Herd wants to be heard from this season
Shades of Pennington, Leftwich and Pruett? Building a more lasting legacy using last year’s 9-4 season and Military Bowl appearance? Having the critics and pollsters look at a schedule whose highest hurdles are likely to be Rice, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Old Dominion?
Those are questions being pondered in Huntington, the conference room where the College Football Playoff committee will meet and at the various services that publish weekly rankings and ratings of college football teams.
Marshall has once again drawn national attention to its football team and Heisman Trophy nominee Rakeem Cato, its fourth-year starter at quarterback.
Playing its ConferenceUSA schedule will make the Thundering Herd susceptible to criticism. Even if Marshall loses only one time or goes unbeaten the chances of it receiving enough credit to be cast as one of the best four teams in the country are very slim.
The 12-game schedule begins with the Miami RedHawks, whose 0-12 record in 2013 was a scarlet letter. Southern Mississippi was 1-11 and Florida Atlantic was also 1-11. Alabama-Birmingham was 2-10 and Rhode Island was 3-9.
Akron and Coach Terry Bowden were 5-7 and Florida Atlantic was 6-6.
The five teams coming off winning seasons are Ohio University (7-5), Western Kentucky (8-4), the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (8-4), Old Dominion (8-4) and the Rice Owls (10-3). Old Dominion lost its last game, 80-20, to North Carolina.
Marshall doesn’t play a team ranked in the Top 50 in any of the more well-known preseason polls.
Ohio University, Middle Tennessee, Rice and Western Kentucky will all be played at Joan Edwards Stadium in Huntington.
Cato is Marshall’s most ballyhooed player, getting notice and claiming passing records beginning when he started as a freshman.
Cato will be compared with the entrenched quarterbacks at Florida State and Oregon as the 2014 season progresses along.
Even when the critics cast doubt on the merits of the Herd’s schedule, others will return their remarks with ones about the depth this Marshall team has . . . and the number of experienced hands back from last season’s Military Bowl . . . and the expected crisp play of others starting for the first time.
Cato has wide receivers Tommy Shuler, Justin Hunt and Craig Wilkins to aim his passes toward. The tight end is Devon Johnson and the tailbacks are Steward Butler and Kevin Grooms.
Cato’s individual numbers have to be exceptional if he is to be a season-long Heisman name. His rushing yards and touchdown runs will have to be near-equals of what he accomplishes through the air.
The five interior offensive line starters will be Blake Brooks, Chris Jasperse, Clint Van Horn, Michael Selby and Sebastian Johansson.
Should the Thundering Herd get through September and October with an unbeaten glow to the record, then some of their defenders will also become green-and-white blips on the national radar screen.
The four-man defensive front will have Ra’Shawde Myers, James Rouse, Jarquez Samuel and Gary Thompson.
Evan McKelvey, Jermaine Holmes and Michael Johnson are starters lining up in back of the front four. And Darryl Roberts, A.J. Leggett, Corey Tindal and Tiquan Lang comprise the secondary.
Justin Haig will handle Marshall’s field goal duties.
Coach John “Doc” Holliday will accept the enthusiasm surrounding this team. He has been actively encouraging such feelings since taking the job. But the native West Virginian will have to walk on egg shells when advising against looking too far ahead into late November or even December.
Marshall will be favored to win every game it plays. Many times it will be favored by at least 10 points.
But with the media looking longer and more intently at Marshall this year, the Herd will become the most important game on nearly all of its opponent’s schedules.
From week to week, Cato will be scrutinized from every angle by every team’s defensive coordinator.
Marshall wants to be talked about . . . wants to be on the lips of the national scribes and daily talk show broadcasters . . . wants to be the team de jour on the cable television programs.
The schedule is in place.
Can the Thundering Herd squash all 12 opponents that come against its ready-for-recognition team?