Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, July 4, 2014 at 7:00 PM
The Thundering Herd of Marshall aren’t just the class of Conference USA this year. Many pundits and ranking systems enter the season showing Marshall as the best team of all the mid-majors. Better than Boise State and Utah State out in the Mountain West. Better than the projected champs of the Mid-American and Sun Belt Conferences.
Marshall is the Preseason National Champion of mid-majors!
Let’s start with the Thundering Herd as we continue our summer series of college football previews with the East Division of Conference USA. We’ll talk about North Texas, Rice, and the rest of the West in our Sunday edition of the NOTEBOOK.
Conference USA “East”
2013 Record: 10-4
2013 Rankings: 12 on offense, 35 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Doc Holliday
Notebook: Rakeem Cato is back at quarterback, in a season where very few quality quarterbacks will be playing in CUSA. You’ll see tomorrow that the top four projected teams in the West all lost their quarterbacks! Marshall beat Maryland last year in the Military Bowl…and has decent experience back on both sides of the ball. The bad news in terms of making a national splash is that the pre-conference schedule is pathetic. A home game against decent Ohio will be the toughest test, and a road game at Akron has a chance to get testy. The media won’t respect this year! You should.
2013 Record: 8-5
2013 Rankings: 66 on offense, 63 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Rick Stockstill
Notebook: You can see that the offense will almost be rebuilding from scratch. The East division is so bad that MTSU still ranks as the team most likely to finish second behind Marshall. Their bowl loss to Navy last year (24-6) when they had more talent suggests trouble ahead in road non-conference games against Minnesota and Memphis.
2013 Record: 6-6
2013 Rankings: 82 on offense, 11 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Charlie Partridge
Notebook: We now come to a string of three rookie head coaches. Charlie Partridge definitely has some talent to work with here. The defense graded out very well nationally last season…though much of that was due to a ball control offense and a soft schedule. But, by CUSA standards, these guys could still make some noise. The Owls lost heartbreakers last year to both Marshall and Rice, the two teams who played for the conference title. Nice sleeper for handicappers, because oddsmakers don’t give the program much respect.
2013 Record: 8-4
2013 Rankings: 30 on offense, 14 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 2 on defense
Head Coach: Jeff Brohm
Notebook: We’re sure you recognize the coach’s name. He used to play quarterback for Louisville. That’s where last year’s WKU coach Bobby Petrino is now after a one-year career salvation stop with the Hilltoppers. Can a former QB rebuild a defense from scratch? That’s the biggest question facing the team entering the 2014 season. A lot of volatility here because Brohm’s an unknown quantity, the defense is a HUGE question mark, and much of last year’s success can probably be attributed to a big time coach leading a small time program.
2013 Record: 2-10
2013 Rankings: 78 on offense, 116 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Bill Clark
Notebook: An awful record last year, and now the team has to find a new quarterback. Very hard to be optimistic here because you know the defense is going to be horrible…and the offense may be limited to occasional big plays from a handful of true athletes. This is either going to be a “fade” or an “Over” team in betting terms.
2013 Record: 8-4 (in lower division)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Bobby Wilder
Notebook: ODU steps up into the big time with high hopes and some results to hang their hat on from last year (a win over Idaho, competitive losses to East Carolina and Pittsburgh). Last year’s “jump” teams did surprisingly well (Texas-San Antonio comes to mind), so pay particular attention here to a potentially slow-moving market. Oddsmakers can only guess in the first month. Read those boxscores and stay a step or two ahead!
2013 Record: 1-11
2013 Rankings: 123 on offense, 94 on defense
Returning Starters: 10 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Ron Turner
Notebook: Well…the good news is that a lot of starters return on offense. The bad news is, that was one HORRIBLE offense! Ron Turner has been overmatched as a coach in most of his recent positions. This is his second season at FIU, and there’s no place to go but up. Soft openers with Bethune-Cookman and Wagner may help the Panthers build some confidence. No reason for optimism until the team sustains decent results vs. real teams.
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Here’s the NOTEBOOK schedule for the next several days, including tomorrow’s CUSA finale...
Sunday: College Football…Conference USA “West” Preview
Monday: MLB Rivalry Preview (either Baltimore/Washington or SF/Oakland)
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…LA Dodgers at Detroit
Wednesday: College Football…Mid-American “East” Preview
Thursday: College Football…Mid-American “West” Preview
We hope you had a great celebration Friday. The holiday weekend fireworks are just beginning! Enjoy the ultimate blast with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!