HUNTINGTON - The fourth edition of Camp Doc is upon us, with the first whistle blowing at 9:45 a.m. or thereabouts. Today is the first of four days of split-squad practices at Marshall's Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
And today is the first day to set aside the sudden burst of anticipation surrounding the Thundering Herd. No doubt you've seen it - the Herd is picked second in the East Division of the reshuffled Conference USA by the coaches, higher by some educated guessers.
In some cases, much higher.
(Hey, Conference USA had a coaches' poll? What a freakin' novel idea!)
Today, it's time for this Marshall team to get to work. In a big way - remember, this team is coming off that 5-7 stinker of 2012, which started by yielding 69 points and ended by giving up 65.
The most obvious issue is the defense, which yielded a stunning 517 points, 484 in regulation and 422 after deducting nine (!) non-offensive touchdowns. That's still 35 per four-quarter game, and that still hurts.
Some defensive issues carrying over from spring drills: Do Alex Bazzie and Jeremiah Taylor make the big step up at defensive end? Is Taj "Big Bird" Letman the man at safety alongside D.J. Hunter? Does Kent Turene overcome his abbreviated spring and star at linebacker? Is linebacker Stefan Houston all that?
And can Rakeem Cato keep from getting the "big head"?
Oh, wait. That last item was offense. As in Marshall's NASCAR-like offense, the one that led the nation in snaps per game (90) and had defensive coordinators chugging Maalox.
In the optimistic month of August, it seems to be a lock that Cato & Co. will lather, rinse and repeat all those mind-blowing numbers, such as 534 total yards and 41 points per game.
And after Cato's Most Valuable Player award in Conference USA last season, the pats on the back have gotten more frequent. The Manning Award watch list is the latest, following similar listings by the Walter Camp, Maxwell and Davey O'Brien awards.
Any magazine or website worth reading places Cato on the first-team all-conference. C-USA coaches voted him the preseason offensive player of the year, perhaps unanimously.
So what is there to be worried about on that side of the ball? Steward Butler, Kevin Grooms and Remi Watson return to run wild, the line is deeper and more experienced than we've seen in years, the tight end situation is solid and the Cato-to-Tommy Shuler combination is nearly unstoppable.