LEAVE IT to Phil Steele to get a little football talk going in the merry month of June. It’s all good.
As his magazine makes its way to the racks in grocery and drug stores across America (sadly, the newsstand has left us), Steele let loose his all-conference teams for your debating pleasure.
Unless I’m missing something, only Steele has the guts to list four full units on his all-league teams. He hits many, misses a few and always leaves good points of reference.
This time around, he places 17 Thundering Herd players on his four units. One-seven, in a 13-team league.
Yeah, I know Conference USA isn’t what it once was, or what it was as recently as two years ago. That’s going to be an unfortunate, obnoxious theme from now through December, I’m afraid.
I’ll pose this question: Would the 2007 Marshall team (that started 0-7) have been so ballyhooed in a similar league lineup? I mean, there was Doug Legursky, Bernard Morris, Cody Slate, the (soon-to-be-injured) Albert McClellan and … and …
Yes, this Marshall program has picked up the pace considerably, and it’s refreshing to see. Not since the Chad P./Byron L. days have you been able to pick five no-brainer, first-team all-conference players without Googling. (Or, in the old days, looking it up.)
Quarterback Rakeem Cato? Receiver Tommy Shuler? Center Chris Jasperse? Defensive tackle James Rouse? Linebacker Jermaine Holmes? Duh, duh, duh, duh and duh.
Steele adds running back Steward Butler to the first team, along with defensive end Ra’Shawde Myers and safety A.J. Leggett. We know these guys can perform, but there are a few variables with Butler and Leggett. (Can Butler keep it together better than he did last year? Will Leggett start more than one game?)
Myers is more of a second-teamer at this point, which is where fellow D-end Gary Thompson is pegged. If either or both have a first-team-type year, watch out.
Steele’s other second-team picks were linebacker Evan McKelvey (yep) and kick returner Deandre Reaves (interesting). Both offensive tackles, Sebastian Johannson and Clint Van Horn, plus linebacker D.J. Hunter, were third-team picks. At least one will play even better, it says here.
Finally, Steele’s fourth unit includes safety Taj Letman and cornerback Darryl Roberts, a pick that launches the red flags.
Roberts a fourth-teamer? Swagg BandiCoot? Surely, you jest!
You can (correctly) credit new coordinator Chuck Heater for the rise of Marshall’s defense in 2013, but you cannot overestimate the impact of Roberts’ return from his 2012 injury. A bit longer than many corners at this level, he showed lockdown coverage skills, good run-vs.-pass instincts and a willingness to mix it up physically.
Let’s quantify his impact: By passer ratings, the Herd rose from 11th in 2012 conference games to fourth in 2013. In Steele’s own formula, the Herd rocketed from 104th to 21st in the full FBS.
The reasons? A healthier secondary, better pass rush and … a healthy Swagg.
The remaining question lies in the rest of the league. Are there six C-USA corners better than Roberts?
There are good candidates. Steele places Florida Atlantic’s D’Joun Smith and Rice’s Bryce Callahan on the first unit, and their teams have one thing in common: They allowed Marshall only 24 points.
The next four I am less familiar with: Le’Vander Liggins and Adairus Barnes of Louisiana Tech, Kenny Buyers of North Texas and Cam Thomas of Western Kentucky.
Surely, Swagg is better than one of those, right?
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If you’re curious, Steele did pretty well picking the Herd in his 2013 preview, and that started with his call for an East Division title.
On his first team, Cato, Jasperse and tight end Gator Hoskins followed the script, but punter Tyler Williams suffered a sophomore slump and safety Hunter showed why he is linebacker Hunter these days.
Holmes and receiver Devon Smith were solid second-teamers. On the third unit, Kevin Grooms was overshadowed (and eventually booked) at running back and Gage Niemeyer was nudged from his starting tackle spot. On the fourth team, defensive tackle Brandon Sparrow was solid, but guard Josh Lovell left the program and hard-luck linebacker Kent Turene was injured.
That’s how the preseason prognosticatin’ biz works, folks.
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As I’ve mentioned a few times, the top story about the Greenbrier Classic is who plays in it. (And can I embed Jimmy Buffett’s “Son of a Sailor” in your head for your Monday?)
Props for Classic officials landing Jason Day, ranked No. 7 in the world entering last week. For all the Australians who play on the Old White TPC, I’ve always figured Day and Adam Scott wouldn’t be on the list. Nice catch.
I am sorry to all-but-confirm my hunch that No. 10 Jordan Speith won’t be returning here for the July 3-6 Classic. He will defend his John Deere Classic title (July 10-13) the week before heading to the British Open, and you can’t expect someone who doesn’t have to play three straight weeks to do so.
And this: Spieth will tee it up July 7 in the Zach Johnson Foundation Classic in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, along with Johnson, Kyle Stanley, Steve Stricker and Lucas Glover. In that case, don’t expect those gentlemen here.
Johnson hasn’t played here, but the others have. Glover and Stanley missed the cut here last year.
That aside, here’s a guess on how many highly ranked players are coming here: five of the top 25, 14 of the top 50 and 26 of the top 100.
That won’t match the 2012 tournament, when Tiger Woods showed up, but it will play.
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And finally, a word on Charleston hospitality and the state baseball tournament. The latter was entertaining; the former was not so good.
It didn’t surprise me that out-of-town media were treated to a syrupy product from the pop machine. We do such a lousy job at the small details, so I’m used to that.
The head-scratcher of Saturday was Paterno’s at the Park, the restaurant adjacent to the right-field stands at Appalachian Power Park. I know now that it opens at 4 p.m. on Saturday, because that’s what happened on the day of the three championship games — six hours after the first pitch.
Paterno’s blew a chance at leaving a good impression and making a few grand. Go figure.
Contact Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.