The rest of the league that has a game scheduled this week plays today. In fact, in a couple of hours of this writing we will see Marshall at the Joan, and Middle on the road at West Point to face Army.
North Texas and UTEP host some FCS squads later this evening.
The global pandemic has already made this season a weird one. A quick look at FIU’s schedule sees them doing nothing until October, while we have North Texas playing the first two weeks of the year.
It is difficult to analyze the season in the normal way. There is a lot of variation in the circumstances nationally, and getting excited about sports seems almost silly when people are (at worst) dying, losing their jobs, or in adverse circumstances.
That said, getting back to something approaching ‘normal’ is helpful for everyone to make it through this. If we can do it safely, it is good for everyone. That is gigantic IF, however.
Marshall returns to play led by CUSA MVP Brendan Knox following their 6-2 league record last season. Losses to MTSU and Charlotte cost them the chance to play in the title game. They actually beat eventual champion FAU in the regular season. Gone is former starter Isaiah Green, who entered the transfer portal this summer. In his place is Grant Wells, a redshirt freshman. Xavier Gaines will still man the TE spot and he will be a threat.
Marshall has had good-to-great defenses the last few seasons, and occasionally a really good offense. They have been unlucky at times, and to be frank: they have not performed when they needed. In 2018, they a game to Middle at the Joan against Middle that put them in the chase position. They finished 2nd to Middle in the division. 1
Everyone likes Charlotte to take the East, but Marshall is a steady ship with a good coach.
Rick Stockstill is an institution in Murfreesboro. He’s had a winning or non-losing conference record every year since 2011. There was a surprise appearance in the 2018 title game that saw his team lose on the final drive at home. 2019 was the first in a long while without Brent Stockstill at QB. Asher O’Hara was quite the different player. He uses his legs much more often. O’Hara was something like a one-man team, and that was part of the problem. While he through for 2600+ yards and ran for 1058 (with 29 total TDs) the team went 3-5 in the league and 0-6 on the road.
The high point was the win over FIU in which they dropped 50 on the once East contenders. They followed that up with just 20 and then 28 against Charlotte and Rice. Consistency is the key, and a second year in the new reality should produce some improvement.
This is the kind of season in which it wouldn’t be surprising to see Middle make its way to the top of the division but it will not be easy.
This is a transition year after a disappointing one. North Texas hasn’t officially declared the starter — Austin Aune is a 26-year old former baseball player and Jason Bean is last year’s backup. That means no one has separated themselves. The tailback position is talented, as converted safety Tre Siggers looks to continue his Walter Payton impression. There is talent at WR as well. Jyaire Shorter struggled early before breaking out vs Charlotte late. There needs to be more consistency if Jaelon Darden, the slot WR, is going to do much more than have good games.
Head coach Seth Littrell fired both coordinators after last year’s 4-8 season, including just-hired Bodie Reeder on offense. Clint Bowen is the new old DC (he coordinated NT’s defense in 2011) and the hope is that NT can stop blowing third downs and allow the offense some breathing room. It will be a struggle in Denton
Dana Dimel had his best year in the first year, mostly on the strength of the pre-existing talent on defense. His first major offensive recruit was a middling performance, as Kai Locksley underperformed relative to his talent. There were some good ideas at times from the Miners, but nothing was ever finalized and little momentum was gained.
Defensively, they struggled after losing talent 2. 2019 was a disaster, a 1-11 season in which UTEP struggled to beat Houston Baptist. The lost every game by more than a possession.
This season should be more of the same. Gavin Hardison takes the reigns at QB. Quardraiz Wadley should provide some highlights from the tailback spot, and we will see what everyone else does.