CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A FEW OBSERVATIONS in this, a mercifully basketball-free column:
(Hey, I'm an optimist. Really am.)
I have no doubt the Thundering Herd will be favored in every game, but neither life nor college football follow neat, predictable patterns. Somewhere, somehow, the Herd is going to boot one.
What I don't know is which game(s).
As you may know, Marshall faces the five toughest opponents - at least for the time being - in the cozy confines of Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The Herd didn't just play better at home in 2013, it played extraordinary. I mean, who saw 59-28 coming against East Carolina?
But home games can be lost and there are three such teams to cast a wary eye on, in order: Florida Atlantic, Ohio and Western Kentucky.
(Yes, I'm omitting defending C-USA champion Rice. Way to represent in the Liberty Bowl, Owls.)
My choice of FAU is simple - of all 10 teams MU defeated last season, the Owls put up the biggest fight. Even with a loss 11 days later at Middle Tennessee, that win in Boca Raton was a pivotal moment. Think about it: With seven minutes left, the Herd faced a fourth down with a nine-point deficit.
Jaquez Johnson emerged as one of Conference USA's better quarterbacks, and he's certainly the toughest to bring down. I liked this team's speed on defense, too.
Marshall gets WKU in the season finale, a spot reserved in recent years for the East Carolina game. Sure, the Hilltoppers are still a young program rising from the Sun Belt, and lost head coach Bobby Petrino after just one season.
Don't fret for the Hilltoppers, though. Willie Taggart built a nice foundation before heading to South Florida, and Petrino is succeeded by his offensive coordinator, Jeff Brohm. Brohm has crossed paths with Marshall once, in 2012 when he was offensive coordinator/quarterbacks at Alabama-Birmingham. As you'll recall, the Blazers stuck it to the Herd that year at Legion Field.
Brohm's new offensive coordinator is another former UAB assistant, Tyson Helton. Barring further developments, Brohm has many of Petrino's assistants back, including former UAB head coach Neil Callaway (offensive line) and former MU secondary coach Mike Cassity.
But the key may be this: Quarterback Brandon Doughty will be a fifth-year senior, ready to build on his 2,857-yard, 14-touchdown season. Doughty led the Hilltoppers to an 8-4 record in 2013.
Ohio without slippery quarterback Tyler Tettleton? At this point, I cannot underestimate the Herd's ability to lose to the Bobcats.
The road opponents? Old Dominion will have a charged-up crowd, but the Monarchs may or may not be ready for a legit FBS season. The Herd could succumb to boredom in another November game at Legion Field. Or maybe Terry Bowden's Akron team will be end up being the best road opponent. (Thankfully, the Rubber Bowl has been retired.)
I look at this and tell myself the same thing you're telling me: You're kidding yourself, right?
Pretty much. The Herd's three top opponents this season are these: Complacency, mental fatigue and lack of preparation. It's tough to avoid those over 12, 13 or 14 games.