NCAA Football Betting Favorite: West Virginia -23
The Marshall Thundering Herd let one slip away last season when they lost to West Virginia 24-21 in overtime. Marshall led 21-6 with 14 minutes left in the game, but the Mountaineers rallied to force overtime and then they went on to win. This intrastate rivalry is always a fierce contest, but I suspect Marshall will be a little extra motivated for this one. West Virginia has dominated the series (5-0 in the last 5 years) between these two, and the Mountaineers have high aspirations for this season.
Marshall was once one of the best mid-major teams in the country, but they have fallen on hard times of late. Doc Holliday is trying to turn the team back into an annual contender, but last year’s 5-7 season was a difficult one. Marshall had the worst offense in Conference USA last year. The Thundering Herd averaged just 20.8 points per game, despite playing against some very weak defenses. The quarterback position is a huge question mark this year, but the running game is the single biggest problem for this team. Martin Ward was the team’s leading rusher last year, and he only had 345 yards all season. That is a truly amazing statistic that speaks volumes as to how bad this offensive line and the running game were last year. Marshall counted on the defense to keep them in the game last year, and I expect that to be the case again this season. The Thundering Herd have a terrific defensive line, led by Vinnie Curry. In addition, Omar Brown and DJ Hunter should help give Marshall a solid secondary. The defense will definitely miss Mario Harvey’s presence, but they should be pretty good again this season.
Dana Holgorsen takes over the head coaching job at West Virginia this year. Holgorsen is known as a brilliant offensive mind, and that is exactly what West Virginia needs right now. The Mountaineers have had a tremendous defense the last few years, but they have been lacking the offensive firepower needed to be a top notch team. Geno Smith improved as the season went along last year, and I expect him to be much better in this offense. Noel Devine is no longer with West Virginia, but they have a couple good youngsters in Shawne Alston and Andrew Buie. Tavon Austin is a great play maker at wide receiver, and you can bet that Holgorsen will do his best to get him the ball often. West Virginia’s defense lost a lot of talent, but they have ranked in the top 11 in the nation in total defense in three of the last four years. The Mountaineers will likely be worse against the run in 2011, but Keith Tandy and the rest of the secondary should be solid once again this season.
I think West Virginia will improve quite a bit offensively this year, but I don’t understand the line being at 23 in this one. Marshall has covered the last two years against the Mountaineers, and I think they will again this season.
Free College Football Pick: Marshall +23
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