By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
There is a air of excitement and confidence surrounding the Marshall University football team. Last year the Thundering Herd played to a 10-4 record. Three of their losses were by a field goal or less and the Herd fell in triple overtime at Virginia Tech, missing two potential game-winning field goals in the extra periods.
The Marshall coaches caravan pulled into Princeton earlier this week and head coach Doc Holliday was cautiously optimistic with the upcoming season.
Record-setting quarterback Rakeem Cato returns for a fourth year along with an experienced offensive line and talented backs and receivers. Defensively Marshall has improved that unit over the last three years and should be a major force in Conference USA.
Marshall moved to Division I-A, now the Football Bowl Subdivision, in 1997 and from that time until it left the Mid American Conference for Conference USA in 2004, the Thundering Herd compiled one of the best records in all of college football, including an undefeated season in 1999. There were two Heisman Trophy finalists, Randy Moss and Chad Pennington, and Byron Leftwich dazzled the country with his shotgun arm.
There was one thing, however, that was an obsession with the MU program, one thing that drove as many fans away as it drew, West Virginia University.
Marshall had just completed a 2001 season in which they were ranked in the Top 25, had one of the best quarterbacks in the nation returning, but at their media day luncheon in August of 2002, that was not the first thing out of the mouth of their coach.
Prior to heading to Huntington, I told former colleague at both the Daily Telegraph and Adventure Radio, Dusty Harman, that I bet the first remarks would be a slap at WVU. He disagreed, but I was proven right.
The institution’s obsession with WVU rubbed many casual sports fans in West Virginia the wrong way. Each legislative session Marshall coaches appeared at the state capitol and lobbied the legislature to force the two schools to play. It was unnerving, especially when Marshall reportedly walked away from a four-game series. The 1997 game was the first of what was to have been four consecutive games between the schools.
Also when Governor Joe Manchin locked Marshall AD Bob Marcum and WVU AD Ed Pastilong in the kitchen of the governor’s mansion and did not let them out until they reached an agreement to play did not go over well with some people. It was as if you are building or enhancing one program at the expense of the other. For two schools to play there has to be a benefit for both.
With time, I believe that the wounds are healing and you are starting to see folks take a look at Marshall through a new lens, thanks to many things including the leadership of Holliday.
Instead of complaining about what WVU has and Marshall doesn’t, the Holliday-led Thundering Herd is going about its business, doing what’s best for Marshall and this year that could be a 12-0 regular season.
The non-conference schedule is manageable with Miami of Ohio, FCS foe Rhode Island, Ohio and Akron. Marshall should be favored in each of those games. Middle Tennessee State who beat the Herd in the last seconds in 2013 comes to Huntington this season as does a tough Western Kentucky team who is playing its first year in CUSA.
It is my hope that the Marshall faithful and college football fans in West Virginia will turn out to Joan C. Edwards Stadium to support this team as MU’s attendance has been poor for many years. Some will argue that fans flocked to the Joan when MU was winning, but being in the largest city in the state, part of a metropolitan area of more than 250,000 people and attracting 23,000 a game leaves a lot to be desired.
Doc Holliday is putting a good product on the field. It is time for the public to support it.
Bob Redd is a Daily Telegraph sportswriter. Contact him at email@example.com and Twitter @bdtredd.