Marshall Football Predictions
Marshall was one of the big surprises in Conference USA last season. The Thundering Herd weren’t expected to be a threat in the East with just 13 starters back and two freshmen quarterbacks competing for the starting job, but head coach Doc Holiday once again got his team to respond late in the season. Marshall was able to win their final two games of the regular season to finish up at 6-6 (2nd East at 5-3) and would go on to defeat FIU 20-10 in the Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl.
It’s going to take another fine coaching job from Holiday to get the Thundering Herd back in postseason play. Marshall will once again have just 13 starters back and this time they have some serious holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball. Let’s take a closer look at what they will send to field on both sides of the ball in 2012.
If the Thundering Herd are going to build off last season, they are going to need their offense to produce at a much higher level. Last year they managed just 21.8 ppg on 333 yards of total offense. Marshall hasn’t averaged more than 22.0 ppg and 350 yards of total offense since 2007. There is reason to be optimistic about their chances of breaking that streak, as they return eight starters.
Marshall is counting on sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato to take that next step and become one of the elite quarterbacks in C-USA. Cato, who became the first true freshman to start here in 36 years, threw for 2,059 yards and 15 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions. With an even better understanding of the offense and the need for this unit to put up points, Cato could surprise a lot of people with the numbers he puts up in 2012.
A big reason why I think Cato is poised to have the best quarterback numbers in five years, is the talent and athleticism the Thundering Herd return at the wide receiver position. Senior wide out Aaron Dobson (49 catches, 668 yards, 12 TDs) is going to demand a lot of respect from opposing defenses, which is going to open up the field for the rest of the receiving corps. Another player that could give defenses trouble is converted running back Andre Booker, who caught six passes for 116 yards (19.3 ypc) in just two starts.
An improved passing attack should also open up more holes in the running game. Marshall returns their top two threats from last season in sophomore Travon Van (551 yards, 3 TDs) and junior Tron Martinez (649 yards, 3 TDs). Adding even more depth to the unit is very highly touted Miami transfer Kevin Grooms.
The offensive line is another area that figures to only get better. While the Thundering Herd have to replace both starting tackles, they will move left guard Garrett Scott over to right tackle and add in junior college transfer Gage Niemeyer to take over at left tackle.
While the Thundering Herd only allowed 28.6 ppg after giving up 28.8 ppg in 2010, they started to show signs of heading in the wrong direction. Marshall gave up just over 400 yards of total offense, which was nearly 20 more than they allowed the previous season. This year they have just five starters back and have to replace their top four tacklers from last year.
The biggest loss on this side of the ball comes at defensive end, where the Thundering Herd have to replace C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Vinny Curry (77 tackles, 11 sacks). Curry was one of those rare players that make everyone else around him better. He isn’t the only piece of the defensive line that was lost. Marshall also loses starting defensive tackle Delvin Johnson, who was third on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss. They do return a couple of talented juniors in tackle Marques Aiken and end Jeremiah Taylor, but overall this unit is going to be down several notches from last season.
It doesn’t get a whole lot better at linebacker, as the Thundering Herd have to replace three of their top five out of this unit. The two biggest losses are middle linebacker Tyson Gale (95 tackles. 12.5 tackles for loss) and outside linebacker George Carpenter (92 tackles, 4 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss). The concerns with this unit, has forced the coaching staff to move strong safety Devin Arrington back to outside linebacker.
The secondary not only loses Arrington but also has to replace free safety Omar Brown, who led the team with 113 tackles and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. However, the secondary might not be in as bad a shape as you would think. Marshall brings back both starting corners and are very high on red-shirt freshman safety D.J. Hunter (expected to start at strong safety) and true freshman corner A.J. Leggett.
Conference USA Prediction – 4th East Division
Even though Holiday has done a great job of getting his players to play above expectations, I think the Thundering Herd are in for a long season. While Marshall figures to be able to hold off UAB and Memphis, I don’t see them posing much of a threat to UCF, East Carolina, and Southern Miss in the East. I think the defense is going to be a major problem all season. The schedule also doesn’t do the Thundering Herd any favors, as they have to face both Tulsa and Houston at home out of the West.