Pre-Season Mags Agree to Disagree On Herd

Marshall is picked anywhere from winning Conference USA's East Division by The Gold Sheet to "being a contender" by to dead last in USA Today's Sport Weekly College FB Preview. Across the board, national writers on college football have agreed to disagree about the Thundering Herd's chances to improve on a 4-7 mark in Mark Snyder's 1st season as coach in MU's 1st in C-USA.

This much is sure: 1) Snyder will have a full year to prepare for year two, having been hired in late April of 2005 with only one spring practice left; 2) the Herd will have 26 players returning who started at least one game in 2005 (or 2004, in the case of injured receiver Emanuel Spann), instead of the shortage of experience that was second-worst in the nation last season with only six returners; 3) the Herd will have a full compliment of scholarships for the first time in five seasons; and 4) the Herd is looking to rebound from the first losing season at Marshall since 1983.

After that, you can put a dart board up and some national prediction will likely stick their pick in a different place or in the same place for a different reason. Start with USA Today's preview and Lindy's, who both rate the Herd the lowest of all magazines. They, like everyone else, are impressed with junior running back Ahmad Bradshaw, junior center Doug Legurski and an offensive line with lots of experience and a front seven defensively that is leap years ahead of last season. They have the same questions as well: who is the QB, can a X receiver step up, will the secondary overcome the loss of three starters and will special teams improve?

Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is one of the sure things for Herd in 2006, according to pre-season magazines.

Lindy's has the Herd 101st of 119 D-IA schools and dead last in the East Division, behind UCF, So. Miss, UAB, Memphis and ECU (West is Tulsa, UTEP, UH, SMU, Tulane, No. 104 overall, and Rice, No. 106). Marshall has only Ahmad Bradshaw on the two-deep All-Conference picks and he is second team, although the mag does like linebacker Josh Johnson as the C-USA Newcomer of the Year. Of the Herd, they state the run defense must improve along with the field goal kicking and says, "The future is bright. But this schedule includes seven road games and five bowl teams from a year ago, so the Herd would be doing well to get back to .500."

One fun fact early in the book is Randy Moss is named to the Lindy's 25th Anniversary College All-American First Team at receiver. Moss and Navy's Napoleon McCallum, at second team running back, are the only players on the list not from the BCS leagues in a list that includes WVU's Todd Sauerbrun at the back-up punter. Moss is teamed with Michigan's Desmond Howard, while Keyshawn Johnson (USC) and Larry Fitzgerald (Pitt), brother of current MU receiver Marcus Fitzgerald, are the second team wideouts. In Lindy's rankings, WVU is No. 3, Tennessee is No. 28 (3rd in SEC East) and K-State is No. 68 (sixth in Big XII North), while Tulsa comes in at No. 27 and UTEP at No. 31. UCF is the top-ranked East team at No. 44, while USM is No. 47 and Houston gives C-USA five teams in Top 50 at No. 49. Marshall has no players ranked in the Top 25 at their position.

USA Today College Football Preview picks the Herd sixth in the East and makes the key game with West Virginia, only one of two schools who are listed for a key game with a non-league rival (UCF vs. South Florida is the other, in another Big East-C-USA matchup). They like the same two teams, UCF and Tulsa, to win the divisions and back-up their low pick of MU by placing NO Marshall players on the pre-season All-C-USA team, the only East Division team without an all-league pick (also snubbed are sixth place Rice and fifth place Tulane in the West). Southern Miss is second, UAB third, Memphis is fourth and East Carolina is fifth in the East. WVU, MU's opener, is expected to win the Big East, while Kansas State is sixth in the Big XII North and Tennessee is picked third of six in the SEC East. They also have Hofstra, the Herd's home opener, as the 22nd best team in I-AA and like USC and Ohio State to play for the National Championship.

Collegefootballnews.comhasn't released all of its teams yet, and so doesn't have conference picks up yet. Of the Herd, they thing the Herd will likely be a contender in C-USA. "If UCF and Tulsa can rise up and be stars in Conference USA, then a team with the experience, potential and coaching staff at Marshall certainly can play for the title. The program has been too good for too long to be lousy two seasons in a row." is very high on Bradshaw and Keyes as best offensive and defensive players on MU and thinks the key to successful season is play of quarterbacks. Of the Key Game, they call it WVU, although it is noted, "Of course, the divisional showdowns with UCF, East Carolina and Southern Miss are more important." They believe a win over the Mountaineers, however, and spoiling WVU's run at a national title could spark Herd to really big things.

On the flip side, The Gold Sheet says "Herd thunders to the top in 2006 after retooling last season," followed by UCF, USM, UAB, Memphis and ECU. Houston is the pick in the West. Of the Herd, "We'll tab Marshall as a darkhorse candidate to make the C-USA title game. The East Division looks a bit down…and pre-conference trips to West Virginia, Kansas State and Tennessee will have the veteran squad well-calloused for the less rigorous league slate. As long as the QBs limit their mistakes, Marshall should return to its winning ways in 2006." WVU is picked No. 3 in the nation, while UT is No. 23. The Vols are again picked third in the SEC East, the Mountaineers are number one in the Big East and Kansas State is picked No. 1 in the Big XII in a "worst to first?" scenario in Coach Ron Prince's first season. There are no all-league or all-American teams.

Athlon Sports has the Herd fifth in Conference USA, behind the "Golden Twins" (Knights and Eagles), ECU and Memphis, with UAB last. Bradshaw and Legursky are first team pre-season all-league selections, while senior safety Curtis Keyes is second team All-C-USA. UTEP is the pick in the West, followed by Tulsa, Houston, SMU, Tulane and Rice. About the only consistant C-USA pick is Rice last in the West by everyone. The MU running backs and defensive lines are ranked second-best in the league, and linebackers are third, while the defensive backs are 9 of 12 and quarterbacks are eighth. WVU is ranked No. 6 and the pick again to win the Big East, while center Dan Mozes is an All-American first teamer. Tennessee is 20th, behind Florida and Georgia, with tackle Aaron Sears joining Mozes on the first team. Also named are UT DB Justin Harrell (2nd), as well as WVU RB Steve Slaton and LB Kevin McLee (3rd). Kansas State is No. 73 and last in the Big XII North. MU is ranked No. 86 in the nation. All is not bad for the Herd in Athlon's eyes. "Pieces are in place for a bounce-back season at Marshall," starts the final analysis. Things in the way are lack of playmakers besides Bradshaw and the schedule of away games at WVU, UT and K-State, as well as Southern Miss, and opening C-USA play with UCF.

Phil Steele's College Football Preview 2006 is one of my favorite mags, because they do the work for the gambling interests that are, like it or not, a huge part of the popularity of college football. You can track tends the last five years for: day, night, underdog, favorite, grass, turf, etc. in Steele's books. Did you realize Marshall trailed in every single game last year? Steele did and he picked MU to have a losing season last year, one of the only books to, unfortunately, be correct about the 4-7 season. This year, he has the Herd fourth in the East (UCF, USM, UAB, MU, ECU and UM), Houston first in the West (UTEP, TU, SMU, Tulane, and Rice) and thinks the Herd will have one of the most improved teams in the NCAA. He rates MU's defense second-best in the league and gives the Herd a shot at bowl eligibility.

Steele also picks four levels for his all-league players. Bradshaw and Legursky are again first team, with Ahmad rated as the 33rd-best back in the nation and Legursky in the top ten centers at No. 9! Senior receiver Hiram Moore and linebackers Josh Johnson (No. 53 nationally at ILB), the sophomore transfer from Ga. Military, and Matt Couch (No. 48-ILB) are joined on the second team by kick returner Chubb Small (No. 12-KR). On the third team is Keyes (No. 22-SS) and the fourth team includes junior guard John Inman. Of the Herd, Steele says, "Marshall is in much better shape to contend in C-USA in 2006 and despite a tough non-conf schedule has a shot at bowl eligibility."

Just one betting note from Steele: MU is 14-27-1 straight up vs. current Big East teams, including bowl games, and 4-1 against the spread (and 5-1 ATS in last six "bowl" games, going into the "Friends of Coal Bowl" against WVU, 3-7 ATS in last ten bowls). MU opened as a +17.5 underdog on this week against WVU and MU was 2-0 ATS non-conference last year. I'm just saying… Steele also has WVU at No. 17, with Tennessee at No. 12, Houston at No. 33 and UTEP at No. 43. He likes the Vols to win the SEC East, Louisville in the Big East and K-State tied for fourth with Iowa St. in the Big XII.

Insiders' Football News, not affiliated with the Herd Insider magazine we produce, is another betting mag. They also have MU fourth, behind USM, UCF and Memphis and ahead of UAB and ECU (Tulsa, UH, UTEP, SMU, Tulane and Rice in West). They note MU will have its first full compliment of scholarship players in five seasons and say, "Late in the season, the Herd may feed off the hype of a feel-good movie ("We Are Marshall"), although they expect the impact of the movie on the program to be felt down the road in recruiting. They also expect MU to finish without a post-season.

Players highlited include, besides the ones already mentioned in other books, QBs Bernie Morris and Jimmy Skinner; WRs Marcus Fitzgerald, Shawn Lauzon and juco Darrius Passmore; LBs Dennis Thorton and Brandon Souder; and DE Albert McClellan. UT is again No. 12, WVU No. 17 and Moutaineers Mozes, Slaton and safety Eric Wicks are second team All-Americans. WVU is pick for Big East, K-State is fifth in Big XII North and UT is third in SEC East.

Finally, the Herd is also fourth in The Sporting News book in the East, behind UCF, So. Miss and Memphis and ahead of ECU and UAB (West-UTEP, Tulsa, Houston, SMU, Tulane and, yes, Rice). The Herd's OL and LB units are rated third-best in league, while coach Mark Snyder and his staff are given MU's low grade of eighth. Of the Herd recruiting, "Kentucky QB Brian Anderson is a future star. Prep school LB Josh Johnson was one of Georgia's top prospects at one time." Of the Marshall season, "dreams might be trashed by a tough non-conference schedule…could bring Marshall back down to earth in a hurry." Bradshaw, Couch and Keyes are all-league selections. Legursky is the rated as the 16th best center, while Keyes is the 9th best strong safety. Memphis is called a "must win" for the Herd and WVU is rated the toughest game on the schedule. UCF at home on Wednesday, October 4th, is the game picked as "Best chance to pull an upset," and the Knights have never won in Huntington.

WVU is rated No. 5 in nation and Mozes (1st) and Slaton (2nd) are All-American picks. Tennessee is ranked No. 18, while UTEP is top-ranked in C-USA at No. 38. K-State is No. 78 while MU is No. 82. UT is picked 3rd again in the SEC East, WVU is first in Big East and K-State is last in Big XII North. We'll add Street and Smith's book when it becomes available on the newstand, and the Blue Ribbon when it arrives in the mail.

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