In a battle for first place in Conference USA, Marshall hosts Middle Tennessee State on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET. MTSU is coming off a thrilling last-minute win over Florida Atlantic, while Marshall squeezed out a road victory over Western Kentucky. The Thundering Herd are 6.5-point sportsbook favorites in the latest Marshall vs. Middle Tennessee odds, while the over-under for total points scored is 52. 

Before you make any Marshall vs. MTSU picks, you need to hear what SportsLine expert Mike Tierney has to say. Tierney is a national sportswriter whose work appears in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times and is also one of SportsLine's top handicappers in every sport. 

Tierney is having another strong college football season for SportsLine members, and he enters the week on an impressive 5-1 run on point-spread picks. The seasoned handicapper has also shown a keen eye for the tendencies of these two programs. In last season's New Mexico Bowl, he advised SportsLine members to back Marshall as a nearly touchdown underdog against fading Colorado State. The result: the Thundering Herd won outright 31-28, and anyone who followed Tierney's advice cashed in big time.

Now, the analyst has turned his attention to this important C-USA matchup and has analyzed all the key factors that will influence the outcome. He has released a confident point-spread selection, which is available over at SportsLine. 

Tierney knows both clubs are hoping to take control of the C-USA East Division following razor-thin victories in their season-openers last week. Isaiah Green threw a touchdown pass to Tyre Brady with 1:44 left to give the Thundering Herd a 20-17 win over Western Kentucky. Green's big final drive, which covered 98 yards, helped offset an uneven day in which he went 18-of-39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. But he also had three interceptions. 

The Thundering Herd (3-1, 1-0) overcame four turnovers and crucial penalties to hold off the Hilltoppers, who lost a fumble on their final drive to seal the win for Marshall.

Just because Marshall held off Western Kentucky doesn't mean they'll cover against MTSU.

Tavares Thomas scored on a 1-yard run with 38 seconds to play for the Blue Raiders against FAU. Instead of playing for overtime, they went for two and made it on a pass from Brent Stockstill to Gatlin Casey for a 25-24 victory. Stockstill, a four-year starter, finished 27-of-40 for 259 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He added a team-high 56 rushing yards on 14 attempts.

Middle Tennessee's defense tightened up when it mattered most and yielded just three second-half points after the Blue Raiders trailed 21-10 at halftime. 

We can tell you Tierney is leaning over, but he has also unearthed a critical x-factor that makes one side of the spread a must-back. He's only sharing at SportsLine. 

Who covers Middle Tennessee State-Marshall? And what critical factor makes one side of the spread a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see which side you need to jump on Friday, from an accomplished analyst on a 5-1 heater, and find out.