in his home debut and needed just two seasons to take the Bobcats to their first bowl game in 38 years.