Mitch Vingle: Making a call on Herd
It was just over a week ago I was convinced Marshall would have a special football season in 2014.
I had traveled to Huntington and searched for Ricardo Williams, a transfer from Miami, Fla. He was on the field, but not running with the first defensive unit.
I searched for former four-star Georgia commitment Kendall Gant, a safety who also had offers from Alabama and Florida. Again, he was on the field, but not with the first unit.
That was also the case with former four-star WVU signee Deon-Tay McManus, now a tight end who was not with the first offense.
MU is that stacked. Coach Doc Holliday also has others, like hobbled defensive back Donaldven Manning, who played eight games for Virginia Tech in 2012, in the wings.
There seems to be but one question: Will the Thundering Herd stumble in its quest for an upper-tier bowl?
It’s time to find out. In Sunday’s Gazette-Mail I’ll rip the tarp off my WVU prediction. Today, it’s time to release that of the Herd.
As MU fans know, my forecast is always uncannily accurate in relation to their team. Last year, I predicted Marshall to finish 10-2 and win the Conference USA East title. I wrote the team would lose to Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee and win a close one over Ohio. It went 9-3, lost to Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee and lost a close one to Ohio before moving to the postseason.
That covered, let’s get to it, shall we?
Aug. 30, MU at Miami, Ohio: If you’ve been to the campus of Miami, you, as I, have to wonder how the football team there can ever be awful. That’s a sweet little deal in Oxford. Yet the RedHawks are on a 16-game losing streak, tied for the longest in the FBS with Georgia State. Ex-Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin is in Miami now with ex-Irish players Andrew Hendrix, Alex Welch and Lo Wood. Welch, the quarterback, will need more than the luck of the Irish after the RedHawks finished No. 122 among 123 FBS offenses last season. Marshall, 38-17.
Sept. 6, Rhode Island at MU: I could try and manufacture scenarios in which the Rams will hang with the Herd, like pointing out new URI coach Jim Fleming is 2-0 against MU as a defensive coordinator. I’ll spare you, though. URI was picked to finish 11th of 12 Colonial Athletic Association teams, and it has absolutely no chance at the Joan. Marshall, 51-13.
Sept. 13, Ohio at MU: I don’t have to manufacture scenarios in which the OU Bobcats could hang with the Herd. Marshall players and fans know they can both hang and win. The Herd’s losing streak to OU, in fact, stands at three. This, though, sets up well for Marshall. It’s a homecoming game. Ohio QB Tyler Tettleton is gone. And the Bobcats are picked to finish third in the Mid-American Conference East. MU’s Rakeem Cato won’t have a record-setting passing day, but ... Marshall, 28-17.
Sept. 20, Marshall at Akron: If MU is going to stumble within non-conference play, this is the most likely place. Zips coach Terry Bowden has his team up and running with returning QB Kyle Pohl in the no-huddle and an improved defense bolstered by Ohio State transfer Se’Von Pittman. In the preseason poll, Akron was picked to finish No. 2 in the MAC East with three first-place votes. Expect the Zips to be free-wheeling. It will be on Holliday and defensive coordinator Chuck Heater to steel their troops. Akron, 34-31.
Oct. 4, Marshall at Old Dominion: The upstart ODU Monarchs may have been picked to finish fifth in the C-USA East Division, but don’t believe for one second they’ll run from Marshall. Instead, they’ll pass. And pass. QB Taylor Heinicke threw for over four grand last season and will take his shots this day. MU, however, has a nice secondary. Marshall, 40-30.
Oct. 11, Middle Tennessee at Marshall: This is where Marshall gets a little payback. Emphasis on the word “little.” MTSU, which beat MU 51-49 and squashed hopes for an undefeated Herd C-USA season last year, was a solid pick behind Marshall in East Division voting. QB Logan Kilgore is gone, but replacement Austin Grammer has a nice receiving corps. Also, eight Blue Raider defensive starters return. Marshall, 28-21.
Oct. 18, Marshall at Florida International: If the Thundering Herd gets past its first six games undefeated it gets a vacation in South Beach. Then again, even if it doesn’t do so it gets a vacation in South Beach. Or at least in FIU Stadium. Expect the Panthers, picked to finish last in the C-USA East Division, to put forth many freshmen starters. And expect Marshall’s defensive line to feel — and see — much sunshine. Marshall, 48-20.
Oct. 25, Florida Atlantic at MU: This is a fortunate piece of scheduling for Marshall. The Herd visits Miami for the lesser C-USA Florida team then returns to Huntington for the more formidable one. The problem for the FIU (coach Charlie) Partridge family is it will be beaten down by this time after games at Nebraska, Alabama and Wyoming. Marshall, 27-14.
Nov. 8, Marshall at Southern Miss: Even though Southern Miss was picked fifth among the six C-USA West Division teams, MU fans shouldn’t expect drubbings of the Golden Eagles as in recent years. (See 59-24 and 61-13.) Young SMU coach Todd Monken is pushing his team in the right direction. It just won’t be enough against the Herd this year. Marshall, 35-21.
Nov. 15, Rice at MU: Many believe Huntington is where last season’s C-USA title game should have been played. The trip to Houston certainly tripped Marshall. Now, though, the Herd has a chance at revenge. Rice QB Taylor McHargue is gone. Just don’t sell replacement Driphus Jackson short. Also, defensively, tackle Christian Covington is a stud. The Owls, however, have had preseason injury problems. Tight end Connor Cella is out 4-6 weeks with a bad rib, top receiver Jordan Taylor has a bad foot and offensive lineman Drew Carroll is tragically out for good with a kidney disease. Marshall, 28-24.
Nov. 22, MU at UAB: If Marshall is motivated at all, it should have little trouble in Birmingham. The trouble is indeed getting motivated at what will be a bare, gray Legion Field. UAB coach Bill Clark is still deciding between QBs Cody Clements and Jeremiah Briscoe nine days before the season. He’s relying on a bunch of jucos. Could get (more) ugly for the Blazers. Marshall, 42-10.
Nov. 28, Western Kentucky at MU: Play this game any other place on Marshall’s schedule and it might cause concern. WKU coach Jeff Brohm will produce a nice offense with QB Brandon Doughty at the helm and a stocked receiving corps. If Cato and MU’s offense do their jobs, the Herd’s defense should help the team separate by game’s end. Marshall, 35-20.
Final record: 11-1, C-USA East title.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.