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1. What is Marshall?
Simply put, Marshall was awesome. The Thundering Herd faded in November, which damaged the overall ratings, but they still rampaged through most of the season. They played just about the easiest schedule imaginable, but they played at a high level against those teams.
Among teams not currently in power conferences, Marshall's 2014 squad ranked highly in recent history. In 10 years of F/+ ratings, Marshall ranks ninth among all non-power teams, fourth in the "No Boise State" division.
Highest mid-major F/+ ratings (besides Boise State), 2005-14
1. 2007 USF
2. 2012 Utah State
3. 2009 Cincinnati
4. 2014 Marshall
5. 2007 Cincinnati
You could make the case that the Herd are really second on that list behind Utah State, since USF and Cincinnati were part of the BCS Big East.
For three years, Doc Holliday recruited like gangbusters while putting a mediocre product on the field; the Herd were a perfectly average Conference USA team every year between 2007 (when Mark Snyder was still the head coach) and 2012.
But then things changed.
In my 2013 Marshall preview, I said "So when does the surge begin? Now? Another year? Ever?" and the Herd responded with a 10-win season. An upset loss at Rice in the conference title game kept sentiments from rising too high, but with the components of a potentially dominant offense and defense, it became clear that Marshall was well-stocked heading into 2014.
Marshall almost won at Virginia Tech, pummeled East Carolina to win the Conference USA East, and looked like the bigger, stronger, faster team against Maryland in the Military Bowl. The Herd looked the part in 2013 and began to play like it.
They return an ace quarterback, his top target, a couple of explosive running backs, two all-conference offensive linemen, and nine starters from a defense that recorded 102 tackles for loss and improved from 117th to 78th in Def. F/+ last season.
Marshall is your Conference USA overlord in 2014. And I'm not sure it's close.
For 10 weeks, it wasn't. Marshall outscored opponents by an average score of 47-16 and only once won by fewer than 19. The better the opponent (relatively speaking), the bigger the statement. Marshall handled eventual Conference USA East runner-up Middle Tennessee by 25 points, then avenged the 2013 loss to Rice with a 41-14 pasting. The schedule precluded the Herd from getting any attention from the Playoff committee, but this was still remarkable.
The pace trailed off in late November. UAB almost pulled a huge upset in Birmingham on November 22, and on November 28, after never giving up more than 775 yards and 37 points in any two-game span, Marshall allowed 738 yards and 67 points to Western Kentucky in a thrilling shootout loss. The Herd looked iffy in pulling off a comeback win over Louisiana Tech in the conference title game before returning to their old selves in a bowl shellacking of Northern Illinois.
Marshall finished just 17th in the F/+ rankings after flirting with a top-10 finish. Regardless, this was an awesome team.
And now it starts over. The record-setting pass-and-catch combination of Rakeem Cato (14,079 career passing yards and 131 touchdowns) and Tommy Shuler (322 career catches and 25 touchdowns) is gone. So are Marshall's top three tacklers on the defensive line and three of four at linebacker. And so is all-conference center Chris Jasperse. Marshall didn't ride to dominance with 22 senior starters, but a new identity begins.
So what is Marshall? A team that slowly laid a foundation for high-caliber football, broke through in 2013, and will remain Conference USA's heavyweight? Or was this a team built around Cato, Shuler, and front-seven talent that won't be donning the green and white?
Recruiting rankings suggest the former. Not only do the Herd return plenty of proven pieces, they'll be replacing Cato with one of three three-star quarterbacks, and there are still 10 three- or four-star freshmen or sophomores in the receiving corps. Marshall has more than lived up to its recruiting rankings the last two years, and the departure of a few starters won't automatically change that.
Still, sometimes a cluster of talented players proves more special than others. It's hard to assume the new guys will be just as strong. Marshall has a lot to prove.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 13-1 | Adj. Record: 12-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 17|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|30-Aug||at Miami (Ohio)||103||42-27||W||73%||14.3||100%|
|4-Oct||at Old Dominion||108||56-14||W||95%||39.6||100%|
|18-Oct||at Florida International||96||45-13||W||84%||23.1||100%|
|8-Nov||at Southern Miss||110||63-17||W||87%||26.7||100%|
|23-Dec||vs. Northern Illinois||69||52-23||W||88%||27.7||100%|
|Points Per Game||45.6||3||21.0||18|
2. Hello, soapbox
For much of 2014, Marshall was an undefeated, dominant, potentially top-10 team that continuously got crushed for an awful schedule.
And to be sure, the schedule was horrendous. The Herd played eight teams that ranked 96th or worse in the F/+ ratings and only two that ranked better than 69th. Plus, in those two games, they lost to WKU and nearly lost to Louisiana Tech, both at home. So it was easy to make a case that the Herd had benefited from a weak schdule and would have lost more with a normal schedule.
But that underscores the level at which they played for the first 10 games, a level they reached again in the Boca Raton Bowl. (They couldn't even get a game against a power team in a bowl.) And with the way the College Football Playoff committee ignored the Herd for most of the season, even as they were threatening to crack the top 10 in the opponent-adjusted advanced stats, Marshall became a poster child for why advanced stats should have a role in Playoff selection.
In late-February, I had the privilege of sitting on the College Football Analytics panel at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. It was a fun shoulder-rubbing experience, and it produced one hell of a to-do list, but it also featured this exchange.
Me: Marshall was an interesting example -- not that they were a contender, but they were undefeated for much of the year. And when they originally drew up their 2014 schedule, it had, I think Louisville, maybe? It had a power team on it, and it had a better Conference USA on it. And then the [non-conference] game falls through, and Conference USA gets weakened a little bit. They could have tried harder, I guess, but they ended up getting punished for something that wasn't necessarily due to what they were doing on the field.
Oliver Luck: And keep in mind, all the committee can do is look at who you played that year.
Or they could use opponent-adjusted stats to accurately compare output to expected output based on who you played.
I like to say that good stats can make sure the conversation starts in the right place. Even if Marshall had kept up their 10-week pace through 13 weeks and wrapped up a top-10 placement in F/+ and other rankings, the Herd probably would have still been behind Boise State in the Playoff rankings for the fact that Boise State got whipped by Ole Miss. That's not right. There's a better way.
I'm all for encouraging more exciting non-conference scheduling. But I'm not in favor of punishing a team for what some associate athletic director did two years earlier. Marshall was awesome, and Marshall was ignored.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||47.7%||17||Succ. Rt. +||105.6||49|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.3||62||Def. FP+||100.0||65|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.1||10||Redzone S&P+||104.6||55|
|Q1 Rk||16||1st Down Rk||12|
|Q2 Rk||31||2nd Down Rk||4|
|Q3 Rk||20||3rd Down Rk||39|
3. The big-play guys are back
Like Louisiana Tech, Marshall bailed itself out with big plays, especially in an all-or-nothing running game. And for all of his successes, Rakeem Cato only completed 59 percent of his passes. Marshall's offense was more efficient and explosive than Tech's, but it was the same concept.
Almost to a man, the big-play guys return. You've got the absurdly explosive senior trio of Devon Johnson, Steward Butler, and Remi Watson, who rushed for 3,111 yards last year and produced serious explosiveness numbers. (That Johnson averaged 8.9 highlight yards per opportunity at 246 pounds is ridiculous. He averaged more than 20 yards per reception, as well.) You've also got four-star sophomores Angelo Jean-Louis and Deon-Tay McManus and senior Davonte Allen; the trio combined for a ridiculous 21.1 yards per catch with a paltry 49 percent catch rate. And you've got young speedsters like Donquell Green and Reggie Rogers threatening to break into the rotation as well.
This will still be the most explosive offense in Conference USA.
But you still need to move the chains consistently. And in losing both Tommy Shuler and tight end Eric Frohnapfel (combined: 71 percent catch rate) and the mobile Cato, you're losing the most efficient aspects of your offense. That's tricky to replace.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Gunnar Holcombe||6'3, 208||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8231||12||21||119||0||0||57.1%||0||0.0%||5.7|
|Michael Birdsong||6'5, 239||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Cole Garvin||6'1, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8244|
|Chase Litton||6'6, 212||Fr.||3 stars||0.8360|
|Devon Johnson||RB||6'1, 246||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8163||206||1767||17||8.6||8.9||51.0%||3||1|
|Steward Butler||RB||5'9, 192||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8479||107||798||7||7.5||8.0||44.9%||1||1|
|Remi Watson||RB||5'11, 196||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8157||100||546||6||5.5||6.2||36.0%||2||1|
|Gunnar Holcombe||QB||6'3, 208||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8231||7||66||0||9.4||9.6||57.1%||0||0|
|Tony Pittman||RB||5'10, 206||So.||2 stars||0.7893||7||56||1||8.0||6.0||57.1%||0||0|
|Delvin Weems||RB||5'8, 195||Fr.||3 stars||0.8467|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Angelo Jean-Louis||WR-Z||6'0, 184||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9213||50||21||490||42.0%||11.2%||62.0%||9.8||211||10.3||64.9|
|Deon-Tay McManus||WR-Z||6'2, 228||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8950||50||26||422||52.0%||11.2%||60.0%||8.4||94||8.4||55.9|
|Davonte Allen||WR-X||6'2, 201||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8200||40||22||544||55.0%||8.9%||67.5%||13.6||270||13.5||72.0|
|Ryan Yurachek||TE||6'3, 231||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7626||25||17||149||68.0%||5.6%||68.0%||6.0||-54||6.4||19.7|
|Hyleck Foster||SLOT||5'10, 191||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8093||24||18||254||75.0%||5.4%||54.2%||10.6||42||10.5||33.6|
|Justin Hunt||WR-X||6'3, 197||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7967||15||7||119||46.7%||3.3%||60.0%||7.9||28||7.9||15.7|
|Devon Johnson||RB||6'1, 246||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8163||7||6||121||85.7%||1.6%||42.9%||17.3||52||20.0||16.0|
|Josh Knight||WR||6'1, 193||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859||4||2||13||50.0%||0.9%||75.0%||3.3||-12||3.9||1.7|
|Deandre Reaves||WR||5'10, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8331||3||2||26||66.7%||0.7%||100.0%||8.7||2||N/A||3.4|
|Donquell Green||WR||5'8, 163||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8235|
|Emanuel Beal||WR||6'1, 212||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8457|
|Kaleb Harris||TE||6'3, 219||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7900|
|Emanuel Byrd||TE||6'3, 228||Jr.||3 stars||NR|
|Reggie Rogers||WR||6'1, 190||Fr.||3 stars||0.8363|
|Larry Dunnon||WR||6'4, 200||Fr.||3 stars||0.8242|
|Latrell Nieves||WR||6'0, 168||Fr.||2 stars||0.8074|
|Raylen Elzy||WR||6'4, 198||Fr.||3 stars||0.7913|
|Reese Wooten||WR||6'1, 170||Fr.||3 stars||0.7200|
4. The apprentices looked pretty good
If you believe recruiting rankings, you find Marshall has multiple high-ceiling options for replacing both Cato and Shuler. But you also don't have to just rely on the rankings.
Gunnar Holcombe averaged only 5.7 yards per pass attempt last year, but he was throwing almost entirely in garbage time, and he showed Cato-esque mobility when tucking and running. And if he isn't efficient enough behind center, then there are other potential options. Michael Birdsong threw for 2,700 yards and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore starter for James Madison in 2013 before transferring, Cole Garvin was a big get in 2014, and Chase Litton was one of the most highly touted members of the 2015 class.
And while it feels strange saying "Don't worry about losing Tommy Shuler" ... did you see what slot backup Hyleck Foster did last year when given the opportunity? He caught 18 of 24 passes for 254 yards and began to shine when given a larger role late: 10 of his catches, and two of his three touchdowns, came against WKU and Louisiana Tech. Between Foster, the big-play guys, and a wealth of three-star freshmen and redshirt freshmen, I can't pretend to worry about the loss of Shuler.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Chris Jasperse||C||53||2014 1st All-CUSA|
|Clint Van Horn||RT||6'5, 295||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||22||2014 1st All-CUSA|
|Sebastian Johansson||LG||6'5, 292||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||25|
|Michael Selby||C||6'2, 276||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8414||14|
|Tom Collins||LG||6'5, 277||Sr.||NR||NR||0|
|Eric Ansley||RT||6'7, 309||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||0|
|Chris Huhn||RG||6'5, 278||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8348||0|
|Sandley Jean-Felix||LT||6'5, 309||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8345||0|
|AJ Addison||LT||6'6, 288||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8700||0|
|Cody Collins||RG||6'1, 283||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7804||0|
|Nate Devers||C||6'3, 285||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8665|
|Jordan Dowrey||RG||6'1, 295||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7755|
|Fedrice Binot||LT||6'4, 282||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000|
|Levi Brown||OL||6'4, 275||Fr.||2 stars||0.8348|
5. Either great or terrible at everything
Marshall's line was interesting: 14th in Adj. Line Yards, fourth in stuff rate (run stops at or behind the line), 10th in standard downs sack rate ... and 102nd in passing downs sack rate and 106th in power success rate (despite blocking for a big back). You will see disparities, especially in pass-blocking stats (where the mobility and play-making tendencies of a quarterback have as much to do with the rates as the line does), but that's an impressive difference.
In theory, the line could be a question mark. It loses one of two all-conference performers, not to mention two other full- or part-time starters. But returnees have combined for 61 career starts, and the wealth of young, high-ceiling options is a plus. You don't have to assume that every former three-star recruit is going to turn into an all-conference guy, but the odds are good that two good starting options will emerge from a deep pool.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.9%||33||Succ. Rt. +||102.5||55|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||32.7||18||Off. FP+||103.0||30|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||30||Redzone S&P+||94.1||89|
|Q1 Rk||68||1st Down Rk||34|
|Q2 Rk||28||2nd Down Rk||96|
|Q3 Rk||29||3rd Down Rk||12|
6. Opponents did all they could not to pass
Marshall's run defense was decent -- not efficient but good at minimizing big plays. If you remained consistent, you could move the ball on the Herd on standard downs, stay ahead of the chains, and sometimes put points on the board, at least if you could get the ball in the end zone against a strong redzone defense.
The pass defense separated Marshall from some random bend-don't-break CUSA defense. Once you had to pass, you were dead meat. The Herd ranked 55th in Standard Downs S&P+ but sixth in Passing Downs S&P+, sacking the quarterback on one of every nine PD pass attempts and seemingly getting a hand on every pass the quarterback was able to throw.
(There is always an exception. WKU's Brandon Doughty completed 35 of 51 for 516 yards, eight scores, and two picks on November 28. His output represented 19 percent of Marshall's total passing yards allowed and 38 percent of touchdowns. He was the only quarterback to top a passer rating of 126 against Marshall, but he posted a 197.5. That's one hell of an exception.)
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jarquez Samuel||NT||6'4, 290||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8160||14||22.0||2.6%||5.0||1.0||1||0||0||0|
|Steve Dillon||DT||6'4, 278||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8400||14||22.0||2.6%||2.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Joe Massaquoi||DE||6'5, 254||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||14||20.5||2.4%||3.0||2.0||0||1||1||0|
|Gary Thompson||DE||6'1, 258||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7700||9||14.5||1.7%||3.5||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Armonze Daniel||DE||6'4, 244||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8631||14||14.0||1.7%||2.0||0.0||0||0||2||0|
|Ricardo Williams||DT||6'5, 260||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8725||13||11.5||1.4%||3.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tomell One||NT||6'3, 279||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8148||11||10.0||1.2%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Blake Keller||DE||6'2, 229||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8143|
|Ryan Bee||DE||6'7, 260||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7783|
|Jason Smith||DT||6'3, 285||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7593|
|Malik Thompson||DT||6'6, 275||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.7778|
|Damien Dozier||DE||6'4, 215||Fr.||2 stars||0.8296|
|Channing Hames||DE||6'5, 255||Fr.||3 stars||0.8429|
|Ty Tyler||DE||6'3, 231||Fr.||2 stars||0.8371|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|D.J. Hunter||SLB||6'0, 209||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||NR||14||53.5||6.4%||10.0||5.5||0||0||0||0|
|Evan McKelvey||WLB||6'2, 231||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7593||5||17.0||2.0%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Raheim Huskey||MLB||6'2, 218||So.||NR||NR||13||16.5||2.0%||2.5||2.0||0||1||1||0|
|Stefan Houston||WLB||6'3, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8500||14||12.5||1.5%||1.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|MLB||6'0, 251||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7923|
|Chase Hancock||SLB||6'2, 206||RSFr.||NR||NR|
|Devontre'a Tyler||LB||6'2, 238||Jr.||3 stars||0.7900|
|Marquis Couch||WLB||6'2, 218||Fr.||3 stars||0.8086|
|Doyle Grimes||LB||6'2, 210||Fr.||2 stars||0.8160|
7. Plenty of reason to run
Just as the Marshall offense might be as good or better at big plays while growing more inefficient, Marshall's pass defense could get even better (or at least remain as good) while its run defense forms a few more cracks.
Ends Arnold Blackmon and Ra'Shawde Myers are gone, as are big-play tackle James Rouse and, perhaps most important, run-stuffing linebackers Neville Hewitt and Jermaine Holmes, who combined for 16.5 non-sack tackles for loss.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Taj Letman||SS||6'2, 189||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8609||14||70.0||8.3%||0.5||0||4||4||0||0|
|Corey Tindal||CB||5'9, 183||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7700||14||55.0||6.5%||2||0.5||1||12||0||0|
|A.J. Leggett||FS||6'0, 188||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9193||12||52.0||6.2%||1||0||4||4||1||0|
|Tiquan Lang||FS||5'8, 170||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7943||12||50.5||6.0%||2.5||0||1||7||0||0|
|Antavis Rowe||CB||5'10, 160||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000||12||17.5||2.1%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Rodney Allen||CB||5'11, 180||So.||NR||NR||14||8.0||1.0%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Keith Baxter||CB||6'0, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8109||12||7.5||0.9%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Cody Carter||FS||5'10, 177||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||13||6.5||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kendall Gant||SS||6'3, 199||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8995||7||5.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Michael Johnson||CB||5'9, 166||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672|
|Chocolate Wilson||CB||5'10, 169||So.||3 stars||0.8538|
|Chris Williams-Hall||CB||6'0, 190||Fr.||NR||NR|
|Von Davis||S||6'0, 175||Fr.||3 stars||0.8550|
|Roosevelt Lawrence||DB||5'10, 159||Fr.||3 stars||0.8335|
|Antonio Howard||CB||5'10, 163||Fr.||3 stars||0.8209|
8. Still nasty
Cornerback Darryl Roberts defensed 18 passes and recorded 3.5 tackles for loss last year, and I'm almost ignoring that he's gone. That's how impressive the rest of the secondary is and should be.
Safeties Taj Letman, A.J. Leggett, and Tiquan Lang (four tackles for loss, nine interceptions, 15 break-ups) are back. So is corner Corey Tindal (13 PDs, two TFLs). Plus, sophomores Antavis Rowe and Rodney Allen got their feet wet in garbage time, and a pool of three-star youngsters like sophomore Kendall Gant and Chocolate Wilson and freshmen Von Davis, Roosevelt Lawrence, and Antonio Howard should produce one early difference-maker.
Losing Roberts means a regression is possible ... but not likely. The biggest threat to the pass defense isn't in this unit at all -- it's in what happens if the pass rush regresses too much.
|Tyler Williams||6'0, 200||Sr.||42||44.1||7||11||10||50.0%|
|Kaare Vedvik||6'4, 200||So.||98||61.9||45||8||45.9%|
|Nick Smith||5'10, 168||So.||12||61.3||2||0||16.7%|
|Nick Smith||5'10, 168||So.||1-1||0-0||N/A||0-0||N/A|
|Deandre Reaves||KR||5'10, 180||Sr.||32||29.1||1|
|Remi Watson||KR||5'11, 196||Sr.||6||15.8||0|
|Hyleck Foster||PR||5'10, 191||So.||4||6.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||10|
|Field Goal Efficiency||69|
|Punt Return Efficiency||14|
|Kick Return Efficiency||2|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||39|
9. Don't kick it to Deandre
Marshall was explosive on offense and destroyed the pass on defense, and that was enough to dominate most of the time. With a strong special teams unit, however, the Herd were on another level entirely for a while.
Punting was both mediocre and rare, kickoffs and place-kicking were decent (one area where occasional offensive inefficiency could be noticed: Justin Haig was asked to kick 21 field goals last year; that's too many). But returns were spectacular. Tommy Shuler was an excellent punt returner, and Deandre Reaves was a spectacular kick returner. Haig and Shuler are gone, which could spark regression here, but the Herd still have Reaves.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||2014 F/+ Rk|
|26-Sep||at Kent State||107|
|17-Oct||at Florida Atlantic||100|
|7-Nov||at Middle Tennessee||87|
|28-Nov||at Western Kentucky||50|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-1.7% (61)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||72 / 72|
|2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / 6.8|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-3.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||11 (6, 5)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||12.5 (0.5)|
10. Under 10 wins would be a shock
Marshall is still going to be more athletic than its competition on what is, yes, another pretty weak slate. A Purdue-Ohio-Kent State non-conference slate would have been pretty challenging in 2012, when all three went bowling, but none of those were top-80 teams in 2014. In fact, only one 2015 opponent was.
Again, that's only so much Marshall's fault -- at some point between 2011-13, Purdue, Ohio, Kent State, Southern Miss, North Texas, and FIU were all between solid and downright good -- but the Herd should be able to take advantage again.
This isn't a Playoff contender, but the Herd boast as many known play-makers as anybody in the conference, and even the glaring holes have three-star candidates for replacement. The strengths (pass defense, big plays on offense) will be as strong, but the weaknesses (run defense, offensive efficiency) will probably be weaker, which will make the Herd an awfully volatile team, one that will probably suffer an upset at some point.
And if the Herd decide to fall into a late-season funk again, then a November slate that features trips to both MTSU and WKU could be more than tricky.
Still, it would be surprising if this team didn't win 10-plus games for the third straight year. It took a while for Doc Holliday's tricked-out machine to start rolling, but there's just too much potential here for the Herd to fall far.