Following a successful rebound season in 2017 after a disastrous 2016 season, Marshall Thundering Herd football has higher expectations in 2018 to not only build on last season’s success, but compete for a C-USA Championship.
Marshall posted a shockingly-disappointing 3-9 final record in 2016 that shook the program and fanbase to its core. Everyone involved with Marshall football wanted to get that bad taste out of its mouth and despite a few ups and downs, the 2017 season did just that.
The Herd finished the 2017 season at 8-5 overall with a New Mexico Bowl victory, extending Marshall’s bowl winning streak to six straight and extending the program’s FBS-best bowl winning percentage to 85 percent. With things seemingly back on track, expectations are high for the Herd in 2018.
And given how much talent Marshall returns across the board in 2018, those expectations are warranted. The Herd loses only 12 seniors from the 2017 team and returns 18 starters from that 2017 team that will look to take the program back to a championship level.
The biggest question mark on offense for the Herd in 2018 has to be the quarterback situation. Three-year starting quarterback Chase Litton surprisingly declared for the NFL Draft following the 2017 season and Marshall will be forced to find a new starting quarterback for the first time in a while.
The Herd took a big step in accomplishing that feat, however, by gaining sought-after graduate transfer quarterback Alex Thomson from Wagner this offseason, who chose Marshall over Power Five schools in Tennessee of the SEC and Baylor of the Big XII.
Thomson has battled injury issues in the past, but many have pegged him as a potential NFL quarterback in the future, including former NFL star Phil Simms and current San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello who coached Thomson during his time at Wagner.
Thomson will have two years of eligibility at Marshall and if he lives up to what some think he can be, Marshall could be one of the most elite Group of Five programs in the country in 2018. The Herd has two other potential starting quarterback candidates as well in redshirt freshman Isaiah Green and redshirt sophomore Garet Morrell.
Green was a three-star recruit out of high school and was considered the 47th best dual threat quarterback in the country according to 247 Sports. Morrell has started two games in the past for Marshall during the tumultuous 2016 season, but was redshirted last season. Thomson, Green, and Morrell have all split first-team reps so far this offseason.
The running back unit is set up nicely for Marshall in 2018 with two starting caliber running backs returning in senior Keion Davis and sophomore Tyler King. This duo combined to rush for 1,632 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017 and should be considered one of C-USA’s most dangerous running back duos heading into the 2018 season.
Marshall also returns bruising senior running back Anthony Anderson, who has shown flashes of success over the past couple seasons despite limited playing time. And if any new backs such as redshirt freshman Brenden Knox emerge, this could be a tough unit to slow down in 2018.
The Herd returns every contributor of the wide receiving unit this season as well, led by all-conference first-team senior Tyre Brady. Brady, who made the Biletnikoff Award watch list heading into the 2018 season, had a huge 2017 season in his debut season with the Herd after transferring from Miami (FL).
He racked up 62 receptions for 942 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games in 2017 while also earning the New Mexico Bowl Offensive Most Valuable Player award. It’s safe to assume he is bound for another tremendous season in 2018 barring any unforeseen circumstances.
Other key wide receivers such as senior Marcel Williams, sophomore Willie Johnson, and junior Obi Obialo return as well with a slew of newcomers in the mix at the same time. This unit should help out whoever the starting quarterback ends up being tremendously. In terms of the tight end position, the Herd loses four-year star Ryan Yurachek from the 2017 team.
Yurachek was a special player for Marshall for four years, but the cupboard isn’t bare at the tight end position and expect to see sophomore Cody Mitchell make a big impact in 2018. Former highly-touted four-star recruit at quarterback Xavier Gaines is also expected to make an impact for the Herd’s tight end unit in 2018.
Marshall’s offensive line is probably in the best shape it has been in for several seasons now. The Herd returns all five starting linemen from the 2017 season including second-team all-conference center in junior Levi Brown, who was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list heading into the 2018 season.
With a combined 93 career starts for this unit heading into the 2018 season, this could be a huge year for the Herd’s offensive line which made great strides last season. Marshall’s offensive line was fourth in the FBS in sacks allowed last season, only giving up 11 sacks all season long.
The offense for the Herd heading into the 2018 season is stellar from top to bottom with nine returning starters for new offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey to work with. The only major question mark this side of the ball will have is the quarterback position with the loss of Litton.
But if Thomson or anyone else steps up and has a stellar season, Marshall could be primed for a huge year that could resemble the teams from 2013-2015 which combined for a 33-8 record, two C-USA East Division Championships, one C-USA Championship, and three bowl wins.