BangTheBook.com Preseason Top 25: #14 Marshall Thundering Herd

The Preseason AP Top 25 poll won’t come out until later this month, but here at BangTheBook.com, we’re giving you a Top 25 from a betting perspective. Using power ratings to determine the top 25 teams in college football, readers will have the opportunity to look at what the preseason Top 25 might look like if designed by a bettor. Each article will feature a preview of that team with a write-up for each position and an explanation of why the position group was rated that way and some further insight into the methodology of creating power ratings.

The Methodology: Each team is rated up to 100 with eight different position groups considered. Quarterbacks, offensive and defensive lines, and coaching are graded on a scale of 4 to 15, while running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs are graded on a scale of 4 to 10 in half-point increments.

Groups are rated on returning production, potential, previous performance, and a handful of other variables. Information was gathered from all corners of the college football world, including preseason magazines, websites dedicated to specific teams, national college football websites, and more.

The #14 team on the BangTheBook.com Preseason Top 25 is the Marshall Thundering Herd.

Quarterbacks (15/15)

In the defense-optional Conference USA, Rakeem Cato has the chance to put up video game numbers for a third straight season. All Cato has done in his first three seasons is throw for 10,176 yards and 91 touchdowns in 35 career starts. The Herd adopted a more balanced offensive approach last season, but Cato is just under 3,000 yards shy of Chad Pennington’s school record. Backup Blake Frohnapfel transferred to UMass, but this position is all about Cato entering the season.

Running Backs (9/10)

This group took a hit when Miami Florida transfer Kevin Grooms was dismissed from the program, but Steward Butler is now the unquestioned starter. The Arizona State transfer racked up 8.8 yards per carry last season over 87 rushes in Marshall’s high-powered offense and there should be no drop-off from the departure of Essray Taliaferro. Somebody will emerge as a backup because recruits have taken notice of what can be achieved in Doc Holliday’s offense. This is still the class of what Conference USA has to offer, even without Grooms on the depth chart.

Wide Receivers (8.5/10)

One of Cato’s favorite targets, tight end Gator Hoskins, was a matchup nightmare for defenses last season en route to 50 catches and 15 touchdowns. He’s gone, but the 106 receptions and 1,165 yards of Tommy Shuler return. Greyshirted Miami transfer Angelo Jean-Louis should be ready to go and Cato’s ability will elevate the others on the depth chart. Another transfer, Deontay McManus, a former West Virginia recruit, is a big target at 6’2”, 227 lbs, which could give Cato the Hoskins replacement that he needs. Somebody will emerge from this group to make up for Hoskins’s production.

Offensive Line (13/15)

Both starting guards need to be replaced, which could hurt Marshall’s interior running game early on, but the three key positions return with both tackles and a center. Cato can move around the pocket enough to help these guys out and the Herd of running backs ran for 5.0 yards per carry last season. In a very weak conference, Marshall likely has the best offensive line, with only UTSA coming close.

Defensive Line (12/15)

Defensive tackle James Rouse was given a sixth year of eligibility due to injuries earlier in his career and he’ll anchor a pretty solid defensive line. The Herd went from 4.6 yards per carry in 2012 to 3.7 yards per carry in 2013 and increased their sack total by 13. Defensive end Gary Thompson was a member of the All-Freshman team and bulked up prior to his sophomore season. Any part of this defense should be elevated by how good the offense will be at chewing up clock and giving them plenty of rest.

Linebackers (7.5/10)

All three starters remain here from a defense that improved by over 18 points per game last season. There’s solid depth here from some transfers and the Marshall linebackers did a good job in pass coverage last season, as they were a big reason why opponents completed just 51.6 percent of passes after completing 65 percent the previous season. Whatever defensive coordinator Chuck Heater did last season worked and the second season of his schemes could yield even better results.

Defensive Backs (8/10)

Three of the four starters return and the other returner was on the All-Freshman team, despite starting just one game. This is one of the strongest and deepest areas of the team. There’s a Virginia Tech transfer, and everybody is well aware of Virginia Tech’s success with defensive backs, and some quality JUCO transfers that could have an impact this season. All in all, this is the conference’s top secondary and, like the linebackers, could improve in year two under Chuck Heater.

Coaching (12.5/15)

Things at Marshall are certainly trending up under Doc Holliday and it seemed that Chuck Heater was the missing piece to the defense. However, the jury should still be out on Holliday as an in-game coach. The Thundering Herd were soundly beaten by Rice in the Conference USA Championship as a 6.5-point favorite and are just 27-24 overall under Holliday. For this conference, Holliday is probably one of the better coaches, but it will be interesting to see what happens with the mountain of expectations placed on his team for this season.

Total: 85.5

Did you really think that you would see a Conference USA team in the Top 25? Marshall received 27 points in the Amway USA Today Coaches Poll that came out last week, which would put them 37th in the country. This is a team that projects to be at least a 14-point favorite in every game and the public could jump on the gravy train very early in the season and push those numbers up to three scores or higher for every contest.

Conference USA is bad, there’s no doubt about that. But, this Marshall team made such enormous strides defensively last season and has Cato back in his senior season. Those are two things really working in their favor and the spreads are going to reflect that. At the risk of setting other Conference USA teams too low for their non-conference schedule, a team like Marshall has to be rated this high. Are they the 14th best team in the country? No. Conference strength adjustments would be made to lines for non-conference games, so it’s not like Marshall would be a veritable pick ‘em or +4 against #13 Michigan State. Marshall’s non-conference schedule is terrible and a perfect regular season seems like a strong bet. Keeping that in mind, you’ll pay an inflated price on Marshall, so it’s better to start high anyway.

The Marshall Thundering Herd has the potential for a huge season and they’re #14 on our Preseason Top 25.

Adam Burke

Adam Burke

Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.

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