This afternoon our beloved Marshall University Thundering Herd football team kicks off the 2008 season at 4:30 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, with renewed hopes of returning to a winning record. We wish Head Coach, Mark Snyder, and his staff much success, and we are certainly pulling for the student athletes to do their very best as they take on Illinois State from the I-AA ranks. Sports Illustrated has provided Coach Snyder with some wonderful bulletin board material with a recent prediction that the Herd will only win one game this season. 1 - 11. Ouch!
This season's Conference USA schedule is tough. Plus the Herd faces some challenging non conference games with University of Cincinnati, and nationally ranked powerhouses Wisconsin and West Virginia University. However, as Marshall learned in last season's opener, they had better not overlook Illinois State. The loss to I-AA New Hampshire in last season's third game should be an adequate reminder that the Herd had better show up to play today. The last few seasons have been disappointing for Herd fans, who had become accustomed to winning seasons under Stan Parish, George Chaump, Jim Donnan, and Bobby Pruett. Many feel that this is Coach Snyder's year under the microscope. This is his team - his recruits - under his training. I, for one, certainly wish him the best.
Pre season practices were encouraging. No major injuries were sustained, but therein is a bit of a controversy in itself. In an effort to curtail those serious and sometime season ending injuries to his athletes, Coach Snyder has chosen to keep full tilt hitting and tackling to a minimum during camp. The squad goes into today's contest healthy on the two deep list, but the question remains, will they be sound fundamentally? Tired of the "thud" drills that have made up the scrimmage work of the summer, most of the players are yearning to hit and tackle. Herd fans are hoping they will, and that they will not sustain any major injuries in these first couple of games - since they have been forced to be somewhat reserved in practice. We'll know the answer to that before bedtime tonight.
Snyder has a talented group of returning starters with Chubb Small and Darius Marshall coming out of the backfield. Veteran receivers Cody Slate, Darius Passmore, and Emmanuel Spann give redshirt freshman quarterback, Mark Cann, some talented and proven receivers. Cann's baptism by fire today will be interesting to watch. The lefthander has great potential but he is sure green. Fans should remember that fabled MU star quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich (both now laboring in the NFL) had rather dubious starts in their initial outings. That, along with new offensive and defensive schemes, brought in by Snyder's new offensive and defensive coordinators will also add to the drama.
One known quantity will be back on the field in Albert McClellan. Big Al was the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 but missed the entire 2007 season due to a knee injury. Reports are that McClellan is fully rehabbed and ready to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks from his Defensive End position. We sure missed his presence on defense last season! John Jacobs, Vinny Curry, and C.J. Spillman should also be defensive assets this season.
Hope springs eternal this time of year among the Marshall faithful. Those of us who suffered along with the teams during the long string of losing seasons, the longest losing streak in college football (back in the 60's) and of course the terrible plane crash, are a loyal lot. We love the Herd, and have reveled in the successes of the 90's and early this decade. We've missed the Bowl Games, the winning seasons, and the glowing pride. Win or lose, we'll back the Herd, but we all hope this group "gets the swagger back".
We are... Marshall!