Herd schedule watered down?
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marshall fans are going to hear it all autumn, especially if their team enjoys its best overall record in 11 years.
And they'll hear it if the Thundering Herd shakes its eight-year history of bouncing between 3-5 and 5-3 in Conference USA games. They'll hear it even louder if the Herd plays for the league championship.
In light of the latest realignment plate-shifting, the phrase already reverberates around the college football world.
Watered down. As in C-USA. As in Marshall's schedule.
To hear some tell it, the Herd's path to league contention is not only watered down, it's waterlogged. MAC-like, even.
With youthful programs such as Texas-San Antonio, Florida International and Florida Atlantic, the supposedly improved Marshall team has an eight-game cakewalk after September, right?
If a few preseason polls and prognostications are to be believed - and that's all we have until the first kickoff - the Herd's league schedule rates about the same, if not a teensy bit tougher than it otherwise would be.
Believe it? Read on and you make the call.
After eight years of stability, C-USA bid farewell to defending East Division champion Central Florida, Southern Methodist, Houston and Memphis, now residents of the American Athletic Conference. Coming on board are UTSA, FIU, FAU, Middle Tennessee, North Texas and Louisiana Tech.
Of course, Marshall can't play everybody in a 14-team league, and it won't play five teams in what seems to be an inferior West Division. Then again, the Herd plays prohibitive West favorite Tulsa, on the road with a short week to prepare.
To compare, let's look at the schedule that might have been, had there been no realignment. The schedule to peruse is not that of 2012, but rather 2009.
Why? The 2013 league matchups would have followed the C-USA rotation set in 2005 and renewed in 2009. In the 12-team setup, each team had three cross-division games per year, neatly rotated so that all East teams would face all West teams twice in a four-year span, home and away.
In 2009, Marshall played division rivals UCF, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, Alabama-Birmingham and East Carolina as usual. From the West Division, the Herd played SMU at home and Texas-El Paso and Tulane on the road.
This fall, the East Division includes Southern Miss, UAB and ECU, along with newbies Middle Tennessee, FIU and FAU. MU's cross-division foes are UTSA at home and Tulsa on the road.
This comparison uses USA Today's ongoing 1-though-125 ranking, league coaches' polls and league predictions of another magazine (Phil Steele). Certainly, there are other outlets.
What would have been
Opponents that would have been on the 2013 without realignment:
But the Herd avoids a two-time-zone trip that went horribly wrong in '05 and '09.
On top of that, MU suffers the worst break in the entire league schedule, having to face Tulsa five days after a home game with UAB.
(Tulsa has yet to be named in USA Today's one-per-day ranking. The last pick was MU rival Ohio at No. 39.)
The weather on Oct. 12 poses a variable. By then, the humidity of summer has broken in Huntington, but south Florida stays soupy day or night.
Adding it up
Averaging the USA Today rankings, MU's would-have-been foes averaged just better than 88th. The post-realignment schedule averages 86th, and that could go higher with 38th-or-better Tulsa.
Another way to look at it: MU's schedule gets a near-even swap by losing UTEP, Tulane and Memphis and gaining UTSA, FAU and FIU. MTSU could be clearly better than SMU; Tulsa could be a smidge better than UCF.
Southern Miss almost has to be better, UAB could very well improve, as could already-potent ECU.
So let the questions begin: Does MU's schedule look weaker, or surprisingly a bit stronger? And how will that schedule look four months from now?
And the final question: How easy will the Herd (40th USA Today, Steele's pick for America's most improved) make said schedule appear?
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.
WEAKER OR NOT?
Following is a comparison of Marshall's 2013 Conference USA schedule with the list of opponents from the 2009 season. Under C-USA's old scheduling rotation, MU would have played the same foes as it did in 2005 and 2009.
Rankings cited are those from USA Today's 1-through-124 list, which is still being unveiled one team at a time. Tulsa's ranking has yet to be unveiled, but will be in the top 38.
(Repeated from 2009)
At Central Florida (42)
East Carolina (50)
Southern Miss (82)
At Tulane (109)
At Texas-El Paso (112)
At Memphis (116)
"New" 2013 schedule
Oct. 5 - Texas-San Antonio (119)
Oct. 12 - at Florida Atlantic (111)
Oct. 24 - at Middle Tennessee (79)
Nov. 2 - Southern Miss (82)
Nov. 9 - UAB (91)
Nov. 14 - at Tulsa (top 38)
Nov. 23 - at Florida Int'l (118)
Nov. 29 - East Carolina (50)
Average: 86 (or lower)
NOTE: Marshall's USA Today ranking is 40.