July 4, 2012
The following is the second installment of a 12-part series, previewing each of Marshall's opponents for the upcoming season.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -
It has been 16 years since Marshall and Western Carolina met in football. That streak ends Sept. 8 when the Catamounts come to Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the Herd's home opener.
The former Southern Conference foes met annually from 1977-1996 with the all-time series tied at 9-9-2. However, Marshall has won nine of the past 10 games, including the final three meetings by an average score of 45-13.
The Catamounts still play in the SC and will begin the 2012 season with new Coach Mark Speir, who replaced Dennis Wagner after ending his five-year run with a 1-10 record (0-8 in Southern Conference games) in 2011. Speir comes to Cullowhee, N.C., after spending the past nine seasons holding a variety of coaching positions at Appalachian State, where he was a part of three consecutive FCS national championships (2005-07).
Speir faces the challenge of turning around a team with just three winning seasons in the past 17 years, and the last-place SC team in each of the past three seasons. The program has not won more than two games in a season since 2005 ... a far cry from the glory days of the 1980's when the Catamounts played for a Division I-AA national championship in 1983.
Former Marshall backup quarterback Eddie Sullivan saw the most reps during the spring scrimmage and could be the starting QB for WCU this fall. The dual-threat quarterback saw action in seven games as a true freshman in 2010. He completed 6-of-24 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown while rushing 12 times for 51 yards.
"I have been very impressed with Eddie Sullivan, our transfer QB from Marshall," Speir said in a letter to fans on March 30. "He can run the spread offense. He is a very tough kid who has emerged as the leader of our football team. He has a confidence that I really like in a QB."
Offensive Player to Watch
Running back Shaun Warren split time with three other backs last season, but led the rushing attack with 454 yards on the year. In his first collegiate start, Warren rushed for a career-best 203 yards against Division II Mars Hill, leading WCU to its only win of the season.
He was the eighth different Catamount in school history to record 200 or more rushing yards in a single game. He scored five touchdowns and was named to the Southern Conference All-Freshman Team.
Defensive Player to Watch
Linebacker Rock Williams returns after leading the team and ranking third in the conference with 115 total tackles (50 solo) last season. The senior recorded one-third of the team's nine sacks and had six tackles for loss. With the return of junior defensive back Ace Clark, sophomore defensive back Christon Gill and junior linebacker Courtland Carson, WCU will have its top four tacklers in 2011 back for this season.
Who will get the ball as the WCU starting running back? Seniors Michael Vaughn and Michael Johnson rushed for 344 and 274 yards respectively, splitting time with Warren.
Can the Catamounts be competitive this season after suffering an average defeat of 28.1 points per loss in 2011?
Like any coach who takes over a struggling program, how long will it take for Speir's influence and leadership to take effect?
Quote to Note
"I can tell you now; this is NOT the same team from last year or from past years. Instead of talking about it, we're going to show everybody. The best part about being an underdog is that nobody expects it until you're at the top. We're going to knock the top seeds off one at a time but until then, we're just going to work hard."
- Eric Banford, WCU senior defensive lineman
Aug. 30 vs. Mars Hill
Sept. 8 at Marshall
Sept. 15 at Wofford*
Sept. 22 vs. Samford*
Sept. 29 at Furman*
Oct. 6 vs. Georgia Southern*
Oct. 13 at The Citadel*
Oct. 20 at Elon*
Oct. 27 vs. Appalachian State*
Nov. 3 vs. Chattanooga*
Nov. 17 at Alabama
* Southern Conference