Dawgs will not Overlook Herd

ATHENS -- As a group, football coaches are not known as forward thinkers. It's a game-by-game world they live in, and nothing matters, they say again and again, beyond this week.

So what Marshall coach Bob Pruett is doing in Huntington, W.Va., goes against the grain. Rather than settling for being known as The Little Program that Could, the Thundering Herd is looking to the future and has thrown itself to the Top 25 wolves in hopes of becoming part of the lead pack.

Saturday's trip to Athens is part of that transformation. The No. 3 Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 SEC) take on Marshall (0-2) at 1 p.m. in Sanford Stadium.

As the millennium dawned, Marshall was the bully of the mid-majors, consistently nudging its way into the Top 25 and occasionally knocking off a BCS team on the road. In 1998, it beat South Carolina. In 1999, it knocked off Clemson.

"I think (those wins) were huge in our program, but it's like anything else. After a while, those things fade," said Pruett, who is in his ninth season coaching his alma mater. "You have to continue to raise the bar. We couldn't get any Division I teams to come in to us, and we certainly couldn't get any middle-of-the-pack Division I teams to come to Huntington. What we wanted to do was keep advancing our program, understanding the risks we were taking.

"We had to transform our thinking."

What that meant was playing anybody, anywhere as many times as possible in hopes of getting a return home game.

In the last two seasons, the Herd has played at Florida, at Virginia Tech, at Tennessee and at Kansas State. This year, they will play at Ohio State and at Georgia on back-to-back weeks.

"We wanted to see how high we could raise the bar," Pruett said. "The only way I knew how to do it was schedule these teams. It showed us what we had to do to be competitive against these kinds of teams. We're not in it to try to play people close. We'd like to win ball game."

So far they haven't done that this year. They are 0-2 after playing Troy State and a trip to Columbus, Ohio, but none of Georgia's players are taking the Herd lightly.

Quarterback David Greene made it clear how highly he thinks of Marshall, perhaps at further expense to his popularity with South Carolina fans.

"(Marshall) has got a lot of talent, probably the most talent we've seen so far," Greene said. "We're definitely not going to be overlooking them."

A win at Georgia would be just the kind of next step Marshall is looking to take, and the Bulldogs know it.

"Who better to beat than UGA, at Georgia, in their 92,000-seat stadium?" Georgia receiver Bryan McClendon said.

The payoff for Marshall's bold plan begins next year when Kansas State plays the Herd in Huntington. The next two years are pretty ugly, though, with trips to Kansas State, Tennessee, Miami and Wisconsin. Then comes more good news: the Volunteers will play at Marshall in 2009 and Miami will go in 2011.

"The price you have to pay is to go there and play those guys," Pruett said. "I'm not by any means saying we are that type program, but when they first started out, that's what they were doing, playing anyone and everyone, and that's what we think we have to do."

Marshall has had to buy plenty of calendars to make its plan work. It has games scheduled out as far as 2013.

"Sometimes you have to take a step backward to leap forward," Pruett said. "We'll see. We think we've charted a course. We'll persevere and we'll continue to work our plan, and we'll make our plan work."

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