Inside Marshall Sports

Conference USA notebook

Before going into this, keep in mind the Alcorn State-Florida International game, such as it is, is being played/was played Friday night in Birmingham. Kudos to UAB for putting up FIU’s athletic teams on short notice.

In the cruelest of coincidences, FIU opens its Conference USA season Sept. 23 with … Rice.

Here’s your weekend, in order of (my) interest, with picks against the point spread:

MISSISSIPPI STATE (1-0) at LOUISIANA TECH (1-0), 7 p.m.

TV: CBS Sports Network

Don’t look now, but Skip Holtz’s Bulldogs are 15-1 in their last 16 games, and they have one of their biggest games ever in Joe Aillet Stadium. MSU came to Ruston in 2008, and the then-WAC member Tech won 22-24.

Tech survived a scare from Northwestern State, with two turnovers allowing the FCS school to tie the game at 24 early in the fourth quarter. But with QB J’Mar Smith leading the way, Tech scored the next four TDs to win 52-24.

Smith went 18 of 35 for 276 yards and rushed for 72 more. He find things a little tougher this time around.

Line: Mississippi State by 9.5. MISSISSIPPI STATE.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (1-0) at ILLINOIS (1-0), 8 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network

I’m not getting worked up about the Hilltoppers beating Eastern Kentucky by just 31-17. Looks like the Tops took a 17-0 lead and got complacent, while the Colonels pounded some Red Bull at halftime. It happens.

The Fighting Illini are 24-4 in August/September home games since 2007.  Actually, that’s lousy for a Big Ten program.

Line: WKU by 7. WKU.

TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO (0-0) at BAYLOR (0-1), 8 p.m.

Television: Fox Sports Networks

This is the Roadrunners’ season opener after their game against Houston was washed out by Harvey. This ultimately will do UTSA in, I am afraid.

Interesting note: Former Arizona QB Anu Solomon, who beat UTSA in two tough games, now starts for Baylor.

Line: Baylor by 16.5. BAYLOR.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE (0-1) at SYRACUSE (1-0), 3:30 p.m.

TV: ACC Network/ESPN3

If I must. The Blue Raiders came up smaller than small last week in a 28-6 loss to Vanderbilt. Brent Stockstill and Co. ended its first two possessions with an interception and a turnover on downs on the Vandy side of the field, and things went downhill form there.

Stockstill hit the deck five times, so there’s improvement needed on the pass-blocking front. I’m not sold on anybody who plays Central Connecticut State, though, and I’m going in on the Blue Raiders again.

I guess.

Line: Syracuse by 10. MTSU.

ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM (1-0) at BALL STATE (0-1), 3 p.m.

TV: ESPN3

This game gets the “yuck” tag any other year, but you want to see just where the Blazers are against one of the MAC’s doormats. I’m countin’ on ya, Blazers.

Line: Ball State by 14. UAB.

OLD DOMINION (1-0) at MASSACHUSETTS (0-2), 3:30 p.m.

TV: none

This game gets the “yuck” tag any other year, but you want to see just where the Blazers are against one of the MAC’s doormats. I’m countin’ on ya, Blazers.

I want to see where the younger Monarchs are against a team that just loss to Coastal Carolina (hail to Mickey Matthews). Ray Lawry has 39 career rushing TDs, and will pick up a few more.

Line: ODU by 4. ODU.

NORTH TEXAS (1-0) at SOUTHERN METHODIST (1-0), 7 p.m.

TV: ESPN3

Ah, the Metroplex battle between the free-spending private school and the large-enrollment state school. The Mean Green racked up a school-record 668 total yards last week, which could only mean it played Lamar.

SMU roughed up Stephen F. Austin, so this is a de facto opener.

Line: SMU by 13.5. SMU.

RICE (0-1) at TEXAS-EL PASO (0-1), 8 p.m.

TV: CUSA TV

Coming off an open week, the Owls made it back to campus and what they discovered wasn’t pretty — 12 players lost everything, 26 vehicles were flooded.

The Owls are road-tripping to Australia, but this is 750 miles in that direction. UTEP has a brawny offensive line, if nothing else.

LINE: UTEP by 1.5. UTEP.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC (0-1) at WISCONSIN (1-0), noon

TV: Big Ten Network

If you’re going to evacuate from Irma, I recommend Madison, Wisconsin. The Owls are going to need some cheese and brews after this one.

Line: Wisconsin by 32. WISCONSIN.

CHARLOTTE (0-1) at (19) KANSAS STATE (1-0), noon

TV: Fox Sports Networks

No. 2 evacuation destination: Manhattan, Kansas. Aggieville is a pretty neat place.

Line: Kansas State by 35. KANSAS STATE.

FBS on FCS crime:

SOUTHERN (1-0) at SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (0-1), 7 p.m.


TV: Stadium on Facebook

Last week: 5-2

Season: 5-2

Hello Herd fans!

It’s off to Raleigh this weekend, and I’m afraid the good feeling over beating Miami (Ohio) will abate.

This won’t be overanalyzed. N.C. State isn’t Alabama, but should enjoy an advantage of some degree in every category, except maybe special teams. And intangibles fall the Wolfpack’s way — these guys should be mad as hell and really dialed in after booting one last week to an inferior South Carolina team.

It should still be interesting to see which Herd players rise to the challenge. A good start, as outlined in my game story for Saturday morning, could make this more competitive than the betting line (24) indicates.

But for those who are so inclined, stay away from that line and bet something else …

N.C. STATE 34, MARSHALL 10

Notebook from Miami game

HUNTINGTON — He missed an open receiver here and there Saturday night in Marshall’s 31-26 win over Miami (Ohio), but quarterback Chase Litton was especially upset over his interception late in the first half.

After Omari Cobb recovered a fumble and returned it 12 yards to the Miami 41-yard line, Litton threw an incompletion then hit three straight for 6, 4 and 11 yards. From the Miami 20, he threw another incompletion, then he went for a touchdown.

That could have given the Thundering Herd a nice 28-13 lead, but Miami’s Joshua Allen out jumped the smaller Nick Mathews to pick it off. Miami took a knee and went to the locker room down 21-13.

“The turnover before the half is something a freshman would do,” Litton said. “Threw a 50-50 ball in a situation where I shouldn’t have done it. I missed Trey [Rodriguez] on the wheel route. I’ve got to improve for this team.

“We’re happy as hell for this win, the way the defense played, the way the special teams played, but we’ve the best D-line in the country [at North Carolina State] and we’re going into their house next week; we’ve got some big-time games ahead of us.
“If we’re going to improve, I’ve got to improve.”

He finished 20 of 30 for 208 yards and a touchdown, a 22-yarder to Tyre Brady in the second quarter. His long was 49 yards to Willie Johnson, and his NCAA passer rating was a lukewarm 129.24.

Johnson led in receiving with seven catches for 88 yards. His 49-yarder put Marshall on the Miami 5, setting up a short field goal that gave the Herd a critical two-score lead, 31-20 with 11:31 left.

On the other hand, Johnson’s fumble set up a Miami touchdown, one that gave the RedHawks their only lead at 10-7. Heath Harding returned that fumble 35 yards to the Marshall 3.

“He made a good play; he hit the ball out,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think it was a fumble, but when I saw it on replay, I knew it was a fumble. I just put it in the past and didn’t let it affect my game.”

********

Cornerback Chris Jackson returned an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter, but he credits a fellow defensive back for delivering the victory.

Later in the third quarter, safety C.J. Reavis was ejected for a targeting foul, and was ejected. Malik Gant, a sophomore with six career tackles, entered and played the rest of the game, or most of it, alongside Brandon Drayton.

Miami had the ball at the 50, first and 5, when Gus Ragland threw down the sideline for James Gardner. The pass connected, but Gant knocked it away.

“I don’t know if a lot of people realize this,” Jackson said, “but at the end of the game, when [No.] 81 caught the ball, Malik came and hit him, and he dropped it when Malik hit him. So Malik really made a play to win the game.”

Marshall will need more of Gant next week. Barring a successful appeal, Reavis will have to sit out the first half next week at N.C. State.

“We’ll see it. If we don’t feel if it’s a good call, we’ll call Gerald [Austin, Conference USA supervisor of officials],” Holliday said. “He’ll evaluate it and he’ll tell us what it is.

Drayton led the Herd with 12 tackles.

********

Marshall’s defense gave up 429 total yards, but that might be misleading. The Herd gave up 5.0 yards per game, or 4.99 if rounded to the next decimal point. The Herd gave up fewer than 5 yards per play just twice last year, against Middle Tennessee and Morgan State. MU yielded 131 rushing yards, a number it bested just twice last years, against the same two teams.

Litton’s career yardage increased to 5,425, raising him into Marshall’s all-time top 10. His TD pass was his 48th, and he remains seventh. Ryan Yurachek caught only one pass for 8 yards, but it extended his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 29.

Grades for Miami game

OFFENSE: C

Didn’t come close to running for 100 yards (again), turned it over twice and managed just one offensive touchdown (albeit on an impressive 98-yard drive) and a field goal. Saw something out of Willie Johnson (despite a fumble) and Tyree Brady, and then there’s this: only one sack given up. Litton wasn’t hassled that much.

DEFENSE: B+

Gave up 429 total yards, but that came on 86 plays. Shoot, when you score three “Beamerball” touchdowns, you might not have the ball as often, right? Gave up three fourth-down conversions that led to TDs, but held the RedHawks to two field goals, one of 27 yards — those are victories for your defense in college football. And then there is the defensive touchdown.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Perhaps I should overlook Keion Davis stepping out on the 2 and throw a “plus” on this. 2 kickoff return TDs, huge punts, great kickoffs and kickoff coverage, one no-doubt field goal. What more do you want?

QUARTERBACKING: C+

Chase Litton himself is questioning that interception he threw in the end zone near the end of the first half. Otherwise, he was efficient at times, generally unspectacular.

COACHING: A

I am awarding this to the strength program, folks. And then there’s this: Doc. Opted. To. Receive. The. Opening. Kickoff.

OVERALL: B

This won’t fly next week at North Carolina State, but that wasn’t the concern. This was a must, must, must-win opener and the Herd pulled it off. Much to work on, for sure.

Marshall-Miami game prediction

Hello, Herd fans!

As game day FINALLY approaches, I can tell you who is going to play for this team, something of which I was uncertain last December. I cannot tell you how well this team will play, though.

Elsewhere in this blog list, I called for an unconventional 6-6, with some strange results.

I am surprised that Marshall is a 2.5-point favorite. I figured Miami would be a 4- to 7-point favorite. Hmmmmmmm …

Afew things about this Miami team keep coming back to me. A comparison of QB Gus Ragland to Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton is disturbing — as you’ll recall, Tettleton terrorized the Thundering Herd at times.

Another disturbing item is Miami’s experience. Oh, boy, this team is loaded with guys who have really taken their lumps, finally learned how to win and kind of like it. By comparison, Marshall is pretty young and some are 3-9 in a green jersey.

This Marshall team is faster all round the field. Kaare Vedvik is the answer to field-goal woes, I think. The running back committee may be narrowed, to the Herd’s benefit. Trey Rodriguez can scoot.

Chase Litton? His experience at the Manning Passing Academy has to help, but let’s see if he has “it” again, because he surely lost “it” at times last year.

You could say this is a battle of Miami’s experience vs. Marshall’s talent, but I’m not signing off on the latter just yet. After last year’s disaster, I have to see something tangible against another team.

Some consider this a must-win, and they will be grumbling …

MIAMI 31, MARSHALL 24

Hello, Herd fans!

Technically, it’s the second weekend of the C-USA season, as Rice traveled to Australia last week and was de-feathered by Stanford 62-7. To make matters worse, the Owls had to forgo landing at Houston and set up shop at Texas Christian University. Fortunately, the Owls the Rice University have a week to sort out matters.

Regrettably, Texas-San Antonio’s home game with the Houston Cougars has been postponed. That will be a tough rescheduling — the next open weekend for both is December 9. (Both teams have a fair shot at their league championship games, on the weekend of Dec. 2.

As I did last year, I will present games involving C-USA teams, in order of interest, with my prediction against the point spread.

KENTUCKY (0-0) at SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (0-0), 4 p.m. Saturday
TV: CBS Sports Network

Last Meeting: Southern Miss 44, at Kentucky 35 (Sept. 3, 2016)

As may remember, the Golden Eagles scored 34 unanswered points to swamp the Wildcats 44-35 last year in Lexington. The Eagles held a 295-56 advantage in total yards after the second half.

Ito Smith, who has 16 100-yard games in his career, is the top returning rusher in the league (1,321 yards), while Allenzae Staggers owns five 200-yard receiving game, including a school-record 292-yard effort (on just six passes) against Rice.

It would be just like me to pick against Kentucky, and guess what? As a double-digit favorite, that’s an easy call.

Line: Kentucky by 10.5. SOUTHERN MISS

ALABAMA A&M (0-0) at ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM (0-0), 3:30 p.m. Saturday
TV:
Stadium

Trivia: I was the last writer to leave the Legion Field pressbox after a UAB game — and I witnessed the UAB logos getting scrubbed off the field. A man from Birmingham Parks & Rec told me they were prepping for a movie shoot, but I don’t recall a stinkin’ movie since.

It’s a miracle to me that coach Bill Clark and 14 players have returned from the 2014 Blazers. The roster features 16 redshirt seniors, 43 redshirt juniors, 5 juniors, 19 redshirt sophomores, 29 redshirt freshmen and 10 true freshmen.

“There is going to be relief once the ball is kicked off, when that game is over we’ll be getting ready for game two,” Clark said.
“What I don’t want us to lose is how important this is for our school and our community. Hopefully our community feels that sense of, we need you, we need you week three and every week after that.”
As a practical matter, this game is a barometer on whether the Blazers will be 130th in the nation, or if they will be better. Alabama A&M is coming off a 4-7 season, and the Blazers need to blast them off the field.
Line: None. UAB

VANDERBILT (0-0) at MIDDLE TENNESSEE (0-0),  8 p.m. Saturday
TV: CBS Sports Network

Vandy won 27-24 in this neighborly semi-rivalry, but the Brent Stockstill-to-Richie James combo has grown fearsome. Stockstill threw for 399 yards in last year’s game, with James catching 14 for 183. Alas, Vandy scored on three short-field drives to lead 33-17 at halftime.

In two football trips, I have been unimpressed with MTSU’s fan base, but blue should be the color of the day at Floyd Stadium. This will be a fun game.

Line: Vandy by 3.5. MTSU
NAVY (0-0) at FLORIDA ATLANTIC (0-0), 8 p.m. Friday
TV: ESPNU

The Midshipmen get a little shore leave in Boca Raton, and have heard about the dawning of the Lane Kiffin era. The game is expected to be a near-sellout, at the least.

Kiffin has a few offensive tools at his disposal, such as 1,000-yard rusher Devin Singletary and quarterback … quarterback … somebody or somebodies, I guess. They may score some points, but Navy eventually gets the ball.

The Middies ran for 310 yards per game, and their triple option will send the Owls’ defense burrowing for answers. I look for Navy to rush for 450-plus.

LINE: Navy by 9.5. OH, MY GOSH, TAKE NAVY

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (0-0) at CENTRAL FLORIDA (0-0), 6 p.m. Thursday
TV: CBS Sports Network

FIU returning nine starters on defense impresses more a lot more than Butch Davis being the new coach. Last year, FIU throttled Marshall in the second half of an energizing win in Miami.

Davis hasn’t coached since 2010, but brought in experience coordinators Brent Guy (defense) and Rich Skrosky (offense). If a head coach brings in good people for his staff, he’s won half the battle.

The Panthers beat UCF 15-14 in 2015, but those Knights were awful. These Knights are not.

Line: UCF by 17. UCF

CHARLOTTE (0-0) at EASTERN MICHIGAN (0-0), 6:30 p.m. Friday
TV: ESPN3

Did you remember EMU played in a bowl game? Did you remember Charlotte won four, including one at … never mind.

In their fifth year, the 49ers may take a step down after the loss of nose tackle Larry Ogunjobi and other defenders. Hasaan Klugh is a veteran QB now, but there are questions all around him. The turnover margin last year was plus-8, which brings the question: How much was opportunistic defense and how much was luck?

Line: Eastern Michigan by 14. EMU

TEXAS-EL PASO (0-0) at OKLAHOMA (0-0), 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Guard Will Hernandez became the first Miner offensive lineman to earn All-American honors, and was named Pro Football Focus Protector of the Year among all FBS linemen. Hernandez is an AP preseason All-American selection this year, and is emblematic of Sean Kugler’s run-heavy emphasis.

Whether Hernandez has a good line around him is up in the air, as is the question of a running back to replace Aaron Jones. And Oklahoma eventually gets the ball, so …

Kugler is reportedly on the hot seat in El Paso, but it would be unfair to judge on this game

Line: Oklahoma by 43. UTEP … I think, I think.

Other FBS on FCS crime (right?):
ALBANY (0-0) at OLD DOMINION (0-0), 6 p.m. Saturday
TV: ESPN3

EASTERN KENTUCKY (0-0) at WESTERN KENTUCKY (0-0), 7 p.m. Saturday
TV: FloSports

LAMAR (0-0) at NORTH TEXAS (0-0), 7 p.m. Saturday
TV: ESPN3

NORTHWESTERN STATE (0-0) at LOUISIANA TECH (0-0), 7 p.m. Saturday
TV: ESPN3

Starting lineup, compared to post-spring

After spring practice, I took a swing at a post-spring lineup. I will compare it with the lineup that was just released:

OFFENSE

QB    14    Chase Litton*    6-6    223    Jr.
RB    24    Keion Davis    6-1    214    Jr. (TREY RODRIGUEZ)
WR    8    Tyre Brady    6-3    206    Jr.
WR    87    Nick Mathews    5-10    176    Jr. (MARCEL WILLIAMS)
WR    3    Willie Johnson    6-0    171    Jr.
TE    85    Ryan Yurachek*    6-3    239    Sr.
LT    67    Sandley Jean-Felix    6-5    317    Sr.
LG    58    Jordan Dowrey*    6-1    282    Jr.
C    61    Levi Brown*    6-4    296    So.
RG    76    Nate Devers*    6-3    292    Jr.
RT    71    Tarik Adams    6-3    277    Fr.

DEFENSE
DE    90    Damien Dozier    6-4    205    So. (MARQUIS COUCH)
DT    91    Ryan Bee*    6-7    267    Jr.
DT    54    Nyquan Harris*    6-2    307    Jr.
DE    44    Blake Keller*    6-2    240    Sr.
LB    32    Artis Johnson    6-1    211    Jr.
LB    4    Juwon Young    6-2    247    Jr. (SUSPENDED, REPLACED BY FRANKIE HERNANDEZ
LB    37    Chase Hancock*    6-2    220    Jr.
CB    3    Chris Jackson*    6-0    176    So.
CB    11    Rodney Allen    5-11    190    Sr. (JAYLON MCCLAIN-SAPP)
S    1    C.J. Reavis*    6-1    215    Sr.
S    14    Kendall Gant*    6-3    204    Sr. (BRANDON DRAYTON)

SPECIAL TEAMS
K    —    Cole Phillips    6-1    200    Fr. (KAARE VEDVIK)
P    16    Kaare Vedvik*    6-4    209    Sr.

** 7 changes counting MLB, with all but Dozier on 2nd string.

 

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!

Position roundup: Which ones have improved?

After 2 1/2 weeks — the public session, in other words — here is my semi-educated observation on each position group. These all assume the team hit some level of bottom at all positions by the end of the season because, ahem, it was like that.

Without further adieu:

QUARTERBACK: Improved … I think, I think, I think

The installation of Todd Goebbel as QB coach may be head coach Doc Holliday’s best move of the offseason. Goebbel’s knowledge and positive influence should rub off on Chase Litton. Let’s just see how well Litton reads and throws on target.

The Herd will be in better shape if Litton goes down. If Gaines has to go in, look for the Herd to actually run an offense put a lot of confidence in him and tailor the strategy to fit his talents. Isaiah Green isn’t shabby, either.

RUNNING BACK: Improved.

Trey Rodriguez is the real deal, at least in relation to last year’s committee. Tyler King was impressive before his recent injury, and Keion Davis has been running as if his job depends on it, because it does. Not sure if Anthony Anderson can re-enter the picture, but handicapping a Herd RB rotation is a hazardous exercise.

WIDE RECEIVER: Improved.

So Michael Clark caught a touchdown pass for the Packers recently. Go ahead and name the quarterback on that play.

I like Tyre Brady. I like Marcel Williams a lot. Need to see more out of Darian Owens. Willie Johnson is fast. Hyleck Foster is catching the ball, much unlike his early career. Nick Mathews is slick and should be ready, if not now than later in the season.

And these guys actually separate from defenders, I believe. Can’t get anything but better.

TIGHT END: Was good to begin with.

Will Ryan Yurachek get more than 28 catches this year? That was a travesty. If that figure doubles, I think you’ll like the result.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Inconclusive.

This unit was gassed, decimated and beat up by the time it took the field against Western Kentucky, so things had to improve. The returning quintet — four current starters and A.J. Addison — were healthy and got through the spring and summer in good shape. At times, the first unit has been very good, but that begs, the question: How good is the defensive front?

The second O-line is awfully young, save for Addison. One or two of these redshirt freshmen, in addition to starting RT Tarik Adams, will be called upon to deliver a critical midseason effort.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Somewhat pessimistic.

Maybe I need to look closer this coming week, but nothing jumps out from the front four. If you remember, run defense was brutally bad a year ago.

LINEBACKERS: Much better.

Juwon Young’s September absence will hurt, no two ways about it. If you see the Herd start 1-3 and then go 6-2 in conference play, you may see a correlation.

But Artis Johnson is a fine addition, Chase Hancock may be physically ready to stand out and then there is the wild card … yes, JaQuan Yulee. This unit may be very, very good by mid-October.

SECONDARY: Better.

You can do worse than C.J. Reavis, Brandon Drayton, Kendall Gant and Malik Gant at the safety positions. Reavis, the veteran, and the youngster Drayton were paired late last week, and they look solid.

At the corners, last year’s top three are back — Rodney Allen, Chris Jackson and Jaylon McClain-Sapp, all a year older. Allen and Jackson are a year wiser, but I’m not sure about McClain-Sapp. He has been penalty-prone (again) this month. Kereon Merrell may be up to speed by midseason, as jucos can be.

KICKERS: Better.

Kaare Vedvik could be the FG/punt man, and he has really come on as the former. The Herd has lost two games on failed field goals in the last two years, and needs to steal one this year. So far, this is your man.

SPECIAL TEAMS, IN GENERAL: Better.

With Willie Johnson back for kickoff returns and Trey Rodriguez available in both return disciplines, the Herd could once again win after a morale-boosting long runback. The infusion of athletes will restore coverage, which turned disastrous late in the season.

With that, I’ll spend the next week or so trying to figure out how this team will do. Brace yourselves accordingly.

 

Scrimmage observations, August 12

Hello, Herd fans:

Here for the 6 p.m. scrimmage and last public practice of the month. I won’t blog in this format after today.

And no, you’re not getting a PxP of today’s festivities.

First off, Cole Phillips is getting his first kicks I have seen (I was not here Friday). Hit from 53, despite getting under the ball too much. Looking a little like my golf shots, though not as dramatic. From 55 … one badly hit, another pulled left but long enough. We’re agreeing that he needs to concentrate on shorter kicks for now. Remember, he was out for several days.

First defense about the same, though Drayton and Kendall Gant are the safeties. … On offense, Hyleck Foster on outside, Marcel Williams in slot, Tyre Brady as usual at X. … Appears Nick Mathews is sidelined tonight.

Not much action from the ones today — waiting to hear the “we know what he can do” line — so the twos and two-pluses are getting a lot of work. That includes QBs Xavier Gaines and Isaiah Green. So far the best offensive play has been Litton-to-Brady for 19 yards. Several sacks on the reserve units.

Brenden Knox runs for 28 in reserves, then Litton hits Marcel Williams for 22 when ones come out from their own 3-yard line. I kind of like Williams …

I am reminded Ryan Bee is also out today.

Tyler King and Knox have scored in red-zone drills. Knox has had a pretty good day, really the first time I have noticed him this month. … Amareto Curraj pushes a field-goal attempt from 43 yards right, his second miss of the day. Kaare Vedvik has been perfect. …

There hasn’t been a turnover today, but two close calls — Rodney Allen dropped a pick and Knox just recovered his fumble.