CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I've known Marshall football coach Doc Holliday for many years.I once followed him on a Miami recruiting trip for a story. I attended the MU press conference when he was named head coach - and observed how moved he was to be given the opportunity.I like Doc Holliday. I think he's a good man.And I know he won't mind when I say this: It's time.It's time for Holliday to make a mark as a head coach. It's time for Marshall to prove it can be a football winner in Conference USA. It's time to establish a brand.This year. This season.The Thundering Herd was picked in the C-USA coaches' poll to finish second to East Carolina in the East Division.
But the schedule sets up well for MU. See, ECU visits Huntington on Nov. 29. And the days of murderous non-conference schedules are gone. The WVU series is over. There is no lineup of WVU, Virginia Tech and Louisville.In fact, Marshall should have a shot at beating Tech - its only big-name non-conference opponent - this year. In ACC preseason poll voting, the Hokies received but one of a possible 120 votes to finish as the league champion.Yes, Virginia Tech still has more talent. But the Hokies' best player - possible first-round NFL pick Antone Exum - tore up his knee and might not be back for the MU game. Quarterback Logan Thomas is a possible third- or fourth-round pick. Otherwise ...Let's just say it shouldn't be a banner year for Tech. In sum, if Marshall is ever going to make a mark under Holliday in Blacksburg, this is the year.
Overall, the Thundering Herd can and should do very well against its schedule.Also, WVU is expected to have a down year. While that doesn't mean a heck of a lot - Mountaineer fans certainly won't be switching allegiances - the Thundering Herd might have the opportunity to swipe at least some of the state's spotlight.All simply sets up well for Marshall, and just in the nick of time for Holliday. In an Athlon magazine list of coaches on the hot seat, he came in at No. 12 nationally.Understandable. In three seasons as head coach, Holliday's teams have gone 5-7, 7-6 and 5-7. If my math is correct, that's 17-20. Not good.
Again, the non-conference schedule has been lightened. Holliday has had time to bring in his recruits for his systems. He has one of the nation's brightest quarterbacks in Rakeem Cato. He returns 15 starters. It's time to rock and roll.Actually, MU fans have been quite patient. Coaching at Marshall is a tough gig, considering the school's location - WVU to the east, Kentucky and Louisville to the west and Ohio State to the north.Herd fans, though, were used to winning. They cheered teams with 10 or more wins for 11 seasons before NCAA sanctions hit back in 2002. Since 2003, no MU team has won more than eight.Of late, the school has been struggling within C-USA. Because of realignment, though, the current C-USA is basically the Mid-American Conference, MU's former league. At least in regard to strength.What's encouraging for MU fans is Holliday embraces the situation. On Monday he said he enjoys high expectations. "If we take care of business and prepare," the coach said, "we've got a shot to have a pretty good football team."The time to show it is now.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.