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You can read the entire Marshall Thundering Herd preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Doc Holliday, 12-13 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill Legg, Tony Peterson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Rippon
The good news for Marshall is that eight starters return to its offensive unit. The bad news for the Herd is that this unit ranked 102nd in the nation in total offense (after ranking 103rd in 2010).
The biggest name to watch is wide receiver Aaron Dobson, an athletic senior who made one of the great one-handed touchdown catches of the year against East Carolina; words can’t do the clip justice, you must watch it on YouTube. Much is expected of Dobson, who mulled entering the NFL Draft before deciding to spend one more year with the Herd.
Throwing to Dobson and the rest of an experienced receiving corps is sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato, who had some on-the-job training as a true freshman, starting nine games and throwing 15 touchdowns. Coach Doc Holliday says Cato will be leaned on more this fall after making good decisions in the spring. Running backs Tron Martinez and Travon Van, who combined for 1,200 yards, are also back.
Holliday says the biggest factor holding up his offense the past two seasons has been the offensive line, and the Herd now have three starters returning plus junior college transfer Gage Niemeyer, who made an immediate impression at left tackle in the spring.
“One of the hardest things to develop and fix is the offensive line,” Holliday says. “I don’t think it is a personnel issue any more on the offensive line. We’ve got enough guys right now. We just have to get better.”
Vinny Curry, Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year, is off to the NFL from his defensive end spot, but Holliday believes that the unit, which finished sixth in the league in ’11, will be better overall due to an increase in athleticism at linebacker and more depth.
Devin Arrington, who spent a year at strong safety, is moving back to his familiar linebacker spot and will start on the strong side alongside returning starter Jermaine Holmes and Billy Mitchell. This unit must be prepared to defend the pass with Houston, West Virginia and East Carolina on the schedule.
The return of safety D.J. Hunter from a knee injury allows the move of Arrington back to linebacker, and four talented corners, led by Darryl Roberts, have Holliday comfortable when it comes to his nickel and dime packages this fall. This unit received a boost with the additions of safeties Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okorha - both transfers from Boston College with immediate eligibility.
Along the defensive front, Marques Aiken, Jeremiah Taylor, Alex Bazzie, Brandon Sparrow and James Rouse are expected to make up for the departure of Curry.
There will be a new kicker and punter in place, with Justin Haig the early favorite to kick and walk-on Austin Dumas holding a slight edge punting the ball during the spring. Receiver Andre Booker, who was 20th nationally in punt returns and 40th in kick returns, should handle both duties again.
Marshall did not make a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 under Holliday, but finishing 6–6 after a 5–7 mark the year before meant a bowl berth, and when the Herd won the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, tangible progress was felt. Marshall has a chance to continue that upward trend if the offensive line can allow the team’s talented skill players to thrive, particularly Dobson. Defensively, Marshall is deeper and better prepared for some of the difficult offenses it will face.
Another bowl berth for the Herd in 2012 would not be a surprise, but a C-USA championship still looks to be at least a few years down the road.
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