July 1, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Before he bade farewell as he gave his football team a week off from summer conditioning last Friday, Marshall football Coach Doc Holliday’s remarks included one familiar refrain of this offseason.
“There are a lot of big expectations for this football team,” Holliday said. “That’s what we want. We need to embrace that as a team. It’s good to have people talking about us the way they are … It sure beats the alternative.”
And if the Thundering Herd needs any proof for what’s expected in 2014 following a 10-4 season that was capped by a Military Bowl victory over Maryland, well, it’s out there plenty, and in black-and-white.
You can pick up any one among a number of perennial national preseason magazines and read glowingly about the Herd. It seemed like a good idea, so here’s a sample of some of what’s out there, for those who haven’t seen the pages:
-A No. 40 national ranking (among teams outside the five power conferences, only No. 35 BYU is higher than the Herd; next Conference USA team is No. 86 North Texas).
-Peach Bowl bid versus Georgia
-Predicted 13-0 regular-season record (8-0 Conference USA), defeating visiting North Texas (7-6, 6-2) in the C-USA championship game.
-No. 1 recruiting year in C-USA
-All-C-USA: First team – QB Rakeem Cato, WR Tommy Shuler, C Chris Jasperse, DT James Rouse, LB Jermaine Holmes, PR Deandre Reaves; Second team – DR Ra’Shawde Myers, LB Evan McKelvey, KR Reaves.
-A No. 48 national ranking (seventh among non-power conference teams).
-No bowl game projections.
-Listed among “six worthy programs stuck outside” the power conferences with UCF, Boise State, Cincinnati, BYU and Fresno State.
-Picked to win C-USA title over UTSA (which is ranked No. 84 nationally).
-Conference USA MVP – Cato.
-Top 10 NFL prospects in C-USA – Rouse No. 5; Jasperse No. 10.
-Among C-USA players, Cato listed as “strongest arm” and “coolest in clutch.” Shuler with “best hands.”
All-C-USA: First team – Cato, Shuler, Jasperse, OT Clint Van Horn, Rouse; Second team – RB Steward Butler, McKelvey, CB Corey Tindal.
*The Sporting News
-Marshall over Rice in C-USA championship game (no national rankings outside of Top 25).
-Miami Beach Bowl versus SMU (this is very unlikely, since the bowl switched off its C-USA berth this year and now has BYU vs. an AAC team).
-Top recruiting year in C-USA (one 4-star recruit; FS Kendall Gant only 4-star in C-USA; 13 3-stars).
-Top signees – Gant, OT AJ Addison, OG Nathaniel Devers
-Team “Difference-maker” – McKelvey started only half of the 2013 games but led the Herd with 97 tackles. While his 205-pound frame is small for an LB, his agility and speed allow him to hit holes and make stops … Imagine what he’s going to do with more opportunities
-C-USA Offensive Player of Year – Cato
-All-C-USA: Cato, Butler, Jasperse, Van Horn, Shuler, DE Gary Thompson, Myers, Holmes, Tindal.
-“Bests” in C-USA – Shuler (hands), Cato (passing QB), Butler (elusive RB), Gant (impact freshman), Thompson (pass rusher), Edwards Stadium (best venue).
-No. 1 of Three Stories to Watch – “Rakeem running the table? Can Marshall and All-America QB candidate Rakeem Cato go unbeaten against a favorable league slate and what has to be termed a ‘soft’ non-conference schedule?
-No. 19 national ranking (tops among non-power conference teams).
-Predicted regular-season record of 11-1, 7-1, then downing UTSA (7-5, 6-2) in C-USA championship game.
-No bowl game projection.
-Recruiting report card grade: A (no other C-USA team higher than a B).
-Player to Watch (offense) – Cato.
-All-C-USA: Cato, Shuler, Jasperse.
-Rice at Marshall (Nov. 15) one of two “big games” in C-USA.
-Big Question item – “Can the Herd handle the hype and win the games they’re supposed to win? The games they’re supposed to win, by the way, are roughly all of them. The schedule is set up for success, with Ohio the toughest non-conference draw and FAU and Rice traveling to Huntington.
*Phil Steele’s 2014 Preview
-No. 19 national ranking (No. 36 in power poll, but schedule factor raises Herd).
-Top “Non-Power 5” team, followed by UCF, Boise State, Houston and BYU.
-Orange Bowl bid versus Auburn.
-Schedule ranked No. 125 of 128 (ahead of Troy, Texas State, Georgia Southern).
-C-USA unit rankings – Marshall No. 1 at QB, RB, WR, DL, LB, DB; No. 2 at OL, ST (special teams).
-National “draft eligible” player rankings – QB (Cato 19); WR (Shuler 30); C (Jasperse 17); ILB (Holmes 30), FS (A.J. Leggett 15).
-Herd ranking among top 45 units in FBS – QB 10, WR 37, DL 38, DB 16.
-All-C-USA: First team – Cato, Butler, Jasperse, Shuler, Rouse, Myers, Holmes, Leggett; Second team – Thompson, McKelvey, Reaves (KR); Third team – WR Angelo Jean-Louis, Van Horn, OT Sebastian Johansson, OLB D.J. Hunter; fourth team – CB Darryl Roberts, S Taj Letman.