Marshall is clearly the class of Conference USA this season as the Thundering Herd are one of the most experienced teams in college football, possess one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and have a vastly improved defense that could finish ranked in the Top 20 in every important category.
Marshall’s offense is guided by star quarterback Rakeem Cato, who threw for 3,916 yards (59.7%; 39-9; 294 rush) last season and enters the 2014-2015 campaign having thrown a touchdown pass in 32 consecutive games (Russell Wilson holds the NCAA record with 38). There is no questions that Cato will leave as the program’s career passing leader as he only needs 2,967 yards this season. Cato is one of the best quarterbacks in college football and is an integral component to the Thundering Herd going undefeated (12-0) in 2014.
Despite losing its #1 running back from last season, Marshall still has the best backfield in Conference USA. While Essray Taliaferro departs, Kevin Grooms (737 yards; 6.1 last year) and Steward Butler (500 yards; 5.0 last year) return to form a very good running back unit. Cato will have his #1 wide receiver back in Tommy Shuler, who finished with 1,165 yards last season and became only the eighth player in NCAA football to eclipse 100 yards in two different seasons. Devon Johnson and Eric Frohnapfel round out what can only be described as a very talented wide receiving corp. The biggest question mark surrounding Marshall is its offensive line, which only returns 64 career starts this season.
Defense is where the Thundering Herd have made the most improvement from last year. Marshall’s secondary is one of the best in the country with six of its top nine players returning, including AJ Leggett. The arrival of Virginia Tech transfer Donaldven Manning further enhances the Herd’s secondary. Every key player from last season’s linebacking unit also returns, including #1 tackler Evan McKelvey. It’s important to note that Marshall allowed its fewest points since 2004 (43.1 points per game in 2012; 22.9 points per game in 2013). Marshall’s very strong defensive line is anchored by 1st-team Conference USA defensive tackle James Rouse, who was granted a 6th year.
Marshall defeated East Carolina to win the Conference USA East Title last season and defeated Maryland in its bowl game. Head coach Doc Holliday has done an excellent job with this program and welcomes back fourteen starters. Marshall won its home games by an average margin of 53-13 last season and suffered its three road losses by 3 points, 2 points and in overtime. The Thundering Herd will be flying under-the-radar this season and provide an excellent investment opportunity in the early stages of the 2014-2015 season.