Marshall Thundering Herd
Head Coach: Doc Holliday
2014 record: 13-1 overall, 7-1 Conference USA East
2014 Postseason results: Beat Northern Illinois 52-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl
2015 returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 1200/1
Odds to win 2015 Conference USA Championship Game: +230
Regular season wins: over 10 -125 /under 10 -105
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Last season, the Marshall Thundering Herd began the season 11-0. Only a 67-66 loss in overtime to Western Kentucky in the regular season finale prevented an undefeated season. The Herd would go on to beat Louisiana Tech 26-23 in the Conference USA Championship. Despite having only one loss Marshall was overlooked in favor of two loss Boise State for a berth in one of the New Year’s Six Bowl games. This is because Marshall had a tissue paper soft schedule. Marshall would have to settle for a 52-23 blowout victory over MAC Champion Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Eleven starters are back for coach Doc Holliday. The Thundering Herd are once again favored to win the Conference USA Championship game. However, Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky will have something to say about that.
Marshall was second nationally in total offense at 559 yards per game. The Thundering Herd averaged 287 passing and 272 rushing yards per game, and were #17 or better nationally in both categories. Marshall was third in scoring at 46 points a game. Six starters are back for coordinator Bill Legg.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato has graduated and is now playing in the Canadian Football League. He threw for over 15,000 yards and accounted for 146 touchdowns in his brilliant career. Last year, he threw for 3,903 yards with 40 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and rushed for 482 yards on 94 carries with 8 touchdowns. Michael Birdsong, a transfer from FCS school James Madison, will take over as the starter. He sat out last year but he threw for 2,728 yards with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, and rushed for 310 yards and 3 touchdowns for JMU in 2013. Birdsong will have two more years of eligibility left for Marshall. Gunnar Holcombe will remain the backup for the Thundering Herd. He had 21 pass attempts last year mostly in garbage time of blowouts.
Senior running back Devon Johnson had 206 carries for 1,767 yards with 17 touchdowns, plus 6 catches for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns. Senior Steward Butler was also scheduled to be back after rushing for 798 yards on 107 carries with 7 touchdowns. However, he was kicked off the team after committing a hate crime against a gay couple. Senior Remi Watson had 100 carries for 546 yards and 6 touchdowns, and also had a touchdown catch. Birdsong had 129 carries in 2013 for JMU and will get a lot of carries for Marshall as well.
Marshall must replace leading receiver Tommy Shuler, who left as the leading receiver in Conference USA history. Shuler had 92 catches for 1,138 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tight end Eric Frohnapel is now with the San Diego Chargers after making 37 catches for 420 yards and 5 touchdowns. Davonte Allen is back though after making 22 catches for 544 yards and 4 touchdowns. Sophomore Angelo Jean-Louis had 21 catches for 490 yards and 6 touchdowns. Deon-Tay McManus had 26 catches for 422 yards and 6 touchdowns. Hyleck Foster had 18 catches for 254 yards and 3 touchdowns. Ryan Yurachek is the new starting tight end after making 17 catches for 149 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Three starters are back on the offensive line. However, right guard Michael Selby moves to center in 2015. Left guard Sebastian Johansson and right tackle Clint Van Horn are also back. Sophomore left tackle Sandley Jean-Felix and freshman right guard Nathanial Devers have never started before.
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Last year Marshall allowed 357 yards per game on defense, including 197 passing and 160 rushing yards. Marshall allowed 21 points a game. The Thundering Herd were #33 or better nationally in total and pass defense, as well as points allowed. Five starters are back for coordinator Chuck Heater.
Senior nose tackle Jarquez Samuel is the only returning starter on the line. Steve Dillon will start at the other tackle. UCF transfer Blake Keller is expected to be a pass rushing threat at one end while Gary Thompson and Joe Massaquoi will split time at the other end.
Marshall must replace linebacker Neville Hewitt who was the C-USA defensive player of the year with 123 tackles including 13 for loss and 5 sacks. Hewitt is now with the Miami Dolphins. Maryland transfer Shawn Petty is expected to take over in the middle for Hewitt. He will be joined by returning strong side backer D.J. Hunter and Evan McKelvey on the weak side. McKelvey is coming off an injury that cost him most of 2014. He is healthy now though. Even without Hewitt, the linebackers are expected to be among the best in Conference USA.
Cornerback Darryl Roberts is also gone, but the other three starters are back in the secondary. He had 75 tackles and 17 pass break-ups last year. Roberts was drafted by the New England Patriots. Keith Baxter and Antavis Rowe are expected to be the starting corners but last year’s other starting corner Corey Tindal will also get significant time in the rotation. Both starting safeties are back in Taj Letman and A.J. Leggett. Each had 4 interceptions last year.
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Nick Smith and Amoreto Curraj will compete for the kicking job. Curraj was the kickoff specialist last year. Tyler Williams is one of the best punters in the country with his 43.7 yard average. Deandre Reaves will return kicks after returning one for a touchdown in the bowl game. Foster will return punts for the Herd.
For the second straight season, Marshall plays a very soft non-conference schedule. The Thundering Herd play Purdue and Norfolk State at home, and travel to Ohio and Kent State. October brings home games against Old Dominion, Southern Miss and North Texas, and road games at Florida Atlantic and Charlotte. In November, Marshall travels to Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, and plays a home game against Florida International.
I don’t know if either the offense or defense will be as impressive as they were last year, with so many starters lost. However, both should still be pretty good if not very good. If Marshall can get by mediocre Big Ten team Purdue, then the Thundering Herd should be undefeated going into November. However, the two most difficult games on the schedule are in that month with road games at Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky. I think they lose one of those two. Still, Marshall finishes 11-1 in the regular season and returns to the Conference USA Championship game. The soft schedule keeps them out of a New Year’s Six bowl for the second straight season.
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