HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Regardless of popular opinion, seven isn’t always the luckiest of numbers.
The Marshall University football team hit some snags in head coach Doc Holliday’s seventh season, limping to a 3-9 overall record in 2016 after producing three straight 10-win seasons and a trio of bowl victories before last fall.
Injuries, inconsistency and a touch of youth caught up with the Thundering Herd, who were just two years removed from the program’s first-ever Conference USA championship back in 2014.
Marshall had the benefit of seven contests in front of the home faithful at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, which led to its only wins of the year — a season-opening 62-0 win over Morgan State, a 27-21 victory over Florida Atlantic on Homecoming, and a 42-17 thumping of Middle Tennessee in the third-from-last game of the year.
The Thundering Herd, however, entered 2016 with a seven-game winning streak at home … and ended up with their first losing campaign at Edwards Stadium since the 2005 MU squad posted an identical 3-4 mark. Marshall had lost just four home games in its previous four seasons.
Last year’s Herd group also joined the 2007 squad as the only teams in program history to go 3-9 since Marshall returned to the Division I level back in 1997. Those three-win seasons are also the worst for the Green and White during that two-decade-long span.
Marshall’s strength of schedule also played a part in its nontraditional demise as the Herd’s dozen opponents combined for a 77-69 overall mark — which included seven FBS Bowl-participating programs.
With the lone exception of Middle Tennessee, the Herd struggled with Louisville (59-28) and current two-time CUSA champion Western Michigan (60-6) in home games against bowl teams.
Pittsburgh (43-27), North Texas (38-21), Southern Miss (24-14) and Old Dominion (38-14) all claimed home wins over Marshall en route to playing in the bowl postseason as well. Those seven MU opponents went on to win three of their respective bowl games.
Marshall was outscored by a 423-317 overall margin in a dozen contests and also got outmatched by a 258-159 count in CUSA East Division games, which led to a 2-6 mark and a seventh place tie with Florida Atlantic in the final league standings.
The Herd also went just 2-4 against teams with losing records, with Morgan State (3-8) and Florida Atlantic (3-9) accounting for the Green and White’s lone triumphs.
Marshall fell to 5-7 Akron (65-38) and 4-8 Charlotte (27-24) at home, plus dropped a 31-14 decision at Florida International (4-8). North Texas went 5-8 overall, but played in a bowl.
Holliday — who owns a 53-37 record at Marshall — enters his eighth full season facing another large set of challenges with the 2017 schedule.
Of the dozen games slated, half will be played at Edwards Stadium and the other half will be spread out at various venues around the country. Seven of those 12 opponents, however, participated in bowl games last year … and a third of the schedule also has first-year coaches.
The Herd open the season on Sept. 2 at home against Miami of Ohio, who finished last season with a 6-7 mark after suffering a 17-16 loss to Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl. It was the first bowl game for the RedHawks since 2011.
Marshall last faced Miami (OH) in 2014 and has won three straight in the series, as well as six-of-seven overall since 2000. The season opener kicks off at 6:30 p.m.
The Herd turns around a week later and travels to Raleigh for its road game of 2017, a 6 p.m. contest against a North Carolina State Wolfpack squad that went 7-6 a year ago following a 41-17 thumping of Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl.
On Sept. 16, MU returns home for a 6:30 p.m. affair with Kent State — who finished the 2016 campaign with a 3-9 record. The Golden Flashes are 0-6 against Marshall since the 2000 season and last faced the Herd in 2015.
The Thundering Herd have a bye week on Sept. 23, but the Green and White turn around on the 30th and make their final non-conference trip of the year to historic Nippert Stadium on the campus of the University of Cincinnati.
The Bearcats — under former Ohio State interim coach and first-year frontman Luke Fickell — will be aiming to improve on a 4-8 campaign in their first meeting with MU since the 2008 season. UC is 3-0 against the Herd since the turn of the millennium.
The only CUSA change for Marshall this fall will be that North Texas is out and Texas San Antonio picks up the West Division spot in the Herd’s schedule. Both NTU and UTSA appeared in bowl games last year.
MU opens CUSA East Division play on Oct. 7 when it travels to Charlotte for a 6 p.m. affair, then hosts Old Dominion on Oct. 14 for its Homecoming contest — which begins at 2:30 p.m.
The Herd follows by traveling to Murfreesboro for a rare Friday night game at Middle Tennessee on Oct.20, which includes a 7 p.m. start time.
The next three weeks have Marshall facing first-year coaches, but only one from that group technically counts as a first-year coach.
The first ‘newbie’ comes at home on Oct. 28 against Florida International, who added former University of Miami, University of North Carolina and Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis to the mix. Davis was also the defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys in 1993 and 1994.
The FIU game starts at 2:30 p.m.
A week later, MU heads to Boca Raton for an early November contest against Florida Atlantic, who hired former University of Tennessee and University of Southern California coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin most recently worked as offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at the University of Alabama.
The contest with the Owls starts at 6 p.m.
Marshall completes the first-year run on Nov. 11 by hosting two-time reigning CUSA champion Western Kentucky and new frontman Mike Sanford Jr., who replaces three-year WKU coach Jeff Brohm — who took the same job at Purdue University.
Over the last three seasons, Sanford Jr. has served as the offensive coordinator at both Boise State and Notre Dame. The game with Hilltoppers kicks off at 6:30 p.m.
Marshall’s final road trip comes on Nov. 18 as it heads to the Lone Star State for a clash with UTSA. The Roadrunners made the program’s first-ever bowl appearance last year — a 23-20 loss to New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl.
The Herd owns the only victory in this head-to-head series with a 34-10 home decision back in 2013.
Marshall completes its regular season schedule at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, when Southern Miss comes to town for Senior Night.
Over half of the Herd’s dozen games will be televised — including a trio of ESPN-affiliated games against NC State, Old Dominion and Middle Tennessee. CBS Sports will also cover the Florida Atlantic contest.
Marshall’s games against Cincinnati and Texas San Antonio have not had official start times released as of press time.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.
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