BOGACZYK: After Long Wait, Herd Climbs Back into National Polls
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 14, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Here's one way to evaluate just how Coach Doc Holliday has flipped Marshall's football fortunes.
In Holliday's first few years (not to mention the 2004-09 stretch before his arrival), the Herd's goal was simply to become bowl-eligible. The Herd did that last Saturday with another convincing victory, this time over Middle Tennessee, to reach six wins.
Holliday's first three Herd teams were 5-7, 7-6 and 5-7 - 17-20. If Marshall wins Saturday at FIU, it will reach 17 wins in the last season and a half, plus one game.
Now, nobody talks - hands wringing -- about bowl eligibility. It's become all about the bigger prize(s), and whether the Herd would find a spot in the national rankings this week.
On Sunday afternoon, it happened.
Marshall vaulted into the Amway Coaches Poll at No. 24, sandwiched between Utah and USC. The other five unbeaten in the nation were ranked No. 1-5 (in order, Mississippi State, Florida State, Ole Miss, Baylor and Notre Dame).
Less than an hour after the coaches' poll arrived, the Associated Press poll of media voters put the Herd at No. 25, with those five others with perfect records in the same order as in the coaches' ranking.
The 2014 club is the fourth Herd team to reach the national polls, joining the 1999, 2001 and '02 teams.
The last Top 25 rankings for the Herd came in the final polls of the 2002 season, after Marshall capped an 11-2 season - and quarterback Byron Leftwich's career, with a GMAC Bowl thumping of Louisville.
The Herd finished No. 19 in the USAToday/ESPN coaches' poll and No. 24 in the Associated Press media poll. Marshall had been No. 24 in the coaches' December pre-bowl ranking, but hadn't been in the AP poll since an early September loss at No. 7 Virginia Tech.
Leftwich and Co. started that season No. 19 by AP voters (No. 21 by the coaches) and had risen to No. 16 AP (and 17th by the coaches) before falling to the Hokies.
Until now, Marshall hasn't been in either poll at midseason since 1999, when the Herd ran though the Mid-American Conference and downed BYU in the Motor City Bowl for a 13-0 finish.
In Chad Pennington's senior season, Marshall climbed to No. 15 (both polls) after reaching a 6-0 record in mid-October with a 38-13 triumph over Toledo. That unbeaten, Bob Pruett-coached team finished No. 10 in both polls.
The Herd was ranked for three weeks in the 2001 season also, before losing to Toledo in the MAC title game. That team finished just outside the top 25, leading the "others receiving votes" category at season's end (11-2).
Marshall's appearance in the polls gives Conference USA its first poll-sitter since the final rankings of the 2011 season, when Houston and Southern Miss were in both polls after bowl victories - following the Golden Eagles' upset of the unbeaten (and then No. 7) Cougars in the C-USA title game.
Houston (13-1) finished 14th in the coaches' poll and no. 18 by AP voters, while Southern Miss (12-2) was Nos. 19 (coaches) and 20 (AP).
So, what do the aforementioned ranked Marshall football teams have in common?
Think about it ... Pennington, Leftwich, Cato ... a senior quarterback in 1999, 2002 and 2014.