Five Minute Guide to '99
The Thundering Herd may play at a small school, but it has big ambitions
Pennington knows something about what makes a good story. He has passed for 10,102 yards and 85 touchdowns during his college career. When the college season is over, he plans on devoting his time to preparing for what he hopes will be a long career in the NFL. Before pro football beckons, however, Pennington hopes to lead Marshall to a second consecutive bowl victory, a Top 20 ranking and, dare to dream, maybe even win a trophy or two for himself. The school has created an ambitious cybercampaign to promote his long-shot Heisman hopes. "It's really hard for a guy from a small school to win," says the 6'4", 220-pound Pennington. "If I have a chance, it's going to be a reflection on how well our team has done."
Expect Marshall to do very well. The Thundering Herd has 19 starters back from a 12-1 squad that dismantled Louisville 48-29 in the Motor City Bowl for the school's first bowl win. Marshall, in fact, leads all Division I-A schools with 101 wins this decade -- Florida is second with 97 victories -- and during the off-season the coaching staff handed out T-shirts with the number 114 nestled in one of six rings highlighting the school's achievements in the '90s. (Marshall has gone 22-4 with two consecutive Mid-American championships since moving up to Division I-A before the 1997 season.)
With most of the focus on Pennington, it's easy to overlook senior tailback Doug Chapman, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons. The defense, which finished 16th nationally in points allowed (17.3), also doesn't get enough recognition. Senior free safety Rogers Beckett is a Thorpe Award candidate, while junior cornerback Danny Derricott's six interceptions were tied for second in the nation last year.
Pennington spent six weeks this summer in Knoxville, where he was awash in Volunteermania. Can Huntington's favorite journalist write a similar script for his school? "We have a lot of potential, and everybody understands that," he says. "But potential is another way of saying, You haven't done anything yet. We think we're good enough to be in the Top 20. Whether we get there or not remains to be seen."
-- Richard Deitsch
1998 record: 12-1 (7-1, 1st in MAC East)
Sept. 4 at Clemson
Oct. 2 at Miami (Ohio)
The Thundering Herd has a shot to be undefeated and will go as far as Pennington's golden right arm carries it.
Five Minute Guide to '99
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