EIGHT SHOULD be enough to get the howling, green-clad wolves off Marshall football coach Doc Holliday's proverbial porch.Maybe.Elements of the Thundering Herd faithful have turned into George Spacely of Hanna-Barbera infamy, screaming, "Jetson! You'rrrrrre fired!" only substituting "Doc," "Herrion" or whoever.That gets old, but so does entering the season finale against East Carolina at 5-6. With the schedule falling the same way, Holliday and the Herd don't need to be 5-6 and needing to beat the Pirates for the third season in a row.
That will make for a long, grouchy season.With Conference USA's most potent offense mostly intact and improvements in defense and special teams (right?), why shouldn't the Herd win eight or nine games?One word of caution: Do NOT call the Herd's 2013 schedule easier than that of 2012. Through realignment and the scrapping of the 2005-12 scheduling rotation, the Herd lost nemesis Central Florida, cellar-dwellers Memphis and Tulane, struggling Texas-El Paso and Southern Methodist.In their place will be Texas-San Antonio, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee ... and defending C-USA champion Tulsa, on the road.In the final CBS Sports 1-124 rankings, the "would be" five league foes ranked an average 92.4. The "will be" quintet checks in at an average 77.2.By that measure, the Herd's league schedule gets tougher. Still, why shouldn't the Herd go 8-5 (including bowl game) at the worst?Jumping around the schedule, let's see what this team must do this fall. Remember, these are NOT predictions. They are necessities.With 124 days to opening kickoff, off we go:n Gimme win — Gardner-Webb (Sept. 7). If you need to schedule the Bulldogs to make six home games, I guess that will do. Gentlemen, you can get married that weekend and still keep your man card.n Need a prayer — At Virginia Tech (Sept. 21) and at Tulsa (Thursday, Nov. 14). I'd just be happy to see the Herd not get worked over, as it has in every other trip to Blacksburg. Frank Beamer retooled his offensive coaching staff, and the Hokies will be ready to score.In the worst break of the schedule, the Herd goes to Tulsa on a short week, five days after a home game against Alabama-Birmingham. The Golden Hurricane has holes to fill on defense, but many skill players are back on offense, including backs Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas.
Those are losses unless someone says otherwise.n Smack the MAC, for once — The Herd must beat Miami (Ohio) in the Aug. 31 opener, then beat Ohio two weeks later, in Athens.As you may recall, the Bobcats toted 15 fifth-year seniors to Huntington for their 27-24 win over the Herd. I thought that was remarkable until I looked at their spring roster and counted 19 fifth-year seniors for this fall.How does Frank Solich do it?He has Tyler Tettleton back to terrorize the Herd one more time. The Bobcats are back in Athens, where they laid a 44-7 beatdown on the Herd in 2011. And so on.I don't care. Marshall must win every game vs. the Mid-American Conference or be mired in mediocrity. One-point wins are acceptable; defeat is not.
Miami was 4-8 last season. Two must-win games.n Beep-beep, bleep-bleep: Texas-San Antonio (Oct. 5) is one of those C-USA newcomers with huge upside, a program with a fan base from the opening kickoff. Combine that with some good ol' Texas home recruitin', and the Roadrunners could be frightening.But not yet. They were 8-4 last year but just 3-3 in the disintegrating WAC. And they're coming to Huntington, a strange roadie for a C-USA newbie.Must win.n Southern Miss/UAB home stand: The Herd's back-to-back home games in league play feature these familiar East Division rivals. First, I'm going to assume Southern Mississippi sheds its jaw-dropping losing streak long before Nov. 2.Still, how quickly can the Golden Eagles and coach Todd Monken recover from 0-12?I'll take Southern Miss over UAB, though. It's a reflex, you know, but a dependable one.As dependable as Marshall beating UAB at home. The Herd should never lose to the Blazers anywhere, but I'll try to forget last year's loss at Legion Field.One of these games won't be easy, but MU needs a sweep.n Middle East, no peace: It may be odd to lump a road game at Middle Tennessee (Thursday, Oct. 24) with the home finale against East Carolina (Nov. 13), but there is a common denominator: The Herd will be an underdog in both.The Blue Raiders finished a game behind Arkansas State in the Sun Belt standings, and have been a thorny foe for C-USA teams. Quarterback Logan Kilgore is among 17 starters back.If East Carolina isn't favored to win the East Division, I surrender. Like Marshall, the Pirates changed defensive coordinators and have built a potent offense.For division contention purposes, a split for MU would be huge.Add those up and you see 9-3, right? Experience tells me almost every team boots a game, so you can deduct a win somewhere and make it 8-4.So would going 8-4 in the regular season and losing a bowl game be much more acceptable than going 7-5 and winning a bowl? It seems that way.But just think: It has been a long decade since the Herd won eight in a season. A long, long decade. Holliday and company must put an end to it.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.