Coach: Mark Snyder (first season) 2004 record: 6-6 (Lost to Cincinnati in Fort Worth Bowl) MAC finish: (t-2nd East) 2004 I-A offensive rankings:Rushing: 96th (112.7 ypg) Passing: 66th (208.6 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 19th (111.0 ypg) Passing: 72nd (223.7 ypg)
William & Mary
at Virginia Tech
Depth Chart: Offense
3 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
3 returning starters in red
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When Mark Snyder accepted the Marshall job he said, "I'm home. It's good to be home."
Unfortunately for Snyder, "Home," looks nothing like it did when Snyder left in the late 1980s, nor does it even resemble what it was a mere year ago. Marshall features a new coach, is changing conferences and will put 16 first-year starters on the field. All of those factors combine to form a cloud of uncertainty over a program that has been a model of stability the last nine years.
Snyder, former defensive coordinator at Ohio State and an ex-Thundering Herd star, takes over for the retired Bobby Pruett, whose teams went 94-23 with five MAC championships and five bowl victories before his sudden retirement in March.
"I appreciate what Coach Pruett did here," said Snyder, who was hired April 14, in time to see just two days of spring practice. "He took the program to a level no one had ever dreamed."
Snyder retained most of Pruett's assistants, which should help as the Thundering Herd transitions from the Mid-American Conference to Conference USA. The new coach has work to do. Marshall is coming off a 6-6 season, its worst record since '83, and returns just six starters. A schedule that features games with Virginia Tech and Kansas State and includes contests with five bowl teams makes the challenge even greater.
Snyder has at least limited knowledge of his players, having coached against the Herd in 2004 when Ohio State beat Marshall, 24-21, on a last-second field goal.
"I'm surprised with how many of these guys I'm familiar with because I recruited them when I was at Ohio State," Snyder said. "I coached against them last year, and I liked what I saw from them, then. They probably should have beaten us."
Snyder's goal remains similar to Pruett's.
"We want to win the conference championship, go to a BCS bowl and graduate all of our players," Snyder said. "We know that's a challenge. Conference USA is a better league than the MAC. We have to get to work."
Snyder leads Marshall into its first season in Conference USA building around sophomore tailback Ahmad Bradshaw, a star in the making. Bradshaw features elusiveness to go with sub-4.4 speed. He rushed for 462 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. Bradshaw is also an excellent receiver. The question is, who will get him the ball?
Junior Jimmy Skinner and sophomore Bernard Morris will battle junior college transfer Derek Devine, possibly until the final week before the opener, at quarterback. Skinner has the most experience, Morris is a superior athlete and Devine had a strong spring.
Marshall lost four of its top five receivers from last year's team and the one who returns, sophomore Emanuel Spann, tore a knee ligament and missed spring ball. Sophomore Marcus Fitzgerald, brother of NFL star Larry Fitzgerald has potential after catching 12 passes for 146 yards as a freshman.
Senior Toby Bullock moves from left guard to left tackle. Seth Cook, a junior, returns at right tackle. Sophomore John Inman and senior Ryan Baynes have limited experience at the guards. Sophomore Doug Legursky saw considerable action at center last season.
Three quality starters return to potentially one of the nation's better secondaries, including strong safety Curtis Keyes, a big-hitting, sure-tackling junior who was a second-team All-MAC pick after recording a team-high 108 tackles and intercepting two passes last year. Senior free safety Chris Royal was second in the nation with six interceptions in '04. Senior cornerback Willie Smith is a quiet standout. North Carolina transfer Chris Hawkins tops the depth chart at the other corner.
Marshall must replace its entire defensive front, including end Jonathan Goddard, who led the nation with 16 sacks. Roger Garrett and Floyd Wright are undersized but athletic tackles. Both will have to hold off highly touted junior college transfer Juan Underwood.
There will be three new starters at linebacker. Junior Matt Couch is tough in the middle. Senior Dennis Thornton will man the weak side. Senior Donte' Newsome and freshman Ian Hoskins will battle for the strong side.
Junior Ian O'Connor adeptly handles kicking and punting. O'Connor was 14-for-19 on field goal attempts last season, with a long of 52 yards. He also averaged 40.4 yards per punt.
Spann was the Herd's top punt returner and second-leading kickoff returner. If he can't come back, expect Bradshaw and Royal to see time there.
Having been hired in April, Snyder had little option but to keep most of the previous staff. How well he and those assistants work together will be critical to Marshall's success. Snyder had virtually no on-field time to evaluate his players, meaning his opinion will be formulated by what he saw on film, what he sees in four weeks of fall practice and, most important, by what his assistants tell him.
Marshall's move from the Mid-American Conference to Conference USA creates more bowl opportunities. C-USA has five bowl tie-ins, while the MAC has two. The Thundering Herd has a solid shot at reaching the postseason for the eighth time in nine years. Still, enough uncertainty exists to raise concerns.