Even though it's hard to imagine the Herd challenging for the C-USA laurels, this is a program on the rise.
By: Athlon Sports | 6/3/11, 5:13 PM EDT
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C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Doc Holliday, 5-7 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill Legg, Tony Peterson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Rippon
Marshall wasn’t exactly a juggernaut offensively last year, averaging only 20.8 points per game, but the Thundering Herd might actually have some trouble matching that total this season, since they will be without two-year starting quarterback Brian Anderson and four of last year’s top five receivers.
Marshall does welcome back last year’s three top rushers, although none topped 350 yards, and the team averaged just 3.4 yards per carry while producing only seven rushing TDs. Martin Ward (345 yards), Andre Booker (264) and Tron Martinez (262) will all get the chance to become the featured back, but more than likely they will share the work again. If Marshall can make a sizeable improvement over last year’s meager 1,166 yards rushing, it will help the offense considerably.
With Anderson gone, sophomores Eddie Sullivan and A.J. Graham will vie for the starting gig under center. Sullivan completed just 6-of-24 passes last year, while Graham redshirted. Sullivan has decent mobility, and Graham is a better athlete and stands taller (6'4") in the pocket.
Whoever wins the quarterback job — and Graham had the edge coming out of spring drills — will throw to Antavious Wilson and Troy Evans, while a variety of youngsters, including true freshmen Conelius Jones and Craig Wilkins, vie for time in the Marshall spread attack that often features four and five receivers. The line loses two starters from last year but returns tackle Ryan Tillman, guard/tackle C.J. Wood and tackle Corey Tenney.
The Thundering Herd had a pretty good season on defense last year and held three of their final five opponents under 18 points. Although top tackler Mario Harvey is gone, plenty of talent returns, beginning with senior end Vinny Curry, who had 12 sacks last year and is one of the most productive defensive players in Conference USA. The rest of the defensive line is relatively young but has potential, particularly end Trevor Black and tackle Brandon Bullock.
With Harvey gone, expect senior Kellen Harris to move to the weak-side spot, while savvy senior Tyson Gale handles the middle and junior Devin Arrington works the strong side. Expect to see true freshman Armonze Daniel early on.
Safety Omar Brown picked off three passes last season should challenge for all-conference honors this year. Marshall's secondary suffered a blow when safety Donald Brown was dismissed from the team in July. The corners should belong to sophomores Monterius Lovett and Darryl Roberts.
This area needs help. Kicker Tyler Warner made only 5-of-8 field goal tries last year, and punter Kase Whitehead averaged a pedestrian 40.1 yards and had two boots blocked. Evans and Booker are solid return men.
Even though it’s hard to imagine the Herd challenging for C-USA laurels, this is a program on the rise. Marshall played 28 true or redshirt freshmen last year and won four of its last five games. Coach Doc Holliday used his Florida connections to grab one of the top recruiting classes in the league, so the future is bright.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns this season, especially with a non-conference schedule that includes West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Louisville. The Herd’s offense needs Graham or Sullivan to become a reliable signal-caller, and the ground game has to wake up. Defensively, Marshall should be in good shape, but some more playmakers have to emerge from a talented group of youngsters.