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TODAY at No. 40: MARSHALL Coach: Doc Holliday (40-25, entering sixth season; 40-25 overall) 2014 record: 13-1, 7-1 in Conference USA; C-USA champion Look...

oklahoma st pickTODAY at No. 40: MARSHALL

Coach: Doc Holliday (40-25, entering sixth season; 40-25 overall)

2014 record: 13-1, 7-1 in Conference USA; C-USA champion

Look back: Star quarterback Rakeem Cato helped the Thundering Herd post a 13-1 record, win its first Conference USA title and defeat Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois 52-23 in the Boca Raton Bowl. The Herd were the only FBS team ranked in the top 20 nationally in rushing offense (No. 8, 271.9 yards per game) and passing offense (No. 17, 287.3 yards per game).

Offensive starters returning: 6

Offensive starters lost: 5

Defensive starters returning: 7

Defensive starters lost: 4

Key losses: QB Rakeem Cato, WR Tommy Shuler, TE Eric Frohnaphel, LT Trevor Mendelson, C Chris Jasperse, DE Ra’Shawde Myers, DT James Rouse, MLB Jermaine Holmes, WLB Neville Hewitt, CB Darryl Roberts

Top returnees: WR Davonte Allen, WR Angelo Jean-Louis, LG Sebastian Johnson, RT Clint Van Horn, RG Michael Selby, RB Devon Johnson, DT Jarquez Samuel, LB D.J. Hunter, FS A.J. Leggett, SS Taj Letman, CB Corey Tindal

Strengths: Holliday has long fielded high-octane offenses at Marshall, ranking No. 2 nationally last season in total offense (559.2 yards per game).

While Cato was known for putting up big passing numbers at a rapid rate, running back Devon Johnson returns after making a major impact for the offense. He surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark 10 times last season. The former tight end led C-USA with 1,767 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in 13 games.

Perhaps the biggest turning point for Marshall was the steady improvement of its defense, which ranked No. 31 nationally last season (357.1 yards allowed per game) and was finally in a strong position to complement a potent offense.

Weaknesses: Cato, a four-year-starter who passed for 3,903 yards and 40 touchdowns last season, has been the face of the Marshall program and won’t be easy to replace. He was a remarkable dual-threat athlete who seemed capable of making huge plays under pressure. James Madison transfer Michael Birdsong appears to be the front-runner for the starting job. While Holliday’s offense has shown no signs it will take a major step back, it will still be critical for the new signalcaller to limit turnovers.

Even with Cato on the field, Marshall had trouble winning the turnover battle last season and tied for No. 71 nationally (-0.14).

Outlook: Despite Cato’s departure, Holliday has recruited the talent needed to keep Marshall performing at a high level and in the mix for another Conference USA title.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 6 Purdue

Sept. 12 at Ohio

Sept. 19 Norfolk State

Sept. 26 at Kent State

Oct. 3 Old Dominion

Oct. 9 Southern Miss

Oct. 17 at Florida Atlantic

Oct. 24 North Texas

Oct. 31 at Charlotte

Nov. 7 at Middle Tennessee

Nov. 14 FIU

Nov. 27 at W. Kentucky

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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