2012 Record: 5-7 (4-4 in C-USA)
Head Coach: Doc Holliday (17-20 at Marshall, 13-11 in C-USA)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: beat FIU 20-10
Stadium: Joan C Edwards Stadium in Huntington, WV (capacity = 38,0016)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 28th out of 55 mid-major teams
2013 Schedule Link
Out of Conference: 8/31 vs Miami (OH), 9/7 vs Gardner-Webb, 9/14 at Ohio, 9/21 at Virginia Tech
Toughest Conference Home Games: 11/2 vs Southern Miss, 11/29 vs East Carolina
Toughest Conference Road Game: 11/14 at Tulsa
2012 Statistics Link
Stat to Fear: gave up 43.1 ppg (last in C-USA)
Stats to Cheer: converted over 54% on third down (1st in C-USA), had 243 plays of 10 or more yards (1st in C-USA
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 90th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Special Teams: 2
Key Defensive Returnees: S DJ Hunter (102 tackles), DE Jeremiah Taylor (54 tackles, 5.5 sacks), LB Jermaine Holmes (81 tackles, 12.5 TFL), DE Alex Bazzie (9 TFL), DT Brandon Sparrow (52 tackles, 5 sacks, 9 TFL)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Rakeem Cato (4201 yds pass, 37 TD, 11 INT), WR Tommy Shuler (110 rec, 6 TD) RB Kevin Grooms (737 yds rush, 8 TD), RB Steward Butler (500 yds rush), TE Gator Hoskins (35 rec, 10 TD), C Chris Jasperse
CFBZ: Doc Holliday has gone 17-20 in three years at Marshall. What is the overall opinion from the fanbase on Holliday?
Derek Redd: Folks consider Holliday a fantastic recruiter. He's offered them plenty of evidence. His 2013 signing class was the highest rated among non-FBS automatic qualifier schools using 247Sports' composite rating system. They remain hopeful about the team, but were disappointed that it couldn't take any steps forward after winning the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in 2011. They like that he's proactive, bringing in talented recruits and making the necessary changes on defense (namely bringing in former Temple DC Chuck Heater to run the unit). They like where the team is headed, but want to see more wins on the schedule.
CFBZ: Marshall led the Nation in passing last season. Will we see a similar offensive approach this year and who are the players to watch?
Derek Redd: You should see more of the same with Marshall's offense, though you might see a little more running in short-yardage situations. Holliday said that was one place the offense could improve, grinding out the necessary yard or two on third and short. Otherwise, the high-velocity offense everyone saw last year should be back. Conference USA MVP Rakeem Cato is back at quarterback, as are record-setting slot receiver Tommy Shuler, tight end and top red-zone threat Gator Hoskins, and C-USA freshman of the year running back Kevin Grooms. What will be interesting is how the passing game will be affected by the graduation of receivers Aaron Dobson (a second-round pick by New England) and Antavious Wilson (recently released by the New York Jets). Their presence created a lot of openings for Shuler.
CFBZ: While the Herd put points on the board they also gave up the second most in FBS last season. What are the biggest needs on the defensive side of the football?
Derek Redd: Marshall's defense needs both a better pass rush and nose for turnovers. It tied for 87th in the FBS in both sacks per game (1.58) and total turnovers (18) last season. I think the Thundering Herd learned that life without a premier pass rusher like Vinny Curry wasn't going to be easy. The turnover issue should get fixed with Heater's move to a five-DB, two-LB scheme. Defensive line coaching duties have been split with J.C. Price coaching ends and Sean Cronin coaching tackles, which should allow for a little more specialized instruction.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
Derek Redd: Eight wins should be the goal for Marshall in 2013, and the Herd should contend for the C-USA East Division crown. The schedule favors the Herd — an easier non-conference slate, plus UCF is off the conference schedule and FAU and FIU were added. Some folks might be satisfied with making a bowl, but most want to see significant progress from last season, and I'm not sure another 7-6 season will do that.
Marshall took a huge step forward last year on offense as they improved from scoring 21.8 ppg in 2011 to 40.9 in 2012. A big reason was Rakeem Cato's growth from his freshman to sophomore year and he's back for his third season. As Derek mentioned in the Q&A, there are a lot of returning weapons for Cato. The OL returns the majority of their starters and depth losing only RB John Bruhin.
In 2011, Vinny Curry had 11 sacks and the team had 27. Last year the Herd managed just 19. The top two in this metric, DE Jeremiah Taylor (5.5) and NT Brandon Sparrow (5) do return and overall the line losses only one key cog. D.J Hunter will be moving back to Safety this season after spending 2012 at OLB. That should help out a secondary that loses both starting Safeties. In addition to adding Hunter, the secondary will also get CB Darryl Roberts back after he was lost to injury 2012. One player in the LB corps to keep an eye on is Kent Turene. He is a former UGA signee who had to go the JUCO route due to academics but he could have an impact if he rebounds from an ankle injury that bothered him this spring. True Freshman, early enrollee, Stefan Houston has also been making an impact as he led the team in tackles in the Spring Game. The LB corps will be key to helping Marshall fix the holes in it's run defense and if they can get some help from Houston and/or Terene it will go a long way in solidifying the defense.
Marshall has Phil Steele's 111th ranked schedule in the country. Marshall finds itself as the favorite to win the C-USA East. Their main competitors will be ECU, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss (who didn't win a game last season). When I look at this schedule I see 8-4 with a 6-2 conference record. Will that be enough to get them to the C-USA Championship Game? The East Carolina game on 11/29 (lost 65-59 last year in OT) looks like the key.
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews: