Feb. 3, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There have been a few times in the past nine years when Marshall fans haven't exactly been overjoyed by what emanated from the Conference USA office in Irving, Texas.
The most recent of those occasions came about eight weeks ago, when a computer-driven football tiebreaker for the site of the 2013 C-USA Championship Game went to Rice - although the Thundering Herd had received coaches' poll votes and the Owls had none.
Well, this time, no one within shouting distance of the MU campus should find fault with C-USA over Marshall's 2014 football schedule, announced within the last 24 hours.
With the Herd (10-4) coming off its first double-digit win season since 2002 and a Military Bowl victory over Maryland - one of only two by non-AQ Bowl Championship Series conference teams over the power leagues - Marshall is primed for a run at more national attention in 2014.
Even with a one-season, 13-team, unbalanced divisional arrangement until Charlotte comes aboard for football in 2015, C-USA delivered consistency in its scheduling - and Coach Doc Holliday's Herd, which is likely to be the league preseason favorite, got a competitive, fair schedule.
Holliday loves the schedule, as does Herd Athletic Director Mike Hamrick. They couldn't be happier unless they were operating very busy car washes around these parts in the last two weeks.
"We have a bye between our last non-league game (at Akron) and our conference opener (at Old Dominion)," Holliday said. "Those two games are the only back-to-back road games we have, but there's a bye week between, so that's good.
"Otherwise, it's road-home, road-home, and that's good, and we have another bye week halfway through the eight league games. The conference did a good job getting that for everybody."
There's also a financial bonus in the schedule for the Herd.
By agreeing to move a Nov. 29 date with Western Kentucky up one day to Thanksgiving Friday, that regular-season finale not only seems a lock for a telecast, but also lands Marshall $100,000 (per C-USA football guidelines) for moving a home game from a Saturday.
A few things that should jump out at Herd Nation about the 2014 schedule, which is highlighted by a Nov. 15 Edwards Stadium game against Rice - a rematch of 10-win clubs from the aforementioned 2013 C-USA title game:
*Although C-USA has four Texas schools, Marshall doesn't have to travel to the Lone Star State in 2014. While the Herd is 10-0 at home against Texas schools, it is 1-9 in games in Texas, winning a 2012 regular-season game at Rice.
*In three home games, Holliday's team has the chance to avenge three of its four 2013 losses - all on the road - against Ohio, Middle Tennessee and Rice.
*Five teams on the Herd schedule will have first-year coaches - Miami (Ohio), Rhode Island, FAU, UAB and Western Kentucky.
*The five FBS schools that will visit "The Joan" - Ohio, Middle Tennessee, FAU, Rice and Western Kentucky - combined for 39 wins last season. The Herd takes an eight-game home win streak into the season, a number that ranks among the top 11 in the nation. Only Rice, with nine, has a longer home win streak in C-USA.
*The Herd will play at two stadiums it never has visited - Akron's InfoCision Stadium (30,000 seats) opened in 2009, five years after the Herd lost its last MAC trip to the Rubber Bowl; and ODU's Foreman Field (20,118), where the Monarchs have sold out all 36 home games since the school brought back football in 2009.
*Some Herd fans still clamor for some sort of relationship with MU's former conference home, the Mid-American. Well, this season there are three MAC dates, at home against Ohio in the "Battle for the Bell" rivalry and very-drivable dates at Miami (Ohio) and Akron.
*Marshall lost its date against a power conference foe when Louisville (ACC) asked to push back a 2014 visit to Edwards Stadium until 2016 to accommodate an ACC-driven game the Cardinals needed to play at Notre Dame. The Herd replaced the Cards with FCS member Rhode Island, and Louisville is providing MU not only a delayed football date, but a men's basketball game in Derby City next season and a handsome guarantee check.
Back to C-USA scheduling Ã¢â'¬Â¦
The Herd drew a long straw in the unbalanced divisional setup, too.
Only three of the seven East Division schools are playing the other six teams in intradivision dates - and Marshall is one of those. MU's crossover games with West teams are at Southern Miss and home against the defending champion Owls.
UAB remains in the East Division, with Southern Miss moving to the West, allowing ODU and Western to come on board in the East. It figures the Blazers will move for 2015 to make for a 7-7 split, when Charlotte arrives in C-USA football.
That's why the 2014 schedule is what C-USA calls a "one-year model." There are no guarantees that if a team is home against a foe this season, it will visit that team in 2015. The scheduling format will start anew in 2015.
The Herd returns 14 offensive and defensive starters and all three kicking specialists. The 2013 coaching staff is back intact. The leaders include three-year starters like quarterback Rakeem Cato (a two-time C-USA major award-winner) and center Chris Jasperse; defensive tackle and 2013 Herd MVP James Rouse; and record-setting slot receiver Tommy Shuler.
Marshall expects a big National Signing Day on Wednesday, and then it points toward spring practice, preseason camp and then a 12-game schedule that was just revealed.
After making its first C-USA Championship appearance in nine years in the league back in December, early preseason prognostications have the Herd pointed in that direction again.
That one isn't listed on the schedule. It's Saturday, Dec. 6, on ESPN or ESPN2. The Herd wants it to be the seventh home game at "The Joan" in 2014. And if Marshall can run the table, who knows, maybe that singular College Football Playoff bowl berth for a "Group of Five" team could be in the cards.
How Holliday's team handles a schedule it now knows will determine that, and whether it plays 14 games again, too.