In the lead-up to the upcoming college football season, Sports Unbiassed is taking a look at the top 20 teams with a chance to win the Access Bowl bid in 2015. You can find the full list of the Top 20, links to other team previews, and read more about the methodology behind the rankings here.
Marshall Thundering Herd
2014 Record: 13-1 (7-1 in C-USA)
Head Coach: Doc Holliday (.615)
Returning Starters: 12/24 (6 OFF/5 DEF/1 SP)
5-Year Recruiting Ranking Composite: 72nd
FIVE POSSIBLE STATEMENT GAMES
- Sept. 6 v. Purdue
- Sept. 12 @ Ohio
- Nov. 7 @ Middle Tennessee
- Nov. 14 v. FIU
- Nov. 27 @ Western Kentucky
WHAT YOU REMEMBER/SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT THE THUNDERING HERD
Marshall boasts one of the most fascinating histories in college football, emerging from I-AA national powerhouse to one of the original BCS Buster candidates of the 14-year existence of that system. Yet what many people probably still equate most with the program is the 1970 tragedy that killed 37 Thundering Herd players, eight members of the coaching staff, and 25 boosters along with the five crew members on a flight back to Huntington from a 17-14 loss at East Carolina, especially given the Hollywood treatment of the story nine years ago:
The reality is that the program built itself back up to prominence, first as a six-time I-AA national finalist between 1987 and 1996 and then during a six-year run upon entering the I-A ranks as a member of the MAC. During that stretch, the Thundering Herd won five of the six straight MAC championship games in which they played between 1997 and 2002. They went undefeated in 1999 and finished top 10 nationally. And now, after several years floundering after the 2005 transition to Conference USA, Marshall has become a stalwart atop the C-USA standings and finished last year as a 13-1 league champ. Only a weak schedule and a double-overtime loss to Western Kentucky prevented the Herd from finally finishing what they started 15 years earlier.
THE KEY REASON FOR HOPE FOR THE THUNDERING HERD IN 2015
Marshall has continued to trend upward over the past few years as Doc Holliday’s recruiting has paid off with 22 wins and two C-USA championship appearances in 2013 and 2014. The hope now for the Thundering Herd is that, despite the loss of 12 starters and over half of the team’s total yardage from 2014, strong recruiting will allow Marshall to reload instead of rebuilding. The team was able to generate a consistent pipeline at the turn of the 21st century, and so we know it is possible to create a dynasty in Huntington.
The Herd have consistently recruited three-star talent in the recent past, making them a sustainable contender in Conference USA. And with at least seven home games to play at the toughest place to win as a road team in the nation — and a possible eighth as host of the conference championship — Marshall will have a decided advantage in most of its games this season. They should have a Power Five victory on their resume this year as well after Purdue comes to Joan C. Edwards Stadium, something that was lacking from the schedule last season.
WHAT COULD COST THE THUNDERING HERD THE ACCESS BOWL SLOT
Marshall has the worst schedule of any Access Bowl contender, making it that much more imperative that they blow out every opponent on their schedule. For some mid-major teams battling for a spot in a major bowl game, their schedule allows for a loss or two as long as they stay competitive and win a conference title. For a team whose best non-conference game is a home matchup against Big Ten punching bag Purdue, a single loss will be just as damning as it was last year.
Marshall returns 81.7 percent of their lettermen, but they bring back less than half of their total offensive yardage and less than 60 percent of the tackles made on defense. The Herd avoid many of the contenders in C-USA West, but it will still be difficult to even get back to the conference title game without a single loss; Doc Holliday’s crew has to play on the road against both Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, their two main competitors for the top spot in the division. With perfection a prerequisite for a Marshall-like schedule to merit Access Bowl consideration, those showdowns against the Blue Raiders and Hilltoppers could take Marshall out of the mix before championship weekend.
OFFERING A POTENTIAL OUTCOME FOR 2015
Winning shouldn’t be the problem for Marshall in 2015; what the Herd will need to do is win always and win big to make a legitimate case for the Access Bowl spot. The home opener against Purdue should end with the first victory over power-conference opposition since taking down Louisville of the former Big East in October 2011. The visit to Oxford to take on Ohio the second weekend should likewise end in victory against a former MAC foe, and the return home to take on FCS Norfolk State will provide opportunity for stat padding. A second MAC road trip to take on Kent State should give Marshall a 4-0 start heading into September
None from among the quintet of Old Dominion, Southern Miss, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, and Charlotte will be favored over the Thundering Herd. And while an upset might still lie in Marshall’s future, none of these five are likely to actually manifest such a result, especially since the only road game among the bunch is a visit to Miami to take on Florida Atlantic. A 9-0 start will have everyone parsing out the statistics to determine whether a new batch of Herd players are the beneficiaries of a paper-thin schedule or a legitimate mid-major contender.
November is where the real challenges begin for Marshall in the upcoming season. A visit to Murfreesboro to take on Middle Tennessee, and the Blue Raiders could spring a surprise on the Herd in the first of several trap games. Returning home to take on FIU on the following Saturday should give no problem to Marshall, especially knowing that the team has a bye weekend ahead of the regular season finale against Western Kentucky on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Just like last year’s thriller, this could once again go down to the wire… and unfortunately for Marshall, this year I predict that WKU will repeat the upset and snatch away the East Division spot in the C-USA championship game. Marshall will still end up in another strong bowl game, and will rebound with another emphatic victory. It will be a hollow 12-1, however, as the Access Bowl slips just out of grasp.
PREDICTED RECORD: 12-1 (7-1 in C-USA)