By Mark Baker/Blog Writer @Sidelines_SN
-March 5th, 2022
Everyone who follows college football knows the feud that is currently going on between Marshall University and Conference USA. Every news outlet in the country is covering the ordeal so there's really no need for me to jump on that ship and regurgitate the same story with different wording. I just want it to all end, and Im sure when this is all forgotten, it will be worth it. When the dust settles, The Herd will no longer be trapped in what has become the most unorganized conference in FBS. It has not always been like this. There was a time that teams and fans took pride in being a member of Conference USA. Back then, a CUSA title was something to brag about. Now it is a joke to the rest of the CFB world and sadly, Marshall has had to endure this joke for seventeen years while the program itself has declined to an extent with the conference. We watched as better conferences came and plucked members time and time again, but never Marshall. Not the school that had the highest winning percentage in the 1990's, that has passionate fans and a following nationwide, that has a full length major motion picture depicting the school and football team, no.....not The Herd. So we endured the best we could as new schools came in to the conference over and over. No more Houston or Memphis or ECU or UCF. No more SMU or Tulane or Tulsa or any of the other former CUSA schools that were chosen to have a chance at being competitive. The packed stadiums, the national recognition , the TV deals eventually were gone too and what remained was barely a shell of the Conference USA Marshall joined after an eight year dominance of the Mid American Conference, which had them on ESPN more often than the current CUSA leadership has been able to provide.
“How dark it is before the dawn“ is a phrase used when a situation is beyond bleak yet promising days lie ahead……and it is fitting to the current state of Marshall University Football. For starters, Marshall appointed a new President to run the school. Brad Smith became the first President hired without a history of academia on his resume. He is an out of the box type of guy, a former CEO of Intuit who wants to put Marshall University back on the map across the country, as well as create an online presence for the school. With a new President also comes a new Athletic Director. Christian Spears comes to Huntington with a history of fundraising and creating new facilities while he was deputy director at Penn State. The vision he has for the Herd includes improvements to our current facilities as well as fundraising for new ones. This all may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but the possibilities these hires bring are endless. New leadership, a new vision, a starting point to put Marshall back on the map in athletics as well as academics. Throw into this mix Coach Huff, who has taken the reigns of this program and has started to change the entire philosophy, the vision, the expectations of the Herd football program. His recruiting success while at Alabama and Penn State have forged connections that he has utilized here.
All of this change in culture culminates with Marshall joining the Sun Belt Conference, which should take place most likely before the start of this football season. With the Sun Belt comes nationally televised games on ESPN as well as an East Division that could potentially be the toughest division in all of the G5 ranks. Coastal Carolina, Appalachian State, Marshall, James Madison, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, and Old Dominion will all be battling it out for the East Division title come this fall. No more away games to empty stadiums, no more contests involving social media. No more fighting with the CUSA TV website that rarely works, no more decline or inept leadership from conference brass..no, those days are over. The Herd finally has an opportunity to restore the prestige they built decades ago. It all starts this season. Here’s a few positions that have great emphasis on the upcoming season Workhorse Rasheen Ali, the NCAA leader in rushing TDS returns, and this year he has Florida State transfer Khalen Laborn, a former 5 star recruit to make for a brutal rushing attack. Receivers Corey Gammage, Talik Keaton, Jayden Harrison, and Shadeed Ahmed all return this year, giving the Herd a large amount of experience. Add to that group Caleb Coombs, a 4 star recruit with tons of upside who was redshirted last season, and Florida State transfer Bryan Robinson, both players who could have breakout seasons this year. With two year starter Grant Wells suddenly transferring to Virginia Tech, the Herd will have someone new this season leading the offense. The frontrunner appears to be Henry Colombi, a recent Texas Tech transfer who is the only QB on the roster with any collegiate starting experience. Chase Harrison and Peter Zamora, both 3 star quarterbacks as well as Cole Pennington, son of Marshall legend Chad Pennington, will all be battling it out this spring for the job. My next article will be an in-depth look at this year’s recruiting class as well as our activity in the transfer portal. The future looks surprisingly sunny for the Thundering Herd…