Looking Back: What If?

Five years or so ago I wrote an article talking about “What If’s.” The article was based around the Marshall football program and involved 11 what if type questions that impacted the Marshall football program and how those days effected the program’s future. I am going to take a look a back at that article now, and then let the discussion begin.

Five years or so ago I wrote an article talking about “What If’s.” The article was based around the Marshall football program and involved 11 what if type questions that impacted the Marshall football program and how those days effected the program’s future. I am going to take a look a back at that article now, and then let the discussion begin.

Since the number eleven is such an important number in the game of football, that is why this article will contain eleven “What If’s.” However, I am only going to discuss the bottom ten, so numbers two through eleven. I think, as fans, and/or alumni or this University, we all know and understand what the number one “what if,” is and always will be, and it is something I am not nearly qualified to discuss or quantify.

So, in saying that, let us take a quick run down memory lane and look at these important moments in the history of the Marshall Football Program.

11. What if the writer in the Houston paper does not spill the beans and leak the information that Head Coach Bobby Pruett was leaving Marshall to come and coach the Houston Cougars for an estimated $1M per year.

This is something most Marshall fans remember. What would Marshall had done had this not taken place? Had Pruett left at that time, Marshall would have most likely been in a situation to replace him with a candidate that wanted to come to Marshall in a bad way. At that time Marshall Football was a hot commodity. Rather than when Pruett finally left coming off a 6-6 season and doing so right before spring practice in 2005. One would think young coaches such as an Urban Meyer could have been available to make a jump to a program that was loaded with talented players, and could ride the coattails of being the winningest team in the 1990’s. Alas, this did not take place, Coach Pruett decided to stay in Huntington, only to retire a few years later in a worse case scenario situation for Marshall.

10. What if Marshall does not get into trouble in 2000 and get slammed on probation and lose players for games, and scholarships for the next few season?

Do you remember this? Do you remember where you were when the announcement was made. This was before internet message boards were busting with rumors and breaking news. Personally, I was in Florida, finishing up vacation and checking into a hotel to sleep the night before the Herd was to take on Florida in the Swamp in 2001. The phone calls started, Marshall would set out a handful of players for the Florida game and even more the next week. What would have happened had this not occurred? How long would the run of the 1990’s lasted. I still believe the sanctions were much too harsh for what actually occurred especially when compared to things schools get dinged for in 2015.

9. What if Chad Pennington did not get picked off twice in the fourth quarter by Nate Perry in Morgantown?

This is not to place blame solely on Pennington, as the catches made by Terry were spectacular. However, this was Marshall’s first game at the division 1-A level. What if those interceptions had not been thrown. What if Marshall had held on to win the game. Setting in the upperdeck, I watched multiple fans of West Virginia get up and leave when Moss scored to give the Herd the lead. Their leaving was preceded only by their tossing of their seat cushions into the lower deck. One quarter of football away from winning the first game against them in the modern era. Would the series have ended? How would Marshall had been perceived?

8. What if quarterback Larry Harris did not get hurt against MTSU in 1995?

What if Coach Jim Donnan had pulled Harris one possession earlier with a big lead against MTSU? If that had happened, then he would not have blown out his knee. Ohio State transfer Mark Zban would not have been put in, only to get hurt later on either, and a young, mop topped quarterback named Chad Pennington would not have gotten his first start as a true freshman against UTC. Pennington threw six interceptions in that first game, but still led the Herd to a late victory. Had Harris not gotten injured, Pennington may have never gotten his chance. However, it happened, and because it happened Marshall has cultivated a life long supporter and ambassador in Mr. Pennington. Harris was a special player, he had the legs and the arm. He could have been the next Michael Payton.

7. What if Daninelle Derricott had not blocked that late, short Field Goal at home against Wofford?

Marshall stormed out to a commanding lead. Such a lad that Doug Chapman came out after halftime without pads or a helmet. The team was undefeated heading into the game and nationaly ranked against the very undermanned and outmatched Wofford Terriors. Wofford stormed back in the second half and pulled to within 29 to 27. Wofford moved down the field and was set up late in the fourth quarter for a field goal to upset Marshall 30 to 29. The snap was good, the hold was good, and off the corner came Derricott, the Marshall cornerback who always seemed to be around the ball when it counted. Earlier in his career, in 1998, he intercepted a South Carolina pass late in the fourth quarter to set up a game winning field goal for the Herd. He also saved the day against Akron, and Toledo. Now, back to Wofford, Derricott came off the corner and blocked the kick. Had that kick not been blocked then Marshall would have went into the 1999 season having even more to prove prior to getting ranked

6. What if Marshall had stayed in the Mid American Conference?

In 2005, Marshall made the move to jump from the MAC to Conference USA. Marshall arrived in the conference having been the winningest team in the 1990’s. What would have happened had Marshall not made that jump. One would think that the following year they would have been right back on the top of the MAC, seeing as how Bowling Green and Akron both had big losses in graduation and coaching turnover. One would also think that Bernard Morris would have had a field day in the much slower MAC. There is a good chance Marshall would have been winning more games had that happened, however, the school may have went broke doing this. It has been proved that even though travel is more difficult, and more expensive, the Marshall athletic department is more productive in regards to profit in CUSA than in the MAC.

5. What if Marshall had stayed in the Southern Conference and 1-AA?

This one is this high because of how important it is to the programs history and where it is at this time. It is unknown what would have actually happened had Marshall not made the jump. One this is for sure though, Marshall would have most likely continued to dominate in the lower levels, and maybe would have gotten an occasional win over an NC State or so, provided the ACC officials did not get involved. What if Marshall had waited ten years like so many other schools did? Had this move not have taken place, one thing is for certain, the program would not be where it is right now.

4. What if the tragic events of 9/11 not occurred?

This was obviously a devastating day in the history of the United States of America. This is a day that still effects the nation, and for that matter, the world, every day. However, this even also had a one game effect on the Marshall football program. The Herd was set to travel to Fort Worth the following weekend to begin a one for one series with TCU. Marshall had Byron Leftwich and was set to travel to face a team that was at that time, on the same level as Marshall. Had Marshall played that game, and won, which was very likely, then TCU would have returned the trip the following year and it could have validated those two seasons with wins that most likely would have taken place in front of a national audience. Instead, TCU cancelled the series the following year because an agreement apparently could not be made on a return trip to Fort Worth.

3. What if Keith Baxter had fallen down?

Fourth game of the season, 1987, 1-AA Marshall with a record of one win and three losses, played on the road, at night, at Louisville. Marshall rushed out to take a lead, then the lost the lead late. The Cardinals were set to win the game when Marshall quarterback Tony Petersen dropped back to throw a last second hail mary pass. As he moved up into the pocket, Petersen, as seen on very blurry footage on old tapes, throws a deep pass into the back of the endzone. The pass filed over the top of a large group of tangled receivers and defenders and drops right into the waiting arms of Marshall wide receiver, number 6, Keith Baxter. What if Baxter had fallen down, what if he lost the ball in the lights, what if the defensive back got a little push off the line, the pass would not have been caught. Marshall would have slipped to 1-4, and most likely would not have made the playoffs. Remember, this was 1987, the year the Herd would play on ESPN for the first time, in the National Championship game in Pocatello, Idaho. That game catapulted Marshall into preseason magazines the next season and for the next two decades.

2. What if Marshall had beaten Bowling Green in 1998?

Marshall was undefeated coming into the game, and after the game Marshall would run off another 17 consecutive wins before losing in 2000 at Michigan State. Had the Herd won that one game against a BG team that was three games under .500 and playing awful, Marshall would have entered the 2000 season with a 26 game winning streak. Had the Herd won that game they would have entered the 1999 season ranked in the preseason. They would not have had to won four games before finally moving into the top 25. Instead the Herd would have moved up quicker, and most likely, ended the 1999 season in a big time bowl making a lot of money. Instead, the team came out flat right from the opening warm ups. Marshall didn’t even enter the field together prior to the game or prior to the third quarter. Had this one game not taken place, Marshall could very well have been Boise State before Boise State was Boise State. One other “what if,” that could have prevented this particular “what if” from happening is “what if” Randy Moss had stayed one more season. If so, he would have played in this game and this, “what if,” would not even exist.

What if’s are always such a fun topic. There are so many more, “what if’s” that could be looked at.

What if Stan Hill does not get hurt?

What if Mark Snyder lands Alabama star Marcel Darius. Keep in mind, the Marshall hat was not on that table just for looks, there was a legit shot he put that on.

What if Jim Donnan did not take Jermain Wiggins and Olandis Gary with him when he bolted for Georgia?

After looking back at these what if’s I would definitely add one, and move another. The loss to Western Kentucky this year may end up being right up there in comparison with the loss to Bowling Green. What did it cost the program? Only next year will truly answer that. How ironic is it that both schools are located in Bowling Green, one in Bowling Green, Ohio and the other in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

I would definitely move number 6 up the list. Chad Pennington has become way to important to this program to be so low on this list.

See what other fans think about these topics and others below:

Let’s hear what you think of these, and what some other What If’s in Marshall history are important What If?.

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