Jan. 23, 2018
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When Marshall's 2018 football schedule hit my desk, my eyes naturally focused on the six home dates.
We knew the opponents before Conference USA officially announced the league portion of the schedule Tuesday. We knew the sites of the 12 games before Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick used his Twitter account - @TheHerdAD - to unveil the dates and order of opponents. After all, the non-conference opponents have been set in stone for a while, and the C-USA schedule features the same eight opponents as 2017, but with the home/away flipped this coming season.
But until we can gaze at the order of opponents, the placement of the games on the calendar and how off weeks come into play for travel and preparation, it is hard to get a feel for how attractive and friendly the schedule will be for our coaches, players and, most importantly, our passionate fan base.
This is, quite frankly, one heck of a schedule.
First, let's cover the basics: Marshall opens non-conference play at Miami - Ohio's version - on Sept. 1. That is the first of five games in the month of September, alternating between road and home games. The regular season home opener is Sept. 8 vs. nearby Eastern Kentucky, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent. That's followed by games against programs from the SEC and ACC, respectively. First is a trip to South Carolina, followed by a visit from North Carolina State. Then, before we can flip our wall calendars to October, the Herd will make the trek to play at Western Kentucky to begin C-USA play.
Keep in mind, too, that the three September road games are within driving distance for most Herd fans.
October's slate features three games: Middle Tennessee on Oct. 6; at Old Dominion on Oct. 13; home vs. Florida Atlantic on Oct. 20. Then, after eight games and four league battles, the Herd will get a weekend to come up for air.
In November, Marshall will play at Southern Miss on Nov. 3, then consecutive home games against Charlotte (Nov. 10) and UTSA (Nov. 17). The regular season finale is at Florida International on Nov. 24. All of those are Saturday games, although broadcast opportunities could shift dates slightly.
At the surface, it is an appealing schedule with marquee non-conference opponents - home and away - and strong opponents visiting Joan C. Edwards Stadium in conference play. Seven of the 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year - and compiled a 4-3 record - and an eighth opponent, UTSA, was bowl eligible at 6-5.
There's quality, and there's a healthy quantity of that quality.
But it's the six home games that have me fired up about 2018.
First, consider the magnitude of each home game and the events that could be held around each weekend.
Eastern Kentucky is not only the regular season opener, but makes an ideal landing spot for Hall of Fame weekend. The visit from N.C. State, of course, will lure a large crowd to Edwards Stadium. The average attendance for the last four visits from a so-called "Power 5" schools: 38,797. Plus, N.C. State was 9-4 last season, defeated Louisville and Florida State while those teams were nationally ranked, and then beat Arizona State in a bowl game. The Herd, if you'll recall, jumped out to a 20-10 lead against N.C. State in 2017 before ultimately falling on the road.
The league games will certainly be attractive as Marshall battles for a conference championship.
Middle Tennessee represents the C-USA home opener and a familiar opponent for the Herd. FAU will be one of the hottest tickets of the season. The Lane Kiffin-coached Owls are defending league champions and finished 11-3 last season. FAU won its final 10 games by margins of 18, 30, 38, 14, 5, 25, 28, 19, 24 and 47 points - an average of 24.8 points per game. The only opponent to keep it within single digits: Marshall. Not that MU coach Doc Holliday or the players take any gratification from that, but it should point toward a competitive rematch in Huntington, and arguably one of the biggest games of the season. And, as Hamrick noted on his Twitter account Tuesday, a large Homecoming crowd could await the Owls.
In November, Charlotte and UTSA will visit Edwards Stadium in a span of eight days. Likely, the annual memorial tribute to the 1970 football team plane crash and the 75 lives lost in that tragedy will take place Nov. 10, and then the football seniors will be honored a week later. UTSA could march into Huntington vying for the West Division crown in late November, too. That is what a home schedule should be.
Hope to see everyone in the Herd family at the stadium this fall.