Marshall (0-0) at Miami (Ohio) (0-0) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Fred C. Yager Stadium (24,286) -- Oxford, Ohio. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Marshall 0-0, Miami-Ohio 0-0. Away Record: Marshall 0-0, Miami-Ohio 0-0. Neutral Record: Marshall 0-0, Miami-Ohio 0-0. Conference Record: Marshall 0-0, Miami-Ohio 0-0. Series Record: Miami leads, 30-11-1.
GAME NOTES: The Marshall Thundering Herd of Conference USA will travel to Oxford, Ohio, Saturday to take on the Mid-American Conference's Miami-Ohio RedHawks at Yager Stadium in a rematch of last year's opening-week bout.
The Herd and RedHawks clashed last year in Week 1, with Marshall earning a resounding 52-14 victory at home. It was the first time the teams met on the field since the 2004 season, and now Miami will seek revenge for the clobbering this time last year.
Miami was absolutely dreadful last season, limping to a winless 0-12 record that included an 0-8 mark in the conference. Needless to say, the RedHawks didn't receive an invite to a bowl game. But with 15 starters returning and a new head coach, there is hope in Oxford.
Marshall was 10-4 last season with a 7-1 conference record. The Thundering Herd made it all the way to the C-USA championship game (thanks to a five-game win streak to end the regular season) before dropping the title contest to Rice. Marshall made an appearance in the Military Bowl, where, as two-point favorites, the Herd took down Maryland, 31-20.
As with some of the more quarterback-sure teams in the country (Oregon with Marcus Mariota, Florida State with Jameis Winston), Marshall is very secure under center with senior Rakeem Cato. Cato passed for 3,916 yards and 39 touchdowns in the 2013 season, and added six rushing scores to his resume. He's the unquestioned leader of the Thundering Herd heading into the season, and already has Herd fans setting up Heisman campaigns with his name on it.
It helps that his team retains some solid talent around him. With running back Steward Butler (765 yards, eight touchdowns) receivers Tommy Shuler (1,165 yards, 10 touchdowns), Craig Wilkins (408 yards, two touchdowns) and freshman Angelo Jean-Louis, there's no doubt opposing defenses will struggle to contain all that Marshall does. Remember, this is an offense that averaged 42.1 ppg and 500.4 total offensive ypg in 2013.
Somehow, the defensive side of the ball is just as strong for the Herd, who held opponents to 22.9 ppg a season ago. Marshall finished the 2013 season with 32 team sacks and 102 tackles for loss and allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 51.6 percent of their passes. And 11 of the team's top 12 tacklers return for another go-around.
The front seven is led by defensive end Ra'Shawde Myers (seven quarterback hurries) and tackle James Rouse, and will feature young talent like sophomore Gary Thompson. But the linebacking corps is where the Herd will thrive the most. Leading tackler Evan McKelvey (97 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries), Neville Hewitt (85 tackles) and Jermaine Holmes (84 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss) plan on wreaking havoc against the opposition.
A relatively young and exceptionally talented secondary will make it hard for opponents to find success in the passing game. Sophomore A.J. Leggett, who led the team with four interceptions, returns, as does cornerback Darryl Roberts, the team leader in pass breakups (seven). Taj Letman should maintain his spot as the starting strong safety.
For Miami, having new coach Chuck Martin take over meant some pretty high- profile changes. Martin's history as an offensive coordinator at Notre Dame helped the RedHawks essentially select their new quarterback. Transfer Andrew Hendrix is slated to start after coming over from the Fighting Irish, and tight end Alex Welch is a ND transfer as well. Hendrix will try to bring some stability to a position that struggled in 2013. Actually, the offense as a whole was atrocious, considering Miami scored just 9.8 ppg.
The same could be said about the skill positions, in that not much success was had last year. Spencer Treadwell should be the starting running back, but was ineffective in 2013 after gaining 187 yards with one touchdown. Quarterback Austin Gearing was the team's leading rusher with 478 yards. Receivers Dawan Scott (425 yards, two touchdowns to lead the team), David Frazier and Alvonta Jenkins will hopefully improve to give Hendrix some options through the air.
Defensively, the RedHawks return seven starters to a group that allowed 35.7 ppg to opponents, and surrendered 484.2 total ypg. Leading tackler Kent Kern (98 tackles, five tackles for loss) will anchor the linebacking corps with help from Josh Dooley. Up front, Bryson Albright was a standout defensive end last season, leading the team with five sacks. He and Mitchell Winters (13 tackles) will try and hold down Marshall's tough running game. Miami allowed 223.3 rushing ypg in 2013.
The secondary seems strong, although the RedHawks gave up 260.9 passing ypg and 29 passing touchdowns a year ago. Led by Heath Harding (three interceptions as a freshman) and safety Brison Burris (75 tackles, four pass breakups), Miami has a lot of ground to make up. But it should be an improved season for the RedHawks, despite the unsightly first-week matchup against offensive powerhouse Marshall.
It just seems like too much, too soon for the RedHawks to take on Marshall. Miami needs experience, both on offense and defense, so the units can start to jell and get better. It will be an uphill battle this season for the team, but a downhill one for Marshall. Expect the Herd to run and pass all over Miami in this first-week matchup.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 54, Miami (Ohio) 17Game Date and Time
Saturday, August 30, 3:30 p.m. (ET)