HUNTINGTON — As is the case with several of his fellow seniors, Ryan Yurachek began his career as a member of Marshall’s only Conference USA championship season, 2014.
After needing about two practices to show he wouldn’t be redshirting, the tight end caught 17 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns as Eric Frohnapfel’s backup. He was part of a fun Thundering Herd team that looks better with time.
As Yurachek steps back to reflect on his career, he realizes the incredible effort that went into that season. Back then, his frame of reference was limited — he wasn’t here for the development of the “NASCAR” offense around Rakeem Cato in 2012, or the renovation of the defense in 2013.
But after living through the team’s 3-9 collapse in 2016 and the efforts to pull the program back above water, he gets it.
“To go 13-1 and start 11-0, and win a championship, you look back on it and realize how hard it is,” he said Monday. “That’s showing up every single week and being your best self, not making any mistakes on either side of the ball.
“Winning the championship is hard, and winning this conference is hard. It’s a competitive conference this year, with a chance for, what, nine or 10 bowl-eligible teams? There are some conferences in this country that are struggling to get to five right now, and I think that says a lot about the brand of football this conference is putting out.”
Yurachek and his fellow seniors will try to finish the regular season in style as Southern Mississippi comes to Joan C. Edwards Stadium at 2:30 p.m. to take on the Herd in a battle of 7-4 teams.
Conference USA doesn’t always deserve its usual bad rap, and this year is an example. Standings aside, I see at least seven teams that are better than they were a year ago, including the two playing for the league championship on Dec. 2, North Texas and Florida Atlantic.
Yes, my list includes the University of Texas-San Antonio, who became bowl-eligible at Marshall’s expense in a 9-7 octagon-worthy contest decided by a late field goal. From my social media feedback, you would have thought the Herd lost to 0-11 Texas-El Paso.
Marshall has a number of offensive issues — a freshman-dominated line, two top receivers injured among them — but the 9-7 score didn’t surprise me. The Roadrunners have an outstanding defensive front, their quarterback is an escape artist and they can shorten a game like nobody else. If you thought that team was a pushover, you ignored a lot of evidence to the contrary.
If you thought the Herd should have won that game, I can buy it. If you’re disappointed the Herd did not contend for the division title, there’s nothing wrong with that.
But if you think the Herd should rule the realigned Conference USA year after year like it did the Mid-American Conference from 1997-2002, you’re out of your ever-loving mind.
I am reminded of Marshall basketball circa 1987, when Herd fans thought their team would continue to stampede through the Southern Conference, returning to the NCAA tournament every year. If you have endured all 30 years of that hiatus, you should appreciate an rebound in football from 3-9 to no worse than 7-6.
But a number of fans — I’m never sure what proportion — are churning in a perpetual snit over Marshall football. Some plan to stay away from Saturday’s game and beyond, until (pick one: coach Doc Holliday, offensive coordinator Bill Legg, athletic director Mike Hamrick) is tossed over the nearby floodwall in a human sacrifice.
Yurachek noticed the rumbling and grumbling, and spoke up about it Sunday on Twitter.
“When y’all think about ‘boycotting’ the game Saturday, think about the us seniors, who gave our blood, sweat and tears to this football program for the last 4 years, rarely see our families, and spend countless hours working for this program and this community. Think about that,” he said.
As son of a major-college athletic director, Yurachek knows what he signed up for, but he’s 100 percent correct to speak up — just as a Marshall football fan who treats a 7-4 season as an embarrassment is zero percent correct.
And it’s such a lousy look. Personal recalibration is in order.
Other goodies to munch on:n If you gripe about C-USA being the original Sun Belt, you won’t like this: Not only did North Texas and FAU jump from the SBC, but the five such refugees have a combined league record of 24-11 vs. 15-20 for the five holdovers from C-USA’s 2005-12 era.
n The world of live streaming sports took another long stride back Friday night in the eyes of this techno-grouch.
I “game-tracked” the Western Kentucky-Middle Tennessee game in the latter stages of my journey to San Antonio, and knew the contest entered overtime. I also knew it was on CBS Sports, so my phone was the best bet when I settled in at my hotel.
Got in on the live action right at the third overtime. WKU’s Ryan Nuss lined up for the 37-yard field goal that would decide the “100 Miles of Hate” classic and secure bowl eligibility for the Hilltoppers.
The snap, the set, the …
Twirling Circle of Purgatory.
Of course. That circle twirled for an eternity, so there was no way I was going to see that kick. When the screen was finally freed from its frozen-over buffering hell, the Hilltoppers were well into a wild celebration. I guess Nuss made the kick.
As one Herd fan told me, “Now imagine paying $7 for it.”
Alas, streaming is an awesome idea, but it has such a long way to go.
n And finally, I give up: Why did UTSA wait until 2011 to launch football? If the Roadrunners turn into a Texas gridiron version of Central Florida, you saw the suggestion here first.