HANG ONTO your Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl souvenirs for dear life, for Camp Doc III is about to commence. When Marshall begins its split-squad practices at 9:45 a.m. today, it embarks on its eighth season in Conference USA, and Holliday will begin in earnest his new role as one of the league's elder statesmen. No kidding. George O'Leary of Central Florida and Mike Price of Texas-El Paso are the co-deans in their ninth seasons. After that, you have sixth-year man David Bailiff at Rice and fifth-year man June Jones at Southern Methodist. With five new coaches on board, Holliday's tenure has rocketed to No. 5. (Pardon me for looking ahead, but Mario Cristobal is entering his sixth year at Florida International and Sonny Dykes his third at Louisiana Tech. C-USA will lose O'Leary and Jones.) We'll see how much wisdom Holliday has gained from his first two seasons on the Thundering Herd sideline. That's not a jab - to the contrary, I thought the Herd's three-win finish was a validation of his staff's efforts. Say what you will about Marshall's hold-your-nose win over Memphis, the overtime thriller against East Carolina and the ugly win over Florida International, but the Herd finished strong in all three. Does that happen in the previous regime? This MU season stands to be more interesting than preseason predictions, which are almost unanimous: Bowl-banned Central Florida wins the East, followed by Southern Mississippi, Marshall/East Carolina, blah Alabama-Birmingham and worse-than-blah Memphis. In the West, it's Houston, Tulsa, SMU and the other three. Zzzzzzzzzzz. Let's float a few predictions on the Herd, wrap them up for a few months and dust them off in December. Away we go:
To go to a bowl game in consecutive years for the first time since 2002 (yikes!), the Herd's scoring average must begin with a "3." Or at least top 27 for the first time since the Bob Pruett era. And it should do so without considering the Western Carolina massacre.
With his defensive roots, Holliday doesn't want to hear that. But this team has too much skill and too many questions on defense to win a bunch of 23-22 games.
It says here the Herd will defeat Western Carolina, Ohio, Memphis, UAB and Houston.
It will be fun watching ex-Herd QB Eddie Sullivan running the Edwards Stadium turf without a red jersey, in a morbid way. The Herd will be home underdogs against the Bobcats, but should show up angry enough to win. Memphis and UAB are ... Memphis and UAB.
As for Houston, no team from Texas has won in Huntington. But more important, the Coogs are a tad overrated. They will not win the West.
Hey, I respect a team with Charles Sims running behind a veteran line, but the other team is going to get the ball. And I don't care how many returning starters that defense has, they don't have Marcus McGraw and Sammy Brown among them.
A few of those 73-whatever games from the last few years are going to be reversed on that bunch.
The Herd will lose to West Virginia, Rice, Tulsa and UCF.
In the Mountaineers, I still see Geno Smith-to-Tavon Austin, but I always point to WVU's defense vs. Marshall's offense as the mismatch du jour. The Herd's offensive line will need a few games to find its way.
Supplemental prediction: With the advent of Big 12 officiating, the home fans will be startled by the referee's accent. (Remember, the Herd pioneered this migration to the Southwest. I should have scouted out Stillwater for Mountaineer fans, but didn't. Sorry about that.)
Marshall will find away to boot another game in the state of Texas, losing to Rice in Conference USA's largest and most uninteresting city. I just hope to get out of there without getting rear-ended on the freeway (again).
I like Tulsa to win the West. I expect Nebraska transfer Cody Green to plug himself right in at quarterback and let all those skill players continue to run wild.
UCF has that habit of bouncing back after a bad season. If the coaching staff doesn't mess up the quarterback situation and gets the expected mileage out of a deep backfield, the Knights will indeed win the East.
So that's 5-4 with roadies against Purdue, Southern Miss and East Carolina unaccounted for. There is the Herd's challenge, in a nutshell.
With that, let the pigskins fly.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.