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Marshall football is reloading, but a good 2016 should lead to a great 2017

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As long as Doc Holliday is in charge, the question of the Thundering Herd's next surge forward is more of a "when" than an "if."

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. The year after the year after

I was right and wrong about Marshall last year.

The Thundering Herd entered 2015 having produced, and then lost a good percentage of, their best FBS team. The 2014 squad had finished 13-1 and 23rd in the AP poll; that didn't match the 1999 team in achievement (13-0 and 10th), but in quality, 2014 was the pinnacle. The Herd were 17th in F/+19th in SRS, etc., and they could have finished even higher if not for a November fade.

2014 was awesome. And in 2015, Marshall picked up the pieces. Quarterback Rakeem Cato was replaced by a true freshman. Record-setting slot receiver Tommy Shuler was gone, and his replacement had to move to running back. Two starters on the offensive line and three on the defensive line were gone, as were two of the top three linebackers and an incredibly active cornerback in Darryl Roberts.

Attrition ended up worse than expected. Star running back Devon Johnson missed much of the season with a back injury. Backup Steward Butler was kicked off. Top returning receiver Angelo Jean-Louis and safety A.J. Leggett left. Star offensive tackle Clint Van Horn missed most of the season with injury.

I said in my 2015 preview that I would be surprised if Marshall sank below 10 wins, even with all the transition; thanks to quality play at home, the Herd did not. That they went 10-3 and finished 58th in F/+ in the face of such turnover was encouraging.

Under Doc Holliday, Marshall continues to recruit at a different level than the rest of Conference USA. Per the 247Sports Composite, the Herd have signed the No. 1 class in the conference for four straight years. They take on guys with qualification and character concerns -- they are Last Chance U in many ways -- and while that risks reputation issues (and therefore a shorter leash if bad seasons pop up), it establishes a deep base of talent.

After years of struggling to play to their talent level, Holliday's Herd have done just that. They are 33-8 since the start of 2013, 20-3 in C-USA play, and have won double-digit games for three straight years, something they hadn't done since their 1997-99 entry into FBS. The 2016 season will challenge the streak of double-digit wins, and it might take another year before the Herd move forward again.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 58 | Final S&P+ Rk: 64
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
6-Sep Purdue 93 41-31 W 29% 59% -0.5 +2.5
12-Sep at Ohio 69 10-21 L 15% 8% -23.7 -14.5
19-Sep Norfolk State N/A 45-7 W 77% 100% +0.5
26-Sep at Kent State 109 36-29 W 14% 27% -6.0 0.0
3-Oct Old Dominion 117 27-7 W 84% 100% +7.9 +1.5
9-Oct Southern Miss 56 31-10 W 88% 99% +8.4 +16.0
17-Oct at Florida Atlantic 96 33-17 W 66% 96% +12.5 +9.5
24-Oct North Texas 126 30-13 W 55% 99% -24.9 -12.0
31-Oct at Charlotte 124 34-10 W 84% 100% +5.0 +5.5
7-Nov at Middle Tennessee 82 24-27 L 24% 24% -11.2 0.0
14-Nov Florida International 112 52-0 W 96% 100% +37.0 +40.0
27-Nov at Western Kentucky 15 28-49 L 10% 0% -10.0 -10.5
26-Dec vs. Connecticut 80 16-10 W 55% 89% -1.2 +1.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 26.0 85 23.7 36
Points Per Game 31.3 51 17.8 10

2. Huntington, sweet Huntington

One characteristic that defines high-upside, low-experience teams is a drastic difference in quality between home games and away games. Marshall boasted that in 2015.

  • Average Percentile Performance (home): 72% (record: 6-0 | average score: MU 38, Opp 11)
  • Average Percentile Performance (road): 36% (record: 3-3 | average score: MU 28, Opp 26)

James Madison transfer Michael Birdsong began as starting quarterback, but after throwing two picks in his first road start, a 21-10 dud of a road loss to Ohio, he was replaced by freshman Chase Litton, who might not give the job up for a while.

Devon Johnson got hurt, returned, and got hurt again, and the offense was never stable. Injuries crept up on the defense, too. The result was a volatile team on an endless search for consistency.

The Herd followed a narrow, lucky road win over Kent State with a dominant home win over a Southern Miss that was a lot better than we knew at the time. And after a tough overtime loss at MTSU (driven in part by sudden place-kicking issues), the Herd were almost perfect against an FIU that was in search of a bowl bid.

Technically the November 27 battle with WKU was a winner-take-all game in the C-USA East, but there was never any question who the best team in the conference was. The more seasoned Hilltoppers had the consistency Marshall never found -- they had an excellent senior QB, and MU had a freshman. But a bowl victory assured double-digit wins, which isn't an awful consolation.

There are still plenty of question marks, especially as they pertain to the run game and defensive depth. But at the moment, there is decent stability. And that will probably mean a smaller range between home and road performances.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.18 105 IsoPPP+ 94.2 91
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.9% 48 Succ. Rt. + 99.0 78
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.0 14 Def. FP+ 28.9 52
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.2 91 Redzone S&P+ 97.1 89
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.9 ACTUAL 24 -0.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 64 86 78 91
RUSHING 67 103 110 91
PASSING 57 74 33 88
Standard Downs 103 83 108
Passing Downs 48 69 48
Q1 Rk 68 1st Down Rk 96
Q2 Rk 42 2nd Down Rk 111
Q3 Rk 102 3rd Down Rk 52
Q4 Rk 125

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Chase Litton 6'6, 207 So. 3 stars 0.8360 230 383 2605 23 8 60.1% 14 3.5% 6.3
Michael Birdsong 6'5, 241 Sr. NR 43 82 365 2 4 52.4% 5 5.7% 3.8
Xavier Gaines 6'2, 208 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8708
Grant Morrell 6'3, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8242

3. A pretty good audition

To be sure, Litton had his freshman moments. After a nearly perfect first start against Norfolk State, he was 14-for-36 with two picks and produced only an 81.3 passer rating in the tight win over Kent State. And since improvement is never linear, he followed a great three-game stretch against Charlotte, MTSU, and FIU (65 percent completion rate, eight touchdowns, one pick) with another two-pick performance, against WKU (107.7).

Still, Litton was only months removed from attending Tampa Wharton High, and coaches already considered him a better option than Birdsong or 2014 backup Gunnar Holcombe (who has since transferred). Marshall lacked in the big-play department, but the Herd ranked 33rd in Success Rate+, and efficiency is often the last thing to come around for a young QB.

The ceiling for Litton is high. The question is whether Marshall approaches it this fall, or whether the personnel needs another year to gel. Litton had no reliable run game in 2015, and there's no guarantee that changes.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Hyleck Foster RB/SLOT 5'11, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8093 101 459 3 4.5 4.5 35.6% 3 2
Devon Johnson RB 94 593 5 6.3 7.6 39.4% 2 2
Remi Watson RB 80 398 5 5.0 8.0 27.5% 0 0
Keion Davis RB 6'1, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8328 73 331 2 4.5 4.8 32.9% 0 0
Tony Pittman RB 5'10, 203 Jr. 2 stars 0.7893 64 327 3 5.1 4.5 37.5% 1 1
Chase Litton QB 6'6, 207 So. 3 stars 0.8360 34 138 0 4.1 2.7 41.2% 3 2
Michael Birdsong QB 6'5, 241 Sr. NR NR 16 88 1 5.5 5.7 43.8% 2 2
Delvin Weems RB 5'8, 185 RSFr. 3 stars 0.8467
JaQua Daniels RB 6'1, 219 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8591
Cody Mitchell FB 6'2, 212 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8113







4. Rebuilding the run game

Everything changed when Devon Johnson got hurt. Even in the loss to Ohio, he was fantastic, and through three games he had rushed 54 times for 381 yards (7.1) and three touchdowns. Over 13 games, that's a 1,600-yard pace.

But Clint Van Horn got hurt in the third game, and Johnson got hurt in the fourth, and things quickly changed. The team that had averaged 5.5 yards per carry overall through three games, averaged just 4.2 the rest of the way. Johnson returned against Southern Miss and FAU, then came back one more time in the bowl game. But aside from a 75-yard run on the first play of the FAU game, he otherwise rushed 34 times for just 128 yards the rest of the season, and the backup situation was fluid for all the wrong reasons. Backup Remi Watson was already hurt when Johnson went down, and freshman Keion Davis was inconsistent.

Desperation led to a position change. Receiver Hyleck Foster was having a disappointing season in the slot (though six games: 11 catches, 64 yards), but he provided a brief spark in the backfield, rushing 34 times for 227 yards against FAU and UNT. But he averaged 3.4 yards per carry the rest of the way, and Marshall finished with a No. 103 ranking in Rushing S&P+.

Does this change in 2016? There are no guarantees. Van Horn is pursuing a medical redshirt, and heaven only knows when he'll get an answer. Foster might or might not move back to receiver; in theory, that will depend on the progress of players like Davis and junior Tony Pittman, not to mention a pair of three-star youngsters: redshirt freshman Delvin Weems and true freshmen JaQua Daniels.

One figures that if there are a couple of options in that group, Foster ends up back in the slot. Or maybe the coaches have determined he's better in the backfield.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Davonte Allen WR-X 103 58 715 56.3% 22.9% 6.9 64.1% 46.6% 1.36
Deandre Reaves SLOT 83 56 705 67.5% 18.4% 8.5 49.4% 54.2% 1.45
Deon-Tay McManus WR-Z 6'1, 228 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8950 77 35 334 45.5% 17.1% 4.3 49.4% 35.1% 1.13
Ryan Yurachek TE 6'3, 233 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7626 54 44 417 81.5% 12.0% 7.7 70.4% 64.8% 1.15
Justin Hunt WR-X 6'3, 203 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7967 37 20 295 54.1% 8.2% 8.0 64.9% 51.4% 1.53
Hyleck Foster RB/SLOT 5'11, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8093 26 17 96 65.4% 5.8% 3.7 73.1% 30.8% 0.99
Emanuel Byrd TE 6'3, 229 Sr. 3 stars NR 25 19 214 76.0% 5.6% 8.6 68.0% 56.0% 1.42
Devon Johnson RB 8 6 63 75.0% 1.8% 7.9 75.0% 62.5% 1.15
Nick Mathews SLOT 5'10, 168 So. NR NR 8 4 29 50.0% 1.8% 3.6 37.5% 37.5% 0.87
Josh Knight WR-Z 6'1, 193 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 7 3 44 42.9% 1.6% 6.3 57.1% 42.9% 1.44
Raylen Elzy WR 6'4, 203 So. 3 stars 0.7913 6 2 8 33.3% 1.3% 1.3 50.0% 16.7% 0.76
Remi Watson RB 5 5 55 100.0% 1.1% 11.0 20.0% 40.0% 2.81
Keion Davis RB 6'1, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8328 5 3 15 60.0% 1.1% 3.0 20.0% 0.0% 0.00
Tony Pittman RB 5'10, 203 Jr. 2 stars 0.7893 3 2 14 66.7% 0.7% 4.7 66.7% 33.3% 1.11
Donquell Green WR 5'8, 170 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8235
Kaleb Harris TE 6'3, 223 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7900
Pro Wells TE 6'5, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8667
Willie Johnson WR 6'0, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8093

5. Who do the big plays come from?

If the run game stabilizes a bit, then Marshall can begin to address the next issue on the list. The passing game was pretty efficient, with Litton balancing passes to tight end Ryan Yurachek and slot receiver Deandre Reaves (combined catch rate: 73 percent) with more risky shots at wideouts Davonte Allen and Deon-Tay McManus. But while Allen's and McManus' combined 52 percent catch rate would have been fine if they were averaging 15 to 20 yards per catch, they averaged only 11.3. Justin Hunt was the closest thing to a big-play guy in the receiving corps, but he caught only 20 passes.

Despite pass-first tendencies, Marshall ended up with only 37 passes of 20-plus yards (72nd in FBS) and four of 40-plus (103rd). Litton is good in the quick-passing game, which helps to keep the pass rush at bay, but if receivers aren't occasionally breaking short passes for long gains, and if the run game isn't very efficient, then you have to execute well for eight or 10 plays at a time to score. And as Marshall's averages in scoring opportunities suggest (4.2 points per opportunity, 91st), the Herd weren't very good at that ... in part because they couldn't run the ball. A vicious circle, that.

Just one to two more big passes per game could drastically change expectations for Marshall in 2016. But who might they come from?  Is Hunt ready for a larger role? Fellow senior Josh Knight? Sophomore Raylen Elzy?

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 93.4 2.79 3.51 35.6% 66.0% 19.7% 127.4 3.3% 5.6%
Rank 102 78 36 104 65 75 35 30 27
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Sebastian Johansson LG 13 38 2015 1st All-CUSA
Michael Selby C 6'2, 283 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8414 13 27 2015 2nd All-CUSA
Clint Van Horn RT 6'5, 314 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 3 25 2014 1st All-CUSA
Sandley Jean-Felix LT 6'5, 317 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8345 13 13
Jordan Dowrey RG 6'1, 297 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7755 12 12
AJ Addison RT 6'6, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8700 7 7
Tom Collins LG 2 2
Nate Devers RG 6'3, 282 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8665 1 1
Fedrice Binot RG 6'4, 280 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 1 1
Cody Collins C 6'1, 275 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7804 0 0
Levi Brown OL 6'4, 275 RSFr. 2 stars 0.8348

Alex Salguero OL 6'3, 310 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8400


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.15 17 IsoPPP+ 108.1 41
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.7% 27 Succ. Rt. + 96.2 77
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 33.4 6 Off. FP+ 30.7 49
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.2 1 Redzone S&P+ 108.0 34
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 28.5 ACTUAL 28.0 -0.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 35 53 77 41
RUSHING 64 87 105 78
PASSING 22 37 47 34
Standard Downs 51 69 39
Passing Downs 66 93 56
Q1 Rk 85 1st Down Rk 53
Q2 Rk 37 2nd Down Rk 31
Q3 Rk 52 3rd Down Rk 74
Q4 Rk 32

6. Scoring TDs on Marshall was hard

In 2014, with a fantastic pass defense and far more experience, Marshall fit a bend-don't-break profile of sorts. The Herd ranked 55th in Def. Success Rate+ and 22nd in IsoPPP+. They were spectacular on passing downs (sixth) and held opponents to four points per scoring opportunity (30th).

With turnover across the board -- they lost their top three linemen, three of four linebackers, and two of four defensive backs -- the Herd pulled off something improbable in 2015: they improved defensively, from 50th to 36th in Def. S&P+.

The bend-don't-break profile held, but while the defense got a little bit worse on a per-play bases, it made up for it by allowing a paltry 3.2 points per scoring opportunity, the lowest average in the country. You can get away with inefficiency if you're keeping points off of the board, and Marshall's defense was as good in the red zone as the offense was shaky.

With three of the top four linemen back, along with two solid contributors at linebacker (plus some star recruits joining the fold), the front seven could again be stury enough to stiffen with points on the line. But Marshall could do itself some favors by allowing fewer opportunities, and there's just enough turnover to wonder if that's likely.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 83.2 2.98 3.61 38.9% 73.8% 18.6% 111.3 5.7% 7.1%
Rank 126 83 106 74 106 86 44 42 71
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Gary Thompson DE 6'1, 252 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7700 13 44.0 5.7% 12.5 9.0 0 4 5 0
Ryan Bee DE 6'7, 263 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7783 12 37.0 4.8% 8.5 4.0 0 2 0 0
Jarquez Samuel NT 12 29.0 3.8% 7.0 1.0 0 4 0 1
Blake Keller DE 6'2, 234 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8143 13 25.5 3.3% 5.5 0.5 0 0 1 0
Steve Dillon DT 13 19.5 2.5% 3.5 1.0 0 1 1 0
Ricardo Williams DT 13 16.5 2.1% 2.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Armonze Daniel DE 13 16.0 2.1% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Nyquan Harris DT 6'2, 293 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8274 13 15.5 2.0% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Joe Massaquoi DE 6'5, 251 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 11 13.5 1.8% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jason Smith DT 6'3, 296 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593 11 7.0 0.9% 2.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Tomell One NT 6'3, 275 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8148 6 3.0 0.4% 1.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Malik Thompson DE 6'6, 251 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.7778
Ty Tyler DE 6'3, 248 RSFr. 2 stars 0.8371
Damien Dozier DE 6'4, 207 RSFr. 2 stars 0.8296








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Evan McKelvey WLB 13 85.5 11.1% 9.0 0.0 1 10 1 1
D.J. Hunter SLB 13 44.0 5.7% 5.0 3.0 0 0 3 0
Devontre'a Tyler MLB 6'2, 240 Sr. 3 stars 0.7900 13 35.5 4.6% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Shawn Petty MLB 6'2, 241 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7923 9 24.0 3.1% 4.5 1.5 0 4 1 0
Raheim Huskey MLB 6'2, 211 Jr. NR NR 7 15.5 2.0% 2.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Chase Hancock SLB 6'2, 207 So. NR NR 13 11.5 1.5% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Frankie Hernandez WLB 6'2, 201 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8333 13 10.5 1.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Marquis Couch LB 6'2, 209 RSFr. 3 stars 0.8086
Davon Durant LB 6'2, 233 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9256
Doyle Grimes LB 6'1, 210 RSFr. 2 stars 0.8160
Jaquan Yulee LB 6'1, 246 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9250
Omari Cobb LB 6'4, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8123








7. Got depth?

I engaged in artful wording above. Yes, three of the top four tacklers on the line return; but all three are defensive ends. And while the return of ends Gary Thompson, Ryan Bee, and Blake Keller (combined: 26.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks) should ensure a nice, attacking presence on passing downs -- don't be surprised if a top-50 pass rush turns into a top-30 pass rush -- the top three tackles are gone. Three returning tackles did combine for 25.5 tackles, five for loss, and sophomore Jason Smith showed hints of play-making potential. But Smith, fellow sophomore Nyquan Harris, and junior Tomell One must all be ready to play major roles in 2016 because if they aren't, I'm not sure who will be.

This is how you develop depth issues. Of this trio, at least one guy will probably turn out well, maybe two. But you tend to need more guys than that. And if someone gets hurt?

In a way, it's the same story at linebacker. Devontre'a Tyler, Shawn Petty, and Raheim Huskey return after combining for 9.5 TFLs a year ago, but the loss of Evan McKelvey and D.J. Hunter means that all three have to be stellar. [Update: Huskey was dismissed from the program in July.] And two four-stars -- JUCO transfer Davon Durant and freshman Jaquan Yulee -- will have to prove their potential pretty quickly.

The first string for Marshall's front seven should be strong. But the second string is a complete unknown. That means you're one or two injuries from pretty significant regression.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Tiquan Lang S 5'8, 170 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7943 11 65.5 8.5% 1 0 2 6 0 0
Taj Letman S 13 61.5 8.0% 3.5 0 3 7 1 0
Corey Tindal CB 13 53.0 6.9% 4 3 2 13 1 0
Antavis Rowe NB 5'11, 167 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 13 32.5 4.2% 2.5 0 1 6 1 0
Kendall Gant S 6'3, 198 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8995 13 29.5 3.8% 0 0 2 1 0 0
Rodney Allen CB 5'11, 180 Jr. NR NR 13 24.0 3.1% 1 0 3 3 0 1
Keith Baxter CB 13 18.0 2.3% 1 1 1 5 0 0
Cody Carter CB 5'10, 178 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 11 9.0 1.2% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Corey Neely S 6'1, 177 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) NR 9 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
T.J. Griffin CB 5'9, 185 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8385 6 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Johnson DB 5'9, 170 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8672
D'Andre Wilson DB 5'10, 167 Jr. NR 0.8538
Chris Williams-Hall DB 6'0, 186 So. NR NR
C.J. Reavis S 6'1, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8322
Sir Patrick Scott DB 6'1, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8569
Jaylon McClain-Sapp DB 5'11, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793
Christopher Jackson S 6'0, 160 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726
Jeremiah Maddox S 6'0, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8251
Jestin Morrow DB 5'10, 160 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8183

8. Got play-makers?

Despite losing Taj Letman, the safety position appears well-stocked with Tiquan Lang, Kendall Gant, and a proven nickel in Antavis Rowe. But losing Corey Tindal hurts. Tindal was a dynamite play-maker, defensing 15 passes and sacking the quarterback three times.

Perhaps Rowe could be used in the same way, and Rodney Allen looks solid at the other corner spot, but the secondary was a source of havoc, and Tindal was the strongest havoc-bringer. This will still be one of the best defenses in C-USA, but depth and attacking options could tamp the ceiling down a bit.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tyler Williams 70 44.4 10 18 23 58.6%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Amoreto Curraj 6'2, 213 Jr. 76 62.6 45 4 59.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Nick Smith 5'10, 175 Jr. 48-48 17-20 85.0% 1-5 20.0%
Amoreto Curraj 6'2, 213 Jr. 1-1 0-2 0.0% 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Deandre Reaves KR 23 30.1 2
Remi Watson KR 3 23.7 0
Deandre Reaves PR 14 14.6 1
Hyleck Foster PR 5'11, 185 Jr. 9 4.1 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 26
Field Goal Efficiency 90
Punt Return Success Rate 2
Kick Return Success Rate 8
Punt Success Rate 23
Kickoff Success Rate 12

9. #CollegeKickers

Nick Smith went full-on #CollegeKickers for a little bit. He made his first nine kicks of the year, but after missing a couple against Charlotte, he lost the plot against MTSU. He missed three of four kicks, including a 42-yarder with 4:32 left and a 32-yarder at the end of regulation. In overtime, Doc Holliday sent in kickoffs guy Amoreto Curraj, who promptly missed a 38-yarder and had a 39-yarder blocked.

When Smith made a short field goal at the halftime buzzer of Marshall's easy win over FIU the next week, it had to feel all sorts of cathartic. He went 4-for-6 to finish the season, and slump aside, he appears to at least be a reliable option inside of 40 yards.

His improvement will be vital to Marshall retaining a strong overall special teams rating. Spectacular return man Deandre Reaves must now be replaced, and punter Tyler Williams is gone, too. Curraj was a touchback machine on kickoffs, but it's hard to imagine the Herd staying in the special teams top 30 unless Smith has his head on straight and a new return man is found. No guarantees there.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
10-Sep Morgan State NR 43.4 99%
17-Sep Akron 97 10.3 72%
24-Sep Louisville 20 -10.4 27%
1-Oct at Pittsburgh 29 -13.3 22%
8-Oct at North Texas 128 14.8 80%
15-Oct Florida Atlantic 100 11.6 75%
22-Oct Charlotte 123 18.8 86%
29-Oct at Southern Miss 72 -3.9 41%
5-Nov at Old Dominion 111 8.6 69%
12-Nov Middle Tennessee 90 8.2 68%
19-Nov at Florida International 113 9.5 71%
26-Nov Western Kentucky 45 -1.7 46%
Projected wins: 7.6
Five-Year F/+ Rk 4.1% (53)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 75 / 72
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 4 / 3.6
2015 TO Luck/Game +0.1
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 62% (72%, 53%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 9.0 (1.0)

10. A test of the streak

The offense could be great or could get dragged down again by a faulty running game. The defense could be great or could get dragged down by depth issues and one fewer play-maker. Turnover in the return and punting games might lead to regression.

When you recruit as well as Marshall does, and when you field higher-caliber athletes than your brethren at most positions, that means your floor is higher than everybody else's.

The ceiling has yet to be determined, at least for 2016. And the schedule could result in a wide variety of outcomes. The strong power-conference opponents that were missing from the 2014 schedule show up this fall -- Louisville comes to Huntington in Week 4, then Marshall visits Pitt in Week 5. Plus, the two conference foes that took the Herd down last year must come to Marshall in November.

The opportunity for big wins is high, but if the Herd aren't any better on the road, then trips to Southern Miss and perhaps ODU or FIU could be scary. Another 10-win season is conceivable, but so is a five-loss setback. In that regard, a 7.6-win projection sounds about right.

This is a team destined to improve in 2017, but it's hard to know what the Herd are capable of in 2016. One thing's certain, though: if the streak of 10-win seasons continues this year, it will almost definitely continue next year, too.