Herd Facing Uphill Climb In C-USA, Say Magazines

June is the longest month and not because the first day of summer is the longest day of the year. For football fans, there is really nothing on the radar…NFL camps are one month away, college and high school football players are just working out for August. Passing the time for the football fanatic is spent on the Internet with other lost souls, exchanging the smallest bits of newspaper, radio and TV "fluff" pieces.

The long-time tradition for most fans, however, is to absorb the pre-season publications from folks like Street and Smith (S&S), The Sporting News (TSN), Athlon (ATH), Football Action (FBA), The Gold Sheet (TGS) and Phil Steele's Preview (PSP). Street and Smith is the "bible" of these magazines, around for over a half-century. The Gold Sheet and Phil Steele's are relatively new, books that preview the teams and leagues with specific betting information to feed the nation's gambling habit. Straight up, against the spread, home dog, on grass and on turf are some of the minute things these magazines look at in addition to talent, coaching and schedule.

On the face of it, the Thundering Herd of Marshall is in much the same boat they were in when MU joined I-A football and the Mid-American Conference back in 1997, although without a 15-0 season, I-AA National Championship tucked in the belt of then second-year head coach Bobby Pruett, not to mention Randy Moss at wide receiver. Marshall enters this season with eight years of success in the MAC: five conference championships; six bowl trips, posting a 4-2 mark; numerous All-Americans, Heisman candidates and NFL first round draft picks have been Marshall's legacy in I-A. This year, however, the Herd moves up to Conference USA off a 6-6 season that included a poor 32-14 showing against Cincinnati in the Fort Worth Bowl last December and a first-year head coach in another outstanding Marshall player in his day.

New Marshall coach Mark Snyder hopes for a stronger, quicker defense starts with his experienced secondary, including senior defensive back Chris Royal, Curtis Keyes, Willie Smith and UNC transfer Chris Hawkins.

Mark Snyder takes the reigns of the Thundering Herd after spending last season as the defensive coordinator at The Ohio State University. Snyder had coached many years for Jim Tressel; four at OSU and six at Youngstown State, winning National Championships at both stops sandwiched around four years at Minnesota coaching defensive ends for the Golden Gophers. Snyder only saw two days of spring football, although interim head coach and now offensive coordinator Larry Kueck coached the Herd to a very productive spring. Snyder finds himself with a new offensive coordinator (Kueck has been quarterbacks coach and ran the passing offense the last three seasons); new defensive coordinator Jimmy Collins, the Herd's second year defensive back coach; a new Director of Football Operations, Mark Gale, a 15-year assistant at MU and formerly linebackers coach; and new strength coach, Mike Cochran, new running backs coach, Jared Smith, new receivers/special teams coach, Todd Goebble, and new linebacker coach in a former MU All-American safety, like Snyder, in Shannon Morrison, who spent the last four years as a defensive coordinator at Lehigh ('04) and Southeast Missouri State, with former MU assistant Tim Billings as his head coach from 2001-03. Snyder also retained George Darlington as recruiting coordinator and safeties coach; Shane Miles as tight end coach; and Mike Cummings, who was just hired in January by Bob Pruett, as the offensive line coach. Former MU kicker Curtis Head returns as defensive GA, while Jim Pittman joins from OSU as the offensive GA.

Marshall offensive coordinator Larry Kueck is looking for one player to step up as the replacement for Stan Hill at Herd QB, be it junior Jimmy Skinner, shown here in the spring, sophomore Bernard Morris or juco Derek Devine.photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

Marshall must replace 25 seniors. That is uphill to begin with, but it includes the entire defensive front seven starters and offensive starters at quarterback, receiver, running back, center, guard and tackle. In that group was Earl Charles, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2003 and fought injuries for over 600 last year; Stan Hill, who passed for over 5,000 yards in his career; Josh Davis, the second-leading receiver in NCAA history with 309 catches; and linemen like Jesse Saito, Zac Elcess and Nate Griffin. On the defensive side, Johnathan Goddard, drafted by the Detroit Lions, led the nation in sacks (16) and tackles-for-loss (25.5) and teamed with other senior ends Marcus Hairston and Jamus Martin to give the Herd the best line in the MAC, including both senior tackles in Reggie Hayes and Jamall Whyce. Senior linebackers lost included J.T. Rembert, Kevin Atkins and Dionte' Wilson, along with starting corner Roberto Terrell, a three-year starter.

Marshall does have a very good returning secondary, including senior free safety Chris Royal, who had six interceptions last year, and "the hardest hitter in Conference USA," according to S&S in strong safety Curtis Keyes. Willie Smith returns for a third year of starting at one corner and UNC transfer Chris Hawkins looks to man the other. Smith is tabbed an honorable mention All-American by being the nation's 22nd best corner by PSP, which also lists Keyes as the 29th best safety. On the offensive side, kicker/punter in junior Ian O'Connor is called the 14th best in the nation by PSP, while tackle Toby Bullock is 39th best. PSP makes Bullock and Smith first team All-Conference USA Pre-Season picks, while sophomore running back Ahmad Bradshaw and Keyes are second All-C-USA and O'Connor 3rd team. S&S see Bullock and Keyes as Honorable Mention Pre-Season, but ATH tabs Bullock, Keyes and Royal as Pre-Season All-Conference. TSN likes sophomore center Doug Legurski, Keyes and O'Connor as punter on their Pre-season All-C-USA, ranking them as 6th best strong safety (Keyes); 15th best punter; and 16th best center.

Ahmad Bradshaw, shown at South Charleston practice this past spring, will lead a running attack, backed by red-shirt freshman Gerwin Williams and sophomore fullback Will Albin.

All-Americans the Thundering Herd will face this football season include a consensus pick in Virginia Tech cornerback Jimmy Williams, a first team selection in every magazine so far. Second team All-Am honors went to defensive end Larry McSwain of UAB and cornerback John Eubanks of Southern Miss in FBA. In PSP, running back DeAngelo Williams of Memphis was tabbed first team All-Am, along with C-USA return specialist Ashlan Davis of Tulsa. S&S like Williams to be second team All-Am, along with Hokies kicker Brandon Pace and Va. Tech defensive end Darryl Tapp. Davis and Tapp are all first team All-Am in ATH, who see D Williams of Memphis as second team and Eubanks of So. Miss, Stephen Gostkowski, a kicker from Memphis, and punt returner Travis Williams of East Carolina as third team All-Americans. TSN names Eubanks to its second team, also, while the TGS picks no All-Americans.

In the top 25 rankings, USC is a runaway choice to finish #1 this season. Local, C-USA teams and MU opponents in the rankings include FBA: Louisville, new to the Big East, at #7, Ohio State #8, Virginia Tech #10, MAC member Bowling Green at #18 and Pitt at #25. PSP: UL #4, OSU #9, Va. Tech #12, Miami, Ohio #22, Pitt #27, Kansas State #31, UTEP #32, UAB #33, Virginia #34 and Houston #36. S&S: Va. Tech #7, OSU #12, UL #15, UVA #21 and Pitt #23. ATH: UL #8, OSU #10, UVA #22, Pitt #23, UTEP #24, So. Miss #32, K-State #55, WVU #56, UAB #57, Memphis #59, Marshall #74, Houston #75, Tulsa #79, Tulane #87, Kentucky #88, SMU #97, Rice #98, East Carolina #103, UCF #115 and seven of the MAC's 12 schools are 100 or below to #119. TSN: OSU #3, VT #4, UL #19, BGSU #21, UVA #23, Pitt #29, UAB #33, WVU #35, So. Miss #40, Memphis #46, K-State #50, UTEP #55, Houston #62, Tulane #77, Marshall #85, Kentucky #88, ECU #91, Rice #102, Tulsa #108, SMU #113, UCF #114 and five of the MAC 12 at 100-119.TGS: OSU #3, VT #7, UL #10, BGSU #17 and Pitt #24. Overall, in a total consensus of pre-season Top 25 listings including Phil Steele's, Athlon, The Sporting News, Street & Smith, as well as Lindy's (which book I have not found in Huntington, to date), your Pre-Season Consensus Top 35 looks like this: Southern Cal, Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, Oklahoma, LSU, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Miami-FL, Florida, Iowa, Florida State, Louisville, Purdue, Georgia, Auburn, Texas A&M, Boise State, Cal, Texas Tech, Oregon, Alabama, Pitt, Fresno State, Virginia, Boston College, Arizona State, Georgia Tech, Penn State, N.C. State, Utah, Bowling Green, Iowa State, Miami-OH, UTEP and UCLA.

In Conference USA, the Herd is picked fourth in the East Division by every magazine except PSP, which dropped MU to sixth behind 2004's 0-11 UCF Golden Knights and the 2-9 Pirates of East Carolina. Southern Miss is expected to win the East by three mags (ATH, S&S and Lindy's), while UAB is the pick of PSP and TSN. UAB is third in S&S, while Memphis is third except for a second nod in S&S. UCF gets a fourth from PSP and 5th from Lindy's, while ECU is fifth except for a 6th in Lindy's magazine. On the West side, UTEP is first across the board, as are the Houston Cougars in second. Tulane is third except for a 4th from S&S; Tulsa is 4th according to PSP and ATH, 5th in TSN and Lindy's and 3rd in S&S. Rice is 5th best in the West in PSP, ATH and S&S, but 4th in TSN and Lindy's, while the Rice Owls are picked 6th by all.

Marshall coach Mark Snyder will not have to get his team's attention when discussing a rough schedule, including home games with K-State, UAB for Homecoming and Southern Miss on a Tuesday, ESPN2 game, not to mention road trips to Virginia Tech and C-USA foes UTEP, Tulane and Memphis.

Marshall plays a I-AA opener in William and Mary on September 1, and The Tribe is picked third in the Atlantic 10 Conference, behind defending I-AA National Champion James Madison (coached by former MU assistant Mickey Matthews and former MU players like George Barlow, Phil Ratliff and Jim Durning) and Delaware, but W&M is ranked #13 in the nation's in S&S I-AA pre-season poll. MU's C-USA games are 9/24 at UCF; SMU here on 10/1; UAB in Huntington for Homecoming10/15; at UTEP's Homecoming in El Paso, Texas, on 10/22 on new television partner for C-USA, College Sports Television (CSTV); in New Orleans to battle Tulane 10/29, so Happy Halloween and also on CSTV; a ESPN2 battle in the River Cities with Southern Miss on 11/8; renewed rivalry with East Carolina at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium 11/19, 35 years and five days to the crash of a MU football plane returning from a 17-14 loss at ECU in 1970, killing all 75 aboard; and finishing up in Memphis with the Tigers at the Liberty Bowl on 11/26. The Conference USA Championship Game is on ESPN Saturday, December 3, hosted by the school with the best winning percentage on the season.

Other conference consensus champions in a total of points from all magazines include, in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Florida State (Atlantic Division), followed by BC, N.C. State, Clemson, Maryland and former OU head coach/MU assistant Jim Grobe's Wake Forest Demon Deacons picked last. In the Coastal Division, it's Marshall foe Virginia Tech (October 8 in Blacksburg for Hokies Homecoming), followed by Miami-FL (Marshall plays at the Hurricanes on 9/1/2006), Virginia, Ga. Tech, UNC and Duke. In the new Big East, former Conference USA member Louisville is picked number one, then Pitt and West Virginia (MU opens the season with WVU on 9/2/2006) are followed by Syracuse, Rutgers, UConn and the other two former C-USA members besides the Cardinals, South Florida and Cincinnati.

WV Governor Joe Manchin brought Marshall and WVU back into a football series this spring that begins 2006 in Morgantown, 2007 in Huntington (for the 1st time since 1915) and run through 2012.

In the Big Ten, it's Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Iowa, Michigan State, Penn State, Minnesota, Wisconsin (Herd plays in Madison on 9/15/2007), Northwestern, Illinois and Indiana, who are coached by Terry Hoeppner, formerly battling the Herd from Miami, Ohio. In the Big 12 North Division, Colorado is the consensus favorite to win the division, followed by Iowa State, Nebraska, Missouri, MU opponent September 10 in the 4-7 K-State Wildcats and Kansas. In the South, Texas is a slight favorite over Oklahoma, followed by Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and the Baylor Bears, coached by former UK head coach Guy Morris. In the MAC, Bowling Green jumps back to the East Division after spending the last three years in the West with MU and UCF in the East and the Falcons are the pick to win the East by one point over Miami, Ohio. They are followed by Akron, Kent State, Ohio U., under new head coach and former Cornhusker head man Frank Solich, and, of course, the lowly Bulls of the University At Buffalo. In the West Division, coach "Toledo Tom" Amstutz and his "Rocket Men" are still the pick, followed by the better-each-season Huskies of Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Western Michigan and "Fruit Jar Tech," better known as Ball State University's Cardinals.

In the Mountain West, Utah, who played in a BCA bowl last year, is the pick again to win the league, despite the departure of Urban Meyers to Florida. The Lobos of New Mexico are a one-point favorite for second over Wyoming, followed by Colorado State, BYU, former C-USA member TCU, San Diego State, Air Force and UNLV, who has former MU defensive end Mike Hamrick as its Director of Athletics. The Pacific 10 Conference is USC number one, obviously. The Men of Troy are followed in the PAC 10 by second place Cal, Oregon, cross-town rival UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon State, Washington State, Arizona, Washington and Stanford.

In the Southeastern Conference, the Tennessee Volunteers, who escaped the Herd in 2003 in Knoxville and the Vols will try again when MU travels to UT on 9/23/2006, are the pick to win the SEC East by only one point over the Gators of Florida. Georgia is third, followed by new head coach Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks of South Carolina, Vanderbilt and local favorite Kentucky in last. In the SEC West, LSU is a clear pick over Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Mississippi State. In the Sun Belt, North Texas is the pick again, followed by Middle Tennessee State. These two former MU I-AA playoff opponents are followed by Troy, who upset the Herd the past two seasons, then Louisiana-Monroe (who beat the Herd in the I-AA title game in 1987 as then Northeast Louisiana), Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State and Division I-A newcomers Florida Atlantic, coached by former UL and Miami head coach Howard Schnellenberger, and Florida International, coached by former Miami Dolphins QB Don Strock. Finally, the Western Athletic Conference, or WAC, is new as well, losing UTEP, Tulsa, SMU and Rice to the new Conference USA and gaining New Mexico State, Idaho and Utah State from the Sun Belt. One thing hasn't changed, however, and that's the class of the league, with Boise State picked number one and Fresno State picked number two. The two national powers are followed in the WAC by Nevada, Louisiana Tech (now very much out of place in this Western league), Hawaii, the Aggies of N.M. State, the Vandals of Idaho and the Aggies of Utah State in eighth.

Rounding out our look at info in the pre-season mags, S&S have an I-AA, Division II and Division III Top 25. Familiar names for Herd fans include the number one I-AA team, the hated Purple Paladins of Furman University out of the Southern Conference. Other SC schools include #8 Georgia Southern, #17 Wofford, who replaced the Herd in football, and #20 Appalachian State. Other visitors to Huntington in I-AA include #2 JMU, #3 Montana, #4 New Hampshire, who opened the stadium in 1991, #7 Delaware and #10 Western Kentucky. In S&S Division II poll, no West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference school makes the Top 25, but in the "Best of the Rest" category, the Falcons of Fairmont State University are #44; the Rams of Shepherd College are #56; and the Glenville State Pioneers, with a ton of local high school signees from the Charleston-Huntington area, are #57.

S&S also has a listing of High School All-Americans and a few Mountain State products are honorable mention. From the Nitro Wildcats, both running back Josh Culbertson and wide receiver Chris Fulmer make the list. Two from Morgantown include MHS utility player Max Anderson and University linebacker Cory Jackson. Others are Wayne Pioneer utility player Trevor Marcum, who has committed to Marshall; and Fayetteville Pirate offensive lineman Josh Evans.

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