High hopes in Herd land
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall begins coach Doc Holliday's fourth season with more national attention than ever.
The Thundering Herd was picked second and earned two first-place votes in the East Division in Conference USA's preseason poll, is No. 40 out of 125 in USA Today's team-by-team countdown to the college football season and several MU players have been named to national awards watch lists.
"I'm excited about the season,'' said Holiday, who addressed the media Monday for the first time this summer ahead of Monday's opening of preseason camp. "I enjoy high expectations. I don't want to be anywhere where expectations aren't extremely high.
"I think I understand that expectations and potential mean absolutely nothing. You've got to produce on the field. There's a lot of work to do and we'll make sure [the players] understand that expectations that are out there are a good thing, but on the other hand they mean absolutely nothing.''
Marshall junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who was the first underclassmen to be named the C-USA player of the year after the 2012 season, is on the preseason lists for the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards, which are given to the national player of the year, and the Davey O'Brien Award, which is handed to the country's top quarterback.
Herd junior Tommy Shuler was selected for the Biletnikoff Award list, which is given to the nation's top wide receiver, after finishing last season with a school-record 110 catches.
Marshall Gator Hoskins was named to the preseason list for the John Mackey Award, which goes to the top tight end in the country, after hauling in 10 touchdown passes last year to lead all tight ends nationally and set a school tight end record.
"From a personnel standpoint I feel better going into this year than I ever have," said Holliday, who has produced 5-7, 7-6 and 5-7 records the past three years. 'I don't look around right now and see a lot of holes like I've seen in the past.
"This is the first time since I've been here that we've got a roster where we're up to 85 with our full scholarship level. I think for the most part on both sides of the ball we've got a chance to have some good players. I like this team.''
There's little doubt the Herd's up-tempo offense will be one of the most potent in C-USA if not all of college football. The defense, which was one of the nation's worst last year, should see a significant uptick under new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater.
The Herd defense ranked in the bottom 30 in the nation in scoring, total yards, rushing and passing defense, and in preventing third-down conversions. Defensive coordinator Chris Rippon resigned after the 65-59 double-overtime loss at East Carolina in the season finale.
"We added about 10 bodies that can play,'' Holliday said. "I think that inside linebacker, you've got some guys that can run and play that we haven't had in the past.
"You look at the secondary, it's a lot more athletic than what it was. We've got more depth up front than we've had in the last couple of years. Those guys up front will play better defense. Chuck has some pieces in place to address the issues.''
Holliday said the leadership component is also much better coming out of the spring.
"You never want to get in a situation where we were a year ago,'' said the Herd coach who is from Hurricane. "Going in we had four to six seniors and a couple of them played and I think that was it. I think for the first time since I've been here, not only do I have 18-plus seniors but I've got some real guys.
"They're not just bodies, they're guys that can play. They're mature and they've played a lot of football. It's a whole heck of a lot easier to be a leader that's well respected when you're also a good player.''
All in all, it's adding up to a breakout year for the Herd.
"If we take care of business and prepare,'' said Holliday, "we've got a shot to have a pretty good football team.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.