COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Doc Holliday, 17-20 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill Legg | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Heater
With seven starters returning on a unit that averaged 40.9 points per game, expectations are justifiably high for the Marshall offense. Quarterback Rakeem Cato earned Conference USA Player of the Year honors after directing the nation’s No. 1 passing offense (365.1 ypg) as a sophomore. Some of his primary outside targets are gone, but Cato should be in line for another big season. His touchdown-to-interception ratio went from 15-to-11 as a freshman to 37-to-11 last year, and the hope is that it will continue to improve in his third season as a starter.
Cato’s inside targets, Tommy Shuler (110 catches, fourth-most in the nation) and tight end Gator Hoskins (35 catches), both return and will again play a large role in the offense. The outside receivers will be new, with Davonte Allen and Demetrius Evans stepping into important roles.
The coaching staff is hoping to be able to depend on the running game more when it wants to slow the high-tempo attack and protect a lead. A trio of sophomore backs look to be capable of carrying the load after combining for 1,617 yards as freshmen, but the offensive line, which returns virtually intact, had trouble in short-yardage situations a year ago. Still, with Cato at the controls, Marshall should be able to score against any defense it faces.
Fixing a defense that surrendered 43.1 points per game — second-most in the nation — is obviously priority No. 1 for the Herd. New defensive coordinator Chuck Heater will try to put together a unit that can complement the Herd’s high-scoring offense and get Marshall a bowl berth and potential Conference USA title.
The Herd allowed over 200 yards per game on the ground in 2012, so the front line must be reinforced. Defensive linemen Alex Bazzie and Brandon Sparrow were both honorable mention All-C-USA a year ago, and Jarquez Samuel stepped up in the spring. There is some cautious optimism that this group will be improved.
Behind them, early enrollee Stefan Houston won a job at linebacker in the spring and should be a welcome addition. Athletic sophomore D.J. Hunter started as an undersized linebacker last season, but he has moved back to his more natural safety position, which will keep him on the field all three downs. Corner Darryl Roberts, who was projected to start last year before being lost for the season to injury, is healthy and will reinforce the cornerback position that returns last season’s starters.
The kicker-punter tandem of Justin Haig and Tyler Williams returns after solid seasons. Haig was 13-of-16 on field goals, including 4-of-4 from beyond 40 yards, and he made all 60 extra points. Williams had 13 punts of 50 yards or more, and the Herd ranked 46th nationally in net punting at 37.6 yard per kick. The area that needs to be shored up for Marshall was kickoff coverage, where the Herd were burned for three returns for touchdowns a year ago.
This looks like a team that can win the reconfigured and depleted Conference USA. Cato has a shot to be the league’s best player again, and the offense should be able to put up big points if the outside receivers can be productive and stretch defenses away from Shuler and Hoskins.
Defensively, the unit is more experienced and has a new coordinator, so there is at least hope it can hold up its end of the bargain one year after surrendering over 50 points five times.
With UCF off to the Big East and the game with East Carolina at home, the East Division title is certainly within reach for the Herd.