Marshall Thundering Herd
Marshall’s explosive offense is the class of Conference USA this season as quarterback Rakeem Cato is poised to put up career numbers. After gaining some much-needed weight during the offseason, Cato produced impressive numbers in 2012, including throwing for 4,201 yards (69.5%; 37-11 ratio). Cato was clearly the most improved quarterback in college football last season and was named Conference USA’s Offensive Player of the Year. Cato’s job this season is aided by the conference’s best receiving unit, which is led by Tommy Shuler and Penn State transfers Shawney Kersey and Devon Smith (both of whom are seniors). Marshall also enters the 2013 campaign with an outstanding offensive line that boasts 85 career starts, including 9 of its top ten performers from last year.
Marshall’s defense will be vastly improved this season based upon the addition of several quality transfers. Indeed, the Thundering Herd take the field with one of the conference’s best defensive lines led by USC transfer Steve Dillon. The largest improvement for Marshall is its defensive backs as I project cornerback A.J. Leggett and safety D.J. Hunter to be two of the conference’s best. While the Thundering Herd yielded 43.1 points per game last season, my math models are showing a two touchdown improvement on defense in 2013! Doc Holliday, one of the game’s best recruiters, will have his team bowling this season.
With sixteen starters and a head coach who has shown improvement in each of the last three seasons, I am calling for Buffalo to go bowling this season (4-8 last year). Buffalo’s success will be predicated upon an outstanding ground attack, together with a solid offensive line. Branden Oliver is the team’s leading rusher and I expect him to achieve career numbers this season behind an outstanding offensive line that boasts 61 career starts and returns eight of its top 10 players back from 2012. In 2011, Oliver set school records for most carries (306), rushing yards (1,395), all-purpose yards (1,760) and 100-yard games (8), and I expect him to return to form after an injury-plagued season last year.
Buffalo will also field an improved defense that is led by defensive end Colby Way. Buffalo doubled its number of sacks last season, and I project even more pressure applied by the Bulls’ front seven in 2013. The strength of Buffalo’s defense is with its linebacking unit that is anchored by senior Khalil Mack, who turned down the NFL to finish his collegiate career in Buffalo. Mack led the team in tackles last season (94), and also produced 8 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. Head coach Jeff Quinn enters the 2013 campaign with his best team yet, and I would be shocked if the Bulls did not secure a bowl bid this season.