Images credit: Brad Helton
Images credit: Brad Helton

The 2015 Marshall Football team will be extremely different for the first time in four years, as the Herd will take the field without star Quarterback Rakeem Cato and his life-long friend at wide receiver, Tommy Shuler. How will that impact the Marshall offense? You can see my answer here!

Offense: As I stated in the article before, the Herd lose two of the best offensive players in program history. Cato set almost all of the QB records in his time at Marshall, and even set the new NCAA record for consecutive games with a TD pass. Returning, though, is Maxwell Award nominee Devon Johnson. Johnson, nicknamed “Rockhead,” rushed for over 1,700 yards last season on top of Cato’s 3900 yards passing. He ran for over 100 yards in 10 games, and will look to do the same in his 2015 campaign. If you’re looking for a Heisman dark-horse, Devon Johnson is your man. As for the receiving core, Marshall has one of the best in the nation even after losing Shuler. Look for a lot of hook-ups between QB Michael Birdsong and WR Devonte Allen this year. Sophomores Hyleck Foster and Deontay McManus will be huge factors in the offense alongside Allen. The Herd offense loses Center Chris Jasperse to the Bengals. He started in every game of his career at Marshall, leaving the Herd with a total of 53 games. As you could imagine, that’s going to be a tough spot to fill, but I think Marshall will do a fine job with that. Last but certainly not least is backup running back Remi Watson. When I say backup, I’m saying that in comparison to Rockhead. Watson could easily start almost anywhere else in the country, he just chose to stay with the Herd for his senior year.

Defense: Let’s go over the biggest losses for the Herd this season. Neville Hewitt, 1st team All-CUSA Linebacker, was picked up by the Miami Dolphins. James Rouse, 1st team All-CUSA DL, was picked up by the Houston Texans. DB Daryl Roberts, also 1st team All-CUSA, was drafted in the last round by the Patriots, and has more than earned his spot on their roster. Those three were very crucial to Marshall’s top 25 defense, but even with them gone, the Herd really shouldn’t miss a beat. Returning is Senior LB Evan McKelvey,  who suffered a season-ending leg injury very early last year. Safety A.J. Leggett is one of many who will stand out in the Herd secondary. This year I wouldn’t worry too much about the Herd’s defense, but in about two years they’ll be starting with a clean house.

Special Teams: Marshall is also home to one of the best kick returners in the country, Deandre Reaves. Reaves had only one touchdown last year, but had over 900 return yards. Personally watching him all season, he always just needed one more block and he would have been gone every time. This isn’t the type of guy you’re going to run down. Just look at his kick return against Northern Illinois in Marshall’s 52-23 bowl victory. Marshall did, however, lose their kicker Justin Haig, but return with multiple options as far as a new kicker. I don’t really expect any games to come down to the last field goal, so they should be perfectly fine. Punter Tyler Williams, who averaged 44.1 yards per punt and earned 1st team All-CUSA honors, returns for his senior year as well. He’ll continue to flip field position like he does best.

Overall: Usually when a team loses their star QB, WR, C, DL, LB, and CB, you’d think they would fall off pace a bit. Not Marshall. They’ll return with one of the most dynamic offenses in the nation for the about the fourth or fifth year in a row. The running back duo of Johnson and Watson will carry a lot of the load until JMU QB transfer Michael Birdsong gets himself comfortable, but other than that the offense will have no problem putting up points. If they score under 30 points in more than one game, I will be shocked. Defensive Coordinator came into this program and took one of the nations worst defenses and turned it into one of the best. That won’t be any different this season either with the return of so many of his starters. Marshall may use punter Tyler Williams a bit more this year, but I’m sure they are completely comfortable with that.

Game 1: Marshall vs. Purdue

Photo courtesy: Purdue Athletics

Marshall will welcome a BIG 10 team into Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the first time on September 6th. The Purdue Boilermakers are coming off of a 3-9 campaign in 2014, with little sign of improving those numbers. Senior QB Austin Appleby finished the last four games with four touchdowns and seven interceptions, an 87.9 passer rating. With that being said, I would expect Leggett, McKelvey, Tindal, and more to take full control of this game. Of course, it is a season opener, so the Herd may come out a little slow. That’s honestly the only reason I see Purdue being within 20 points by the end of the game. With an unexperienced and uncertain defense, Devon Johnson is going to, as Marshawn Lynch might say, get his against the Boilermakers. Marshall could easily break 50 in this game, and the CFB Playoff Committee still probably wouldn’t care. Blowout in favor of the Thundering Herd. Marshall 42, Purdue 21.

Game 2: Marshall at Ohio

Images credit: Daniel Kubus

The Battle of the Bell will take place in Athens, Ohio this year after Marshall absolutely demolished the Bobcats 44-14 in 2014. Cato and Allen abused the poor Ohio safety that day. I don’t see this time around being much different. The Bobcats do return a lot of players, including their starting quarterback, running back, and multiple linebackers. That could be an advantage early against the Herd, but I still think Johnson is going to wear down defenses like crazy. He’s nearly impossible to tackle, and he showed that to Ohio in last years game. Offensively, the Bobcats are trying to revive an offense that struggled to score 20 points last year. This is what will doom them come September 12th when they invite the Herd in. Marshall is going to put up 35+, and if they can’t score 20, it’s going to be a very long evening. Marshall will have a “short week” to prepare for this one, but I don’t really see that having too much of an impact on their performance. Another piece of cake for the Herd. Marshall 41, Ohio 17.

Game 3: Marshall vs. Norfolk State

Photo courtesy: Norfolk State Athletics
Photo courtesy: Norfolk State Athletics

This is that FCS game that people really don’t want to see anymore, including me. I will be going to this game with my Xbox Controller and pretending to play since Marshall will be putting up those types of numbers. Devon Johnson will probably run for at least 200 yards and three touchdowns in this game. Norfolk State lost seven seniors this past season, which really won’t help their cause at all. Their first three games are Rutgers, Old Dominion, and Marshall. That’s an 0-3 start and a very tired team by the time they come to Huntington, WV on September 19th. Norfolk State running back Gerard Johnson actually played for ODU last season in their 56-14 butt-whooping from Marshall, transferring after losing his starting job to RS freshman Ray Lawry. Moral of the story? Norfolk State has lost too many players and will be lucky to break double digits, but I was feeling generous. Marshall 59, Norfolk State 10.

Game 4: Marshall at Kent State

AP Photo

Kent State is going to have their work cut out for them, as will any MAC team that faces Marshall. This is a team who put up three points against Miami of Ohio last year. Granted they held them to 10 points, but that’s still a loss. That’s still 39 points less than that of which Marshall put up on Miami last season. This year the Golden Flashes get their starting QB back, but lose their top two WR’s. They get their top RB back, but have him behind an offensive line full of sophomores. Basically anywhere they have a strength, it comes with a weakness. Anywhere Marshall has a strength, they have more strengths. I feel a little repetitive saying this, but Rockhead is going to have a hay day against Kent State. So is the rest of the Marshall offense for that matter. Last season, the Golden Flashes allowed 29PPG and over 400 total yards per game as well. What is 400 yards to Marshall? About six touchdowns probably. Marshall won’t ever look back in this one. Maybe they’ll let ’em have some garbage points towards the end. Marshall 45, Kent State 20.

Game 5: Marshall vs. ODU

Getty Images

If the Herd can beat Old Dominion 56-14 at ODU, imagine what they could do to them in Huntington. For those of you who paid attention to this game, you’ll recall that Marshall jumped out to a 28-0 lead before the halfway mark of the first quarter. Running back Ray Lawry had 131 yards against the Herd last season, a lot of which came during garbage time. The Monarchs took a hard hit at Quarterback with the loss of Senior Taylor Heinicke. That could potentially be what does them in early against Marshall, who returns with another strong secondary. ODU lost all but five defenders as well, but with how bad the defense was last year, that might actually be a good thing. I don’t expect another 28-0 1st quarter start for the Herd, but I still expect a blowout. Marshall 44, Old Dominion 17.

Game 6: Marshall vs. Southern Miss

AP Photo

When Marshall traveled down to Hattiesburg, Mississippi last year, they were actually greeted by a rude awakening. Southern Miss scored the first 14 point of the game and scared all of Herd Nation. Fortunately for the Herd, they outscored the Golden Eagles 63-3 the rest of the game. Yes, you read that correctly. In 2011, Southern Miss won the C-USA Championship and knocked undefeated Houston out of their BCS Bowl. Since then, they’ve gone 4-32. Signs are pointing up for the Golden Eagles, however, with 10 returning starters on offense and a high-potential group on defense. Will this be the year that they start to turn things around again? Maybe, but not against the Thundering Herd in H’town. Marshall 49, Southern Miss 16.

Game 7: Marshall at FAU

Image credit: Paul Frederiksen

FAU came into Huntington last year and provided a scare for The Herd. Marshall was only up by five points in the fourth quarter before pulling away and winning 35-16. Take away the home-field advantage and you have a somewhat closer matchup for FAU! Marshall has yet to lose to FAU since they joined C-USA a few years ago, but they’ve had close calls both times. In 2013, Justin Haig kicked a field goal as time expired to beat the Owls. In 2014, as I said before, Marshall trailed at halftime before managing to pull away in the second half. With Jaquez Johnson returning at QB, this FAU team should be right with the Herd again this year. By the time Marshall travels to Boca Raton, it will be 6-0. That could put some pressure on them and make for a much closer game than they’d like. Devon Johnson broke the Marshall record for rushing in a game against FAU last year, and unless something changes, I think he’ll be able to run all over the place again. If the Herd can avoid going down early, they should be able to fly home with a W. Marshall 38, FAU 24.

Game 8: Marshall vs. North Texas

Derick E. Hingle – US PRESSWIRE

This will be the first time these two teams face each other since 1988, as I’m pretty sure North Texas is replacing UAB on Marshall’s schedule. The Mean Green lost four of its starters on the O-Line, and have a QB taking the reigns full-time that currently sits at 6 TD’s and 7 INT’s. Offensively things aren’t looking too great. Defensively, I guess you could make the argument that things are a little better. North Texas allowed 29.8 points per game last season, but managed to hold opponents under 400 yards on average. They should have a somewhat strong secondary with CB Kenny Buyers and FS Kishawn McClain as pre-season All-CUSA candidates. A strong secondary isn’t really going to help them defend the Marshall rushing attack, though. Nor will a weak offense keep them stay in the game at any point. One might expect a 0-0 tie early, but after that it’s all Herd. Marshall 48, North Texas 13.

Game 9: Marshall at Charlotte

Image credit: James Nix

I wonder if we can expect more than 10,000 fans in Charlotte for this one…That’s probably too much to ask for with UNC and NC State games going on that day. I think Marshall’s biggest concern is going to be falling asleep during this one. It’s Charlotte’s first year in the FBS, and I think it might be an ugly one at that. Charlotte is in just its third year as a football program, coming off of a 5-6 season in the FCS. One of those losses included a 35-0 deficit to Coastal Carolina before losing by 25. One of those five wins was a back and forth game against Division III Wesley College that resulted in a 38-33 final score. If you think you’re going to let a D III school score 33 points on you, and then have a chance against Marshall, then you are very wrong. Marshall may actually end up doubling what Wesley College had. Marshall 63, Charlotte 13.

Game 10: Marshall at MTSU

AP Photo

This is one of my biggest concerns for Marshall season. The Herd will undoubtedly be 9-0 by this time, so they are going to get every teams best shot. From Middle Tennessee, that best shot could easily end up being a loss for the Herd. Two years ago, at MTSU, Marshall went back and forth before losing in the final minute of the game. I may or may not have ripped my Marshall shirt in half that night. The Herd won by 25 last year in Huntington, but this time around I expect it to be different. Marshall tends to struggle on the road and get off to a slow start, but they’ve been getting better at that recently. If they can avoid an early deficit then I think they’ll be fine. If they don’t, this one will most likely go back and forth until the end. MTSU has eight returning starters on defense, including three that are pre-season all-conference picks. On offense, the quarterback job isn’t exactly set in stone, but whoever takes the reigns won’t be terrible. I see this game having a slower pace to it because of the defense on both sides. Marshall 34, MTSU 28.

Game 11: Marshall vs. FIU

 Al Diaz - Miami Herald
Al Diaz – Miami Herald

FIU is one of those teams that live in a prosperous football area, but always find a way to screw it up. From Miami, FL, you’d think this team would be near the top of the league right now, but they aren’t. Last year Marshall flew down to Miami and beat the Golden Panthers 45-13. Will it be the same this time around? Most likely, yes. Florida International does, however, return eight starters on defense, including pre-season defensive player of the year Richard Leonard. Unfortunately the FIU offense is still terrible, which tends to put a lot of pressure on the defense. I just don’t see them being able to stay near Marshall when it comes to points. The Herd defense, as I’ve discussed, is going to be very good again this year. The offense has a seemingly unlimited amount of star power that will wear out the FIU defense, especially this late in the season. So why not the same score as last year? Marshall 45, FIU 13.

Game 12: Marshall at Western Kentucky (Possibly the Eastern-division title game)

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

When Marshall travels to Western Kentucky on Black Friday, they are going to have a very bitter taste in their mouths. Last year the Herd was smooth-sailing on their way to an undefeated regular season and a New Years Bowl until WKU came into Huntington. Marshall was down 49-42 at the half before sending the game into Overtime at 59. The Herd scored first to go up 66-59, but when the Hilltoppers got the ball, they scored, and got the 2-point conversion to win the game. One year later, Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty returns as a sixth-year senior. Running back Leon Allen also makes his return. Doughty accounted for 49 passing TD’s and Allen punched in 13 on the ground himself. WKU enters the 2015 season on a 5-game win streak. You might be wondering how a team with such offensive talent could lose any games at all. Well, giving up an average of 39 points and over 500 yards per game probably gives you your answer. Before Chuck Heater took the reigns as D-Coordinator for the Herd, they were dealing with the same problem. In last years match-up, Rakeem Cato was surprisingly picked off 3 times. At one point in the game Western Kentucky had a 21 point lead, and that’s exactly why. When the Herd didn’t make stupid plays, they closed the gap, and quickly. In the second half they held the Hilltoppers to just ten points. This years game will probably feature more and more offense again, but I believe the Marshall defense just suffered a fluke first half last year, and it shouldn’t happen again. Anyone can score on the WKU defense, which is why I actually think Marshall will be alright. It wont be in the 60’s again, but it’ll still be up there. Marshall 49, WKU 45.

Marshall Football 2015 Season Overview: Marshall should go undefeated in the regular season even after losing Cato and more. They don’t exactly play the strongest schedule, but they also have more players coming into the program. The Herd have one of the best receiving corps in the nation, and I think that will make the transition nice and easy for Michael Birdsong. By the time they get to the “tougher” part of the schedule, they should have it all figured out. This is my totally unbiased opinion. Even if Marshall does lose a game, that’s all they’ll lose. One game. Not two. Not three. Not four. Just one. If everyone can stay healthy by the time WKU comes around, I see no reason to why Marshall wouldn’t be playing for another Conference Championship in Huntington. Just for fun, let’s pretend like that game is already set in stone:

Game 13: Conference USA Championship: Marshall vs. LA Tech

Sholten Singer/Herald-dispatch

Yes, this is totally theoretical right now, but the chances of this game happening for the second straight year are very high. The only other possible team from the East is going to be WKU, and they won’t outscore enough people. So, let’s look at this potential championship match-up. QB Cody Sokol is gone from the LA Tech squad this year, but former Gator QB Jeff Driskel has come in to fill his spot. RB Kenneth Dixon is arguably one of the top-15 rushers in the nation, finishing last season with 1300 yards on the ground. He’ll return alongside Driskel in the backfield, which will be a lot of help for the new Quarterback. Defensively, LA Tech was top-25 in the country last year according to Def. S&P+ with 114 tackles for loss and over 90 PBU’s. New Defensive Coordinator Blake Baker will have to deal with the loss of 5/8 d-lineman and all three of his starting linebackers. That’s rough for the first year on the job. As we all know, Championship games tend to be closer just because of all the hype, and that’s why I don’t think Marshall will win this by more than single digits again. Last year? Marshall 26, LA Tech 23. This year? Marshall 31, LA Tech 27.

Final Record Before Bowl: 13-0

Best Possible Finish: 14-0 (Possible New Years’ Bowl Bid)

Worst Possible Finish: 12-2 (Losses to MTSU, WKU, or LA Tech)

Again, I promise I took out all bias when looking at the schedule. I only see two risky games at most, and I think Coach Doc Holliday will do a fine job of preparing the team. Be sure to leave your thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Casey covers NCAA Football for MFST. You can follow him on Twitter @wxmozz MosrieAnalysisConference USAFootballNCAAFRecent PostsDevon Johnson,marshall 2015 season predictions,Marshall football,marshall football 2015,marshall football preview,Marshall university footballThe 2015 Marshall Football team will be extremely different for the first time in four years, as the Herd will take the field without star Quarterback Rakeem Cato and his life-long friend at wide receiver, Tommy Shuler. How will that impact the Marshall offense? You can see my answer here! Offense:...