Inside Marshall Sports

The 2017 season, according to yours truly

Hello, Thundering Herd fans!

Here in the longest-ever college football preseason, it’s time to break the monotony with the season prediction. This is likely the only one you get out of Charleston, since our Mitch Vingle was moved from lead columnist to WVU beat writer.

With the notable exception of last year, Vingle was perennially more accurate on Marshall predictions than he was on the Mountaineers. Now, it’s on me.

The first thing you need to know: Some of this is not going to make sense. Many things in life — and college football — do not make sense, so why should this? There will be several irrational gut hunches thrown into this 12-game schedule.

Buckle up …

Sept. 2, home vs. Miami (Ohio)

Last year, the RedHawks served as a reminder that college football seasons are long and teams can be very different at the end. They started 0-6, kept the faith and won the next six before falling to Mississippi State in a close bowl game. They left the season in VERY good shape. They can win the Mid-American Conference.

As mentioned, Herd fans are making a huge emotional investment in this game, and why shouldn’t they? (a) It’s time to forget 3-9, (b) losing to MAC teams is unacceptable, (c) losing to Miami is unacceptable and (d) if the Herd wants to show it can compete in Conference USA, it needs to win this game.

The first big question is this: Who is the better QB in this game, Gus Ragland or Chase Litton? Ragland took over the starting spot in Game 7 last year and three for 1,537 yards with 17 touchdowns and ONE interception.

The second big question is this: Can the Herd, with its newer cast of characters, cope with Miami’s experience? The RedHawks return 17 starters.

My fear: The suspension of MLB Juwon Young is going to hurt in this game more than any. This RedHawk team is picked barely below Ohio in the MAC East.

MIAMI 31, MARSHALL 24

Sept. 9, at North Carolina State

No need to get scientific on this one: Herd sports info guy Jason’s Corriher’s alma mater is fielding a football team this year.

The Wolfpack is going to be good.

How good can you be when you’re stuck in the ACC’s Whatever Division with Florida State, Clemson and Louisville? Plenty good! Especially since the Pack avoids Miami and Virginia Tech in cross-division play.

Carter-Finley Stadium is not partially named after Ryan Finley, but the junior is plenty competent — 3,059 yards, 18 TDs, 8 picks last year. His ability is not as much questioned as his comparison to Pack greats Phillip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Mike Glennon and Jacoby Brissett. The Wolfpack brings one of its better defensive lines.

MU’s secondary needs its roller skates for this one. The offensive line needs Popeye’s spinach.

N.C. STATE 42, MARSHALL 17

Sept. 16, home vs. Kent State

At 0-2, the wailing among the Herd faithful is hitting near full volume. Something positive has to happen with this Herd team.
That positive will come in the form of the Golden Flashes. Paul Haynes is in his 5th season in northeast Ohio and he has a 12-35 record to show for it — and a last-place pick in the MAC media poll.

To make matters worse, the Flashes had a death in a June workout, and it was discovered strength coach Ross Bowsher falsified his credentials.

Former running back Nick Holley was pressed into QB duty and has been there since. He’ll need his wheels against an angry Herd defense.

MARSHALL 45, KENT STATE 21

Sept. 30, at Cincinnati

Herd fans will find a much-improved Nippert Stadium, but the home team fell on unexpectedly hard times last  year. After a 4-8 season, Tommy Tuberville is out and Luke Fickell is in.

The former Ohio State star seems to be a solid hire who will return the Bearcats to American Athletic Conference contention, but how quickly can this team turn it around? The most pressing question comes at QB: Who will start, Hayden Moore or Ross Trail?

My guess: The Bearcats can contend in the AAC after struggling in September. Watch the September 16 game at Miami, when the Victory Bell is in jeopardy of heading north for the first time in 11 years.

Two weeks later, the Herd will rise up and compound matters with a big defensive effort and, dare we say it, a late field goal.

Kaare Vedvik, it’s all on you.

MARSHALL 14, CINCINNATI 13

Oct. 7, at Charlotte

With the season suddenly perked up, it’s time for the Herd to avenge an embarrassing loss. I like Hasaan Klugh at QB, but the 49ers’ defense is going to have a hard time not taking a step back.

The Herd will have two 100-yard rushers, Litton will throw for a few touchdowns and the Herd will pull even in its North Carolina swing.

MARSHALL 37, CHARLOTTE 13

Oct. 14, home vs. Old Dominion

The Monarchs made a mockery of the preseason prognostications that had them sixth place in the East. The world, me included, is pretty sure they don’t take a major step back.

Ray Lawry returns in the backfield, running behind a veteran line with 77 career starts. The defense returns my two favorite names, defensive end Bunmi Rotimi and “stud” end Oshane Ximines. To look at this, the Monarchs might finish close to their breakthrough 10-3 of last year.

But I don’t know about their QB situation. Sophomore Blake LaRussa, a former walk-on, is the man whom is reported to be a near-lock to start. (I steadfastly maintain QBs should never walk on at a major-college program.) There are three backups, but all are very, very green.

Lawry gets his 150 in this game; that’s for certain. But the Herd will have a much, much better offensive day than it had last year in Norfolk, and this team usually plays well on homecoming — MU even won that game last year!

Call it another curveball if you wish …

MARSHALL 28, OLD DOMINION 24

Oct. 20, at Middle Tennessee

The Herd received a reprieve from Brent Stockstill and pounded the Blue Raiders 42-14 last year. He was injured, but let’s not minimize that the 28-0 second half was Marshall’s best performance of the season by far by far by far. MTSU receiver Richie James had 12 catches for 122 yards, but that was inconsequential.

Barring injury, the Herd will get the Stockstill-James combo full-force. The Raiders aren’t necessarily defensive juggernauts, but they return all three starting linebackers and several others.

But the two-game history in Murfreesboro says Marshall will hang for at least 3.998 quarters. Yeah, I see you wincing about now.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE 41, MARSHALL 38

Oct. 26, home vs. Florida International

I’m still not using “FIU” on first reference, and I’m still not giving QB Alex McGough a lot of respect. RB Alex Gardner? Different story.

The Panthers seem to have a bright future, but they always have a bright future. But they haven’t had a bright present since T.Y. Hilton played there, and that’s why Butch Davis was brought out of coaching exile. The good feeling in Miami will have abated by late October, however.

The Herd will go to 5-3, a game away from bowl eligibility …

MARSHALL 42, FIU 13

Nov. 3, at Florida Atlantic

Ah, the land of Lane Kiffin, the new pied piper of troubled transfers. Perhaps I can persuade our graphics editor to help illustrate where these players come from, which are playing now and which are sitting out their transfer year. The backgrounds of some of these guys combine to redefine the term “outlaw program.”

But let’s leave the morality question for another day. My question: Who will win the Owls’ game-week practice, the starters or the scout team?

I bring one of my theories into play with this team: In most cases, the more a player changes schools/settings, the more he loses ability and production. I look back on 15 years of covering Marshall football and basketball, and I can’t think of many cases of rebuttal, save for the Jon Elmore Exception.

Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles (coming from Baylor, no further comment) will bring an uptempo spread attack to keep defenses on their heels, but quarterback is a question. De’Andre Johnson is the conventional guess at the starter, but reports out of Boca Raton say he hasn’t separated from Jason Driskel and Daniel Parr.

Marshall is 4-0 against the Owls, but haven’t run them off the field. This is a game the Herd fumbles away …

FAU 21, MARSHALL 20

Nov. 11, home vs. Western Kentucky

After botching the easiest chance at the sixth game, things slide south in a hurry. The Herd has yet to keep the Hilltoppers under 49 points, and probably won’t do it against Mike White, Nicarius Fanta, Kylen Towner and all the receivers who will magically develop from obscurity. The new all-name teamer is one: Lucky Jackson.

I can assure you Marshall will give these guys a better game than it did last year, but that isn’t exactly a bold prediction. This is more jarring: I am declaring WKU to be the …

… Please put down your firearms …

The Modern-Day Furman.

WKU 55, MARSHALL 28

Nov. 18, at Texas-San Antonio

I must recognize Dalton Sturm as another former walk-on QB who has become a starter. I still think QB is the worst position to try to walk on in major-college football.

He has his top 4 receivers back and a more experienced offensive line. Defensively, the Roadrunners are split near-evenly between sophomores and underclassmen, but most are experienced. That unit wasn’t that bad last year (gave up 23 to Texas A&M, for example), and will be better this time around.

Then there’s the Texas thing. Marshall beat the “hex” in 2012 at Rice, but stunk up the atmosphere in the second half last year at North Texas. That was one of the most painful losses, and this game will sting just as much.

UTSA 42, MARSHALL 17

Nov. 25, home vs. Southern Mississippi

Things are painful in Herd-land about now. The team has slipped from 5-3 to 5-6, and Southern Miss is embroiled in a three-team race for the West Division title. Just to thicken the plot, UTSA and Louisiana Tech battle on the same day.

There is much to like about these Golden Eagles, particularly running back Ito Smith and wide receiver Allenzae Staggers. Defensively, they’ll have trouble improving on their 325 total yards per game performance.

In light of how the Herd finished the 2016 season, this is a major character check. MU could be a double-digit home doggie in this one.

For some reason, the 2011 swim-or-drown game against East Carolina comes to mind. Aaron Dobson isn’t here to reenact his one-handed, back-handed catch, but the Herd does have a corps of receivers that can pull out a game or two.

Like this one. In the most illogical pick of the season …

MARSHALL 21, SOUTHERN MISS 20

The Herd will go to a bowl game and win, because that’s what this program does. That brings the season to a 7-6 close, which may or may not silence the wolves.

The predicted record may be a copout, but the road to get there is almost goofy. Then again, consult the 2011 season for a parallel.

Enjoy the season!