The Thundering Herd have not seen a bowl team since 2004 and coach Mark Snyder hopes to end that draught in 2009. Every part of the Marshall team needs improvement. The offense ranked 10th in the conference with 330 yards per game and the defense was eighth in the conference giving up an average of 418 yards per game. Both units will need to get better if the Herd want to become bowl eligible in 2009.
The offense returns seven starters that only averaged 20 points a game. Mark Cann looks to be the starter at quarterback for now. Cann had a very back and forth season. He had 14 touchdowns, but also 13 interceptions. Cann will feel the pressure to do well because his backup, Brian Anderson, made some noise last season in the one game he started. Anderson threw for three touchdowns, 177 yards and completed 14-19 of his attempts. If Cann does not play well early on, look for Anderson to take over the starting role.
Arguably the best player on offense, Darius Marshall, returns in the backfield where he rushed for over 1,000 yards and five touchdowns last season. Marshall also has decent hands and is able to make plays out of the backfield as a receiver. Cody Slate, the senior tight end, returns as the leading receiver from a year ago. He had over 500 yards receiving with 40 catches. Courtney Edmonson and Bryant Milligan bring experience to the rest of the receiving unit who are both reliable targets. Most of the line returns from last season which is a good sign for the Herd. They ranked first in the conference last year in only allowing 1.08 sacks per game.
The defense is very deep and experienced in the secondary. C.J. Spillman returns as the leading tackler from last season with 131 tackles. Spillman also forced three fumbles and earned an All-Conference USA Second Team spot. The cornerback position took a hit when senior J.J. Johnson was kicked off the team. It will be a tough decision for the coaches to decide if they want to go with experience or youth at corner position. Guys like Zearick Matthews and John Saunders bring plenty of experience and bring leadership to the team. D.J. Wingate and DeQuan Bembry are young, talented and have great upside, but lack the experience. With the team looking towards the future, look for the younger players to get more playing time.
The defensive line is very strong at the ends. Albert McClellan, who is coming off of an ACL injury, will look to get back to his old form where in 2006 he was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the year. Ian Hoskins will play opposite McClellan should get his opportunity to shine as most defenses will be paying more attention to McClellan on the other side. Maurice Kitchens will be the man in the middle in linebacker group, which lacks depth and playing experience.Prediction: 6-6