The Marshall Thundering Herd is a mere 11 days away from its 2017 season opener and will be looking for redemption after a shocking 3-9 season in 2016. But the Herd has many challenging games against teams that look to thwart Marshall’s resurgence plans.
According to Phil Steele, the Herd’s 2017 strength of schedule ranks 102nd among all FBS teams, good for fourth highest among all C-USA teams. But which games will present Marshall with the biggest challenges this season?
This list will rank the Herd’s opponents this season from the least challenging to the most challenging based on preseason expectations. Let’s dissect.
12) Kent State
Marshall meets up with former MAC foe Kent State on Sept. 16 to complete the home-and-home series that began in 2015 at Kent State.
The Golden Flashes are reeling after a 3-9 season in 2016 and are picked to finish sixth out of six teams in the MAC East Division according to the preseason poll chosen by the league’s media members.
Kent State is not expected to be much this season, but the most recent game between Marshall and Kent State in 2015 saw the Herd need overtime to knock off the would-be 3-9 Golden Flashes.
Marshall cannot afford to fall flat in this game, but if things go as expected, the Herd should take care of business against Kent State.
The Herd will look to rebound from a disappointing home loss to the Charlotte 49ers in 2016 with a road game at the 49ers on Oct. 7 to open C-USA play.
Charlotte, who is competing in just its third season in C-USA and the FBS in general, made strides from a 2-10 inaugural FBS season in 2015 with a 4-8 season in 2016 that included three losses by seven points or less.
But the 49ers are still a work in progress and are picked to finish seventh out of seven teams in the C-USA East Division this season according to C-USA’s media members.
As Marshall found out last season, Charlotte is not a team to overlook and is more than capable of playing spoiler. But the Herd should have a great chance at opening C-USA play with a road victory this season.
10) Florida International
Marshall hosts the FIU Panthers on Oct. 28 with hopes of regaining the edge against FIU that was lost last season with a road defeat at the Panthers.
FIU finished just 4-8 in 2016 and now with new head coach Butch Davis, the Panthers hope for a quick turnaround this season.
Despite a new head coach with a great pedigree of success, FIU is not expected to have a miraculous turnaround this season and is picked to finish sixth out of seven teams in C-USA’s East Division according to the C-USA media members.
Marshall has owned FIU in C-USA since the Panthers joined the league in 2013 and will undoubtedly be looking for revenge after last season’s defeat, this time in the friendly confines of Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
9) Florida Atlantic
The new-look FAU Owls will host the Herd on Friday, Nov. 3 still eyeing their first all-time win over Marshall after a narrow home win for the Herd last season.
FAU finished the 2016 season at 3-9 overall, but have made major changes in the offseason led by the hiring of Lane Kiffin as head coach along with gaining numerous highly-touted transfers and newcomers.
The Owls are attempting to turn their fortunes around in a big way, but are picked to finish fifth out of seven teams in C-USA’s East Division this season according to the C-USA media members.
FAU could be a potential sleeper in the East this season and the Herd has had some tough games against the Owls in recent seasons, so this is not a game Marshall can take lightly. The Herd looks to keep its perfect win/loss record against FAU intact this season.
8) Southern Mississippi
The Herd hosts the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the regular season finale for both teams on Nov. 25 looking to avenge a 2016 defeat at Southern Miss that broke the Herd’s five-game winning streak over the Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss wrapped up another solid season in 2016 with a 7-6 final record and a New Orleans Bowl victory.
The Golden Eagles are picked to finish third in the C-USA West Division this season according to C-USA’s media members.
Despite key losses from the 2016 team, Southern Miss should still be a threat game in and game out in C-USA this season, but the Herd is fortunate to host the Golden Eagles this season. The last time Southern Miss has won at Marshall was 2009.
7) Old Dominion
The ODU Monarchs travel to Huntington this season to battle Marshall on Oct. 14 for the Herd’s 2017 homecoming game after defeating Marshall at home in 2016.
The Monarchs had a historic season in 2016 by finishing 10-3 overall along with a Bahamas Bowl victory, their best season at the FBS level to date.
ODU is picked to finish third in C-USA’s East Division this season according to C-USA’s media members.
While it will be hard to repeat their 2016 campaign given some of the losses from that 10-3 team, the Monarchs are still a team to lookout for in C-USA this season and present a tough challenge to the Herd on homecoming Saturday in Huntington.
6) Miami (OH)
The Herd opens its 2017 season against a former bitter rival in the Miami RedHawks at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Sept. 2 in the first meeting between these teams since a 2014 road victory for Marshall.
The RedHawks finished the 2016 season by winning six of their last seven games overall after an 0-6 start to finish the season at 6-7 overall with a narrow one-point loss in the St. Petersburg Bowl against Mississippi State of the SEC.
With 17 returning starters this season, Miami is picked to finish second in the MAC East Division according to the MAC’s media members despite owning more first-place votes than any team in the division.
This will not be the same RedHawks squad that the Herd handled with relative ease in recent memory and is shaping up to be a tough first game of the season with a lot at stake.
Marshall will make its first ever trip at the UTSA Roadrunners on Nov. 18 for just its second all-time meeting with UTSA and the first since a home win in 2013.
The Roadrunners are coming off their first ever bowl game appearance in 2016 that resulted in a narrow defeat in the New Mexico Bowl to finish the season at 6-7 overall.
With 14 returning starters, expectations are high for UTSA this season and the Roadrunners are picked to finish second in the C-USA West Division in 2017 according to C-USA’s media members.
UTSA should be a serious threat in C-USA this season and given Marshall’s historical troubles winning in the state of Texas, this is shaping up to be a difficult game for the Herd.
The Herd heads out on the road on Sept. 30 to wrap up non-conference play against the Cincinnati Bearcats of the AAC in the first game of a home-and-home series that concludes in 2019 in Huntington.
Cincinnati is coming off a disappointing 4-8 season in 2016 after at least sharing five of the previous eight AAC/Big East Championships.
The Bearcats hope for a return to success this season and are picked to finish fourth in the AAC East Division according to AAC media members.
Cincinnati is used to winning and should have a great shot at returning to that status this season, making the Herd’s final non-conference road game of the 2017 season that much more difficult.
3) Middle Tennessee
The high-powered MTSU Blue Raiders host Marshall on Oct. 20 for a Friday night showdown and will be looking to avenge last season’s defeat at the Herd. MTSU is coming off another stellar season at 8-5 overall in 2016 after a disappointing loss in the Hawai’i Bowl.
The Blue Raiders return most of their explosive offense this season and should be improved defensively as well, leading to a preseason pick of second place in C-USA’s East Division according to the C-USA media members.
Since MTSU joined C-USA in 2013, the Herd has had a hard time pulling out a win in Murfreesboro with two losses in two trips by a total of five points and three overtimes.
And the Blue Raiders will be looking for revenge after a setback in Huntington last season in what’s sure to be a tough road game to win for Marshall.
2) Western Kentucky
The Herd will look to break the goose egg in C-USA play against the WKU Hilltoppers on Nov. 11 in Huntington for the second straight season after an embarrassing home loss to WKU in 2016.
The Hilltoppers are coming off another C-USA Championship season where they finished 11-3 overall with a Boca Raton Bowl victory as well.
WKU is expected to be the team to beat in C-USA’s East Division once again this season and is the preseason favorite to win the East for the third straight season according to the C-USA media members. The Hilltoppers are 3-0 against Marshall since joining C-USA in 2014 and will look to keep that trend going this season.
But the Herd has the advantage of playing at home in a game with the significance of honoring the 75 lost in the Marshall plane crash on November 14, 1970. All in all, this is arguably the toughest game of the season for the Herd regardless of any circumstances.
1) North Carolina State
Marshall’s most difficult game of the 2017 season comes in the fashion of a road game at the NC State Wolfpack of the ACC on Sept. 9 in the first game of a home-and-home series that concludes in 2018 in Huntington.
The Wolfpack has high hopes following a 7-6 season in 2016 that featured an Independence Bowl victory.
NC State is expected to be a sleeper in the ACC Atlantic Division this season and returns 17 starters to own the distinction of a preseason pick of fourth in the Atlantic Division according to the ACC media members.
A road game at any P5 team is usually always a tough game, especially against one that is expected to surprise people like the Wolfpack is expected to do in 2017. Marshall will have its work cut out for it and then some in this game where nearly 60,000 fans are in attendance game in and game out.