But members of the MAC News Media Association felt differently, ranking the Thundering Herd second behind Miami (Ohio) in the East Division preseason poll. The Redhawks squeaked out first place by one point, while also getting one more first place vote, 16, than Marshall's 15.
Northern Illinois is the early favorite to win the MAC Championship with 15 votes, while Marshall and Miami followed with 7 and 6 votes respectively.
Miami head coach Terry Hoeppner made it clear however, that Marshall remains the team to beat despite what early polls might say. "We keep knocking on the door," Hoeppner said of the MAC title, "Hopefully one day we will knock it in. Right now, the championship goes through Huntington until someone does something about it."
The Marshall-Miami rivalry became heated last year after Stan Hill led the Thundering Herd past the Redhawks in Huntington, en route to another MAC title for Marshall. Following the game, a RedHawks assistant coach was arrested and a second was suspended for damage caused to Marshall's pressbox.
In a recent story on CNNSI.com, RedHawks coaches said they were leery of the visitors locker room being bugged at Marshall University. The added drama of the November 12 meeting between the two clubs was all for nought on Tuesday as Bob Pruett and Hoeppner paid respects to each other. After Pruett walked off the podium, he met Hoeppner at the bottom of the steps, put his arm around him and said, "See, we are buddies."
Despite the friendship off the field, both are aware of what is at stake if the game in November carries post-season implications. "You prepare for your toughest opponent," Hoeppner said. "Our toughest opponent is within the league and we don't have to look very far to find them."
Pruett was his usual self Tuesday, all smiles and full of jokes. But he was quick to downplay any rivalry within the MAC. "We have a conference rival, not a particular rival." Pruett said. "They are all ready to play against the Herd. I would rather be the hunted than the hunter. That is the thing we try to establish our program on because we play for championships."
Nate McPeek was the Marshall player representative in Detroit, and Pruett said he was the best offensive lineman he has coached since being at Marshall. "He started as a true freshman," Pruett said of McPeek. "I personally think he is the best offensive lineman I have had at Marshall and we have seven playing in the National Football League now."
Pruett said he doesn't foresee the early let-down Marshall experienced in 2000 with the quarterback change of Chad Pennington to Byron Leftwich, because of the talent surrounding Hill. "When Byron came in 2000 we were asking him to win football games," Pruett said. "At that time he wasn't ready because of the young team."
Such is not the case this season, as Marshall returns a starter at nearly every position, leading Pruett to believe this year's Thundering Herd could be special. "I really believe we can have the best football team we have ever had at Marshall University," Pruett said. "I am very optimistic and very excited about it."
Pruett also added that with the depth and experience at running back, Marshall might run the ball more to set up the pass, instead of the other way around. He said he also plans to use Wilbur Hargrove's speed this season, flanking him out as a receiver.