Sunday College Football Picks: Purdue Boilermakers at Marshall Thundering Herd

Purdue Boilermakers at Marshall Thundering Herd
Sunday, September 6, 2015, 3:00 pm Eastern, TV: Fox Sports 1
John C. Edwards Stadium – Huntington, West Virginia
Opening Line: Marshall -8 1/2
Current Line: Marshall -7 1/2
Opening Total: 64
Current Total: 61 1/2
Opening Money Line: Marshall -310 / Purdue +230
Current Money Line: Marshall -290 / Purdue +245

Marshall is a 7.5 point favorite at home against Purdue Sunday.
Marshall is a 7.5 point favorite at home against Purdue Sunday.

The Purdue Boilermakers travel to the Marshall Thundering Herd in a special holiday weekend Sunday game in the season opener for both teams. Purdue won the only previous meeting against Marshall at home 51-41 in 2012. The Boilermakers are the first ever Big Ten team to travel to Huntington.

Purdue went 3-9 last year including 1-7 in the Big Ten West under coach Darrell Hazell. Hazell returns for his third season, but the seat could be getting a little warm. The Boilermakers did have wins over bowl teams Western Michigan and Illinois, but the season ended with a six game losing streak for Purdue.

Marshall is coached by Doc Holliday. Last season, the 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.

Purdue was 6-5-1 ATS and the total was 6-6 last year. Purdue was so bad last year that despite seven of the nine losses being by 14 points or more, they still had a winning record against the spread. Marshall was 9-5 ATS and the total was 8-6.

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As you might expect from a three win team Purdue struggled on both sides of the ball. Purdue averaged 345 yards per game on offense, including 187 passing and 157 rushing yards. The Boilermakers averaged 24 points per game. Purdue was #95 or worse in scoring, passing and total offense out of 128 teams. The Boilermakers were -5 in turnovers. Purdue allowed 416 total yards per game on defense, including  224 passing and 192 rushing. The Boilermakers allowed 32 points per game. Purdue was #80 or worse in points allowed, rush defense and total defense.

Austin Appleby took over at quarterback for Purdue midway through the season for an ineffective Danny Etling. Appleby threw for 1,449 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and also rushed for 198 yards on 61 carries with 5 touchdowns. Etling threw for 800 yards with 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions but transferred to LSU. Appleby will start, but if he falters freshmen David Blough and Elijah Sindelar are waiting in the wings.

Running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert combined for almost 1,500 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns last year, and were also valuable pass catching targets. Both are gone though in 2015. True freshman Markell Jones will take over as the feature back. Jones had 60 rushing touchdowns as a high school senior. Keyante Green will also get some carries after rushing for 199 yards last year.

Receiver Danny Anthrop suffered a season ending knee injury last year and underwent surgery in December. He is probable Sunday against Marshall. In only 9 games, he had 38 catches for 616 yards and 4 touchdowns. DeAngelo Yancey had 12 catches for 147 yards and 3 touchdowns. Dan Monteroso and Cameron Posey will also get a lot of targets.

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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. 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. Marshall was -2 in turnovers.

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.

Purdue is 3-1-2 ATS in road games and on fieldturf, and 0-3-1 overall. Marshall is 4-0 ATS in non-conference games and in September, 10-3 at home, 9-4 overall and 1-4 on fieldturf.

If Marshall wins this game, then they have good shot at going undefeated with another soft schedule. Purdue should be improved but there are a lot of questions. I think the Thundering Herd roll in this game in front of a rollicking crowd in Huntington.

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