"This is a challenging schedule from top to bottom," Marshall Head Coach Mark Snyder said. "With that said, I like the way the games fall and I think our fans and players are excited about the challenge. We are going to have to be ready to play every week." Marshall will open with a former foe from the 1970s and 1980s before starting Conference USA play earlier than ever. MU will also be bringing in a Big East opponent who has not visited Huntington in many years, and this year it is not WVU, before returning to play in C-USA in what will be Marshall's fourth year in the league. It will also be Snyder's fourth season as head coach of his alma mater,where he set the single season interception record and helped take the Herd to its first I-AA title game in 1987.
Marshall is scheduled to open the season with Illinois State in Huntington on Saturday, August 30, although Conference USA has asked Marshall about changing that opening game to Thursday opener on August 28. That date might actually draw better than a game on Saturday evening on Labor Day weekend, especially among the students who usually head out on Friday and return late on Monday for the holiday.
It will be the first meeting with the Redbirds of the Football Championship Subdivision (of Division I, formerly I-AA) since the Herd was just in its third year of I-AA football in 1984, when a 10-7 win in Normal, Illinois, set Stan Parrish's Herd up for a winning season at 6-5, after beating the Redbirds in tornado-like conditions that delayed kickoff 45 minutes. MU's first winning season in 20 years was clinched the next week at ETSU, but the win over ISU set that game up. MU is 3-1 against Illinois State all-time, and the Herd rejoined the now named Football Bowl Subdivision in 1997 after winning the I-AA National Championship with a 15-0 record.
Marshall's last trip to a Big Ten school was 2004, when Herd receiver Brad Bates tied the game with the Ohio State Buckeyes in the fourth quarter. OSU won on a last-second field goal, and MU will travel to the Big Ten's Wisconsin this season for a first-ever trip to Camp Randall Stadium and the party that is Madison, Wisc. on game day.
Marshall will then make a first-ever trip to Wisconsin to take on the Badgers of the Big Ten on Sept. 6. The Badgers were 9-4 last season, but fell to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl, 21-17. Marshall has played Ohio State (2004), Michigan State (2000) and Penn State (1929-30) of the Big Ten and is 0-4 all-time against the league. This game may be televised, including possibly by the Big Ten Network or ESPN.
After the trip to the Big Ten, Marshall will return home for the earliest C-USA opener since MU joined the league in 2005 on September 13 in Huntington. It is the earliest opener for the Herd since hosting Toledo on Sept. 12 in 2003 in the Mid-American Conference opener. The Memphis Tigers defeated Marshall at the Liberty Bowl last season, 24-21, on the way to a 7-6 mark, 6-2 in Conference USA. The Tigers lost to FAU, champs of the Sun Belt Conference, in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl by 44-27.
Darius Passmore hauled in this 47-yard touchdown pass in last year's game with Southern Miss, and the Herd will travel to Hattiesburg this year. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Marshall heads to "The Rock" on September 20 to Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, Miss. The Herd fell last season to USM, 33-24, and has not beaten the Golden Eagles in three tries in second consecutive East Division meeting in September of '08. Southern Miss played in the PapaJohns.com Bowl last season, falling to another Herd opponent, No 22-ranked Cincinnati 31-21, in former Head Coach Jeff Bower's last game as coach at his alma mater. The Eagles were 7-6 overall, 5-3 in C-USA. Roberts Stadium, or "The Rock," is featuring both a new head coach in Larry Fedora but is also completing work on a south end zone upgrade at the stadium.
Expect another sellout of the Marshall-West Virginia game, just like last season when a crowd of over 40,000 packed in Edwards Stadium on Saturday for the annual Friends Of Coal Bowl, and when over 60,000 filled Mountaineer Field in 2006 and 1997. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Marshall's third annual meeting with in-state rival West Virginia was scheduled for Sept. 13 in Morgantown, but has been moved to Sept. 27 to accommodate the Mountaineers who play at Colorado on Sept. 18. That would have been just five days between a home game and a trip to Boulder for a Thursday night ESPN-Family game. Expect the MU-WVU "Friends of Coal Bowl" game to also be televised, as it was a ESPN game at the sold-out Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington last year and a statewide network the first year at Puskar Stadium.
The Mountaineers were 11-2 last year and finished No. 6 in the nation after knocking Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, 48-28, in new Head Coach Bill Stewart's first game as the head man. Stewart, a Herd assistant coach under Sonny Randle at Marshall, faced the Herd as the head coach at VMI in the mid-1990s. His assistants include former MU assistant Steve Dunlap, the Herd's defensive coordinator in 2007 who will coach safeties and was named assistant head coach at WVU. Also coming back to Morgantown as David Johnson, who will coach the offensive line. Johnson coached against his alma mater as a MU assistant in 1997, staying through 2000 with the Herd.
The Cincinnati Bearcats will travel to Huntington for a Friday night, 8 p.m. ESPN game on October 3, according to the Bearcat release on Monday. UC and MU played in front of a standing-room only crowd at Nippert Stadium last season in Cincinnati, with the No. 22-ranked Bearcats winning 40-14, on their way to beating Southern Miss in the PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham and a final 10-3 record.
Most observers of the two Ohio River programs expect this renewed rivalry, between UC and Marshall who are just under three hours apart, will draw well in Huntington like it did in the Queen City. Another interesting fact is the Herd's new defensive coordinator is former UC Head Coach, Rick Minter, who was the Bearcats' head coach when MU won against UC in the Motor City Bowl. As far as the series with MU, the Bearcats lead it 7-3-1, with the first game played back in 1906. It will be the first meeting in Huntington since 1937, when the Herd won 28-0 on the way to winning the championship of the Buckeye Conference. UC and Marshall were in the Buckeye together from 1933-39, and both are former members of the Mid-American Conference.
Courtney Edmonson hauled in this touchdown pass last season in the Herd's game at Nippert Stadium. The Beatcats come to Huntington for first time since 1937, but fourth meeting between Bearcats and Herd since 2000 Motor City Bowl and the 2004 Plains Capital Fort Worth Bowl. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Next up for the Herd will be a trip to Birmingham as well, to historic Legion Field, for a meeting with the UAB Blazers, 15 days after the UC game on October 18. Marshall has won all three meetings with UAB, including last season at home, 46-39, and the last time the Herd traveled to Alabama, where the home crowd was well under 10,000 for the meeting with East Division rival Marshall.
Darius Marshall unleashed this 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in The Herd's 46-39 win over the Blazers last season in Huntington. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The Herd will return home another ten days later to face the Houston Cougars for the second time on October 28, a Tuesday night home game on the ESPN network of stations. The Cougars, who have a new head coach in Kevin Sumlin, beat the Herd 35-28 in at Robertson Stadium on the UH campus, and will make its first trip to the state of West Virginia to play football at MU.
Houston was beaten in its home town at Reliant Stadium in the Texas Bowl by in-state rival TCU, 20-13, and the Cougars posted a 8-5 mark, 6-2 in league play. UH Director of Athletics Dave Maggard likes the balance he sees with the 2008 slate. "This is a very good schedule for the University of Houston," Maggard said. "It is well balanced when it comes to home games and away games in relation to our opponents. We get to bounce back-and-forth between home and road games for most of the season, and we get to finish the month of November by never leaving the city of Houston.
Marshall will again have 11 days to prepare for a tough November as the Herd will next travel to East Carolina for a date with the Pirates on November 8. Marshall and ECU fans have a common bond between the programs, as the Herd was returning from Greenville, N.C. after a game with the Pirates when MU's plane crashed at Tri-State Airport just outside of Huntington. 75 persons, including most of the football team and staff, were lost on November 14, 1970. ECU placed a plaque on the visiting locker room outside wall on the Herd's last trip to Greenville in 2006, a ceremony in which many Marshall and East Carolina fans and staff members participated.
C.J. Spillman sent East Carolina QB Patrick Pinkney into the air on this play in the second half of Marshall's 26-7 win over the Pirates last year in Huntington. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"I don't think we could have asked for a better schedule with the way things worked out," said ECU Head Coach Skip Holtz about the Pirate's schedule. "When you look at the four non-conference games...I know it excites the players and fans to see Virginia Tech (in Charlotte), West Virginia, (at) North Carolina State and (at) Virginia (on the schedule). It is going to be a very challenging season for us." ECU will host both WVU and Marshall this season in Greenville.
The all-time series with Marshall, which began in 1967, is in the Pirates favor at 6-3 all-time, but the teams have had some classics. MU came back from 38-8 in the 2001 GMAC Bowl to win the highest scoring bowl game in NCAA history, 64-61 in double overtime in Mobile. Last season, Marshall pulled the upset on ECU last year in Huntington, and the loss cost the Pirates the East Division crown (although many in Greenville were grateful for the trip Marshall instead gave them). The Pirates ended up at the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl, won by the Pirates over No. 24 Boise State, 41-38, on the way to a 8-5 finish, 6-2 in C-USA.
Cody Slate put Marshall on the board with this TD catch in the UCF game in Huntington in 2006. The Herd is 0-3 versus the Knights in C-USA play.photos by Greg Perry/HI staff
UCF, the Knights of Central Florida, will travel to Huntington on November 15 for the seventh meeting all time between UCF and the Thundering Herd. Marshall won the first three games when both programs were in the Mid-American Conference, but UCF has won all three since the two programs moved up to Conference USA in 2005, including last season's 47-13 thrashing of Marshall in the new BrightHouse Networks Stadium in Orlando.
If Marshall football has a rival outside of the Ohio Bobcats, coming back on the schedule soon in a long-term home-and-home contract, or WVU, it would be the Knights of UCF, who won the East Division title in 2005 and won the C-USA Championship last season. The Knights were 10-4 overall, 7-1 in league play, and won the East title thanks to MU beating ECU. UCF fell in the Liberty Bowl to Mississippi State, 10-3, and outstanding running back Kevin Smith will be running for someone in the NFL in 2008 instead of the Knights.
Marshall's Chubb Small ran nine times for 74 yards, including this 26-yarder with Rice's Andrew Sendejo on his back, in MU's first win of 2007. Rice was the 15th consecutive win in the Homecoming game for the Herd. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
A trip to Houston, Texas, is up next for the Thundering Herd as Marshall will visit Rice on November 22. The Owls were the first win in 2007 for the Herd, leading to MU winning three of its final five games to close the season strong behind seniors like Bernard Morris, Brian Shope, Byron Tinker and Anthony Binswanger.
Rice, who finished 3-9, 3-5 in C-USA to match Marshall's record exactly, will be coming off a bye week when the Herd comes to town. Marshall will have the new quarterback hopefully smoothly running a new offense of former Toledo assistant John Shannon, who in now the Offensive Coordinator for the Herd football program. Shannon coached current NFL quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to a completion percentage of well over 70 percent when he played for the Rockets.
Marshall will be home on November 29 to close the season in the friendly confines of the James F. Edwards Field/Joan C. Edwards Stadium, where the Herd is 108-13 since the facility opened as Marshall University Stadium in 1991, winning nearly 90 percent of games played there. The opponent will be a first-time visit by Tulsa, and the 2007 C-USA West Division champs will also have to move on in Head Coach Todd Graham's second season without outstanding quarterback Paul Smith. Smith and Marshall's Morris were teammates and quarterbacked senior bowl all-star games at both the Hula Bowl and the East-West Shrine Bowl in January of 2008.
Graham coached for Rich Rodriguez at WVU, so the trip back to the Mountain State will be a bit of a homecoming. He was an assistant at Tulsa before taking the head coaching job at Rice in 2006, then bolting back to Tulsa as head coach when Steve Kragthorpe went to Louisville after Bobby Petrino left UL for the Atlanta Falcons job (which he left two-thirds the way through the NFL season to become head coach at Arkansas). Tulsa was 10-4 last year, 6-2 in league play, and hammered the MAC's Bowling Green Falcons in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, 63-7. They Golden Hurricane escaped the Herd at H.A. Chapman Stadium/Skelly Field by just seven points, 38-31.
Times for all games will be announced later this year, as will the additional television converage for Herd home and road games. With two ESPN games for sure, another two possible with Wisconsin and WVU, it would appear the Herd is due for a number of appearances. Still to be announced will be those games of Marshall's carried on CBS College Sports Television (formerly CSTV), Comcast Sports South (CSS) or the local tv games carried through either WOWK TV-13/West Virginia Media or WSAZ TV-3.
A near full slate of games to be watched would thrill out-of-state fans, as well as those fans in the Tri-State who cannot get to games at Madison, Wisconsin (under two hours north of Chicago, and an hour west of Milwaukee); Hattiesburg, Mississippi (about two hours north of New Orleans); Birmingham, Alabama (an eight hour drive for Herd fans in Huntington); Greenville, N.C. (again, seven to eight hours down through the Triad and towards the Atlantic coast); and Houston, Texas (direct flights available out of Charleston, W.Va. on Continental), as well as alumni watching parties nationwide. As always, however, every game is heard on the Thundering Herd/ISP Sports Network, with flagship stations in Huntington at WDGG, 93.7 FM, The Dawg, and ESPN 930 AM, WRVC. A two-hour pre-game leads into games, while a two-hour post-game wraps up scores, talks with coach and players at MU and then allows fans to call and discuss each game on the schedule, which is below.
MARSHALL UNIVERSITY 2008 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Saturday, Aug. 30 ILLINOIS STATE
Saturday, Sept. 6 at Wisconsin
Saturday, Sept. 13 MEMPHIS*
Saturday, Sept. 20 at Southern Miss*
Saturday, Sept. 27 at West Virginia
Friday, Oct. 3 CINCINNATI (ESPN)
Saturday, Oct. 18 at UAB
Tuesday, Oct. 28 HOUSTON* (ESPN)
Saturday, Nov. 8 at East Carolina*
Saturday, Nov. 15 UCF*
Saturday, Nov. 22 at Rice*
Saturday, Nov. 29 TULSA*
*Conference USA Games/times, other tv games tba