Marshall Thundering Herd vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Point Spread – Pick ATS

Marshall Thundering Herd (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) at No. 24 West Virginia Mountaineers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS), Sunday September 4th, 2011, 3:30PM EST, College Football Week 1, Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium Morgantown, W.V.
By Jay Horne, Professional Sports Handicapper,

Point Spread: Mar +21/WVU -21
Over/Under Total: 51.5

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Expectations are high in Morgantown in what will be Head Coach Dana Holgorsen’s first season for the Mountaineers. Holgorsen has a proven record for producing some of the top offensive teams in the nation previously at both Houston and Oklahoma State. This season Holgorsen may have as much talent as ever to work with in Morgantown as West Virginia returns a ton of talent from a group that went 9-4 in 2010. West Virginia has had a dominating defense over the past few years. Therefore many believe if Holgorsen can turn the previously dreary offense around then there is no reason the Mountaineers should not return to dominating form in the Big East.

The Mountaineers will get a chance to show the nation just what type of talent resides in Morgantown when they host the Marshall Thundering Herd in their season opener at Milan Puskar Stadium. West Virginia has beaten the Thundering Herd for 5 consecutive years and will enter has huge favorites in this year’s contest. However, last year’s win came down to West Virginia rallying from behind and later winning by a field goal 24-21 in overtime. Marshall will enter this season as an expected improved group overall. Marshall Head Coach Doc Holliday was once a former assistant coach for West Virginia and you can expect he will have his guys fired up for another shot at the Mountaineers.

Marshall returns 9 starters on the defensive side of the ball from a 2010 unit that ranked 71st overall allowing 386 yards per game. Senior defensive end Vinny Curry is the best of the group. Curry led Conference USA with a total of 12 sacks last season and is a tremendous force along the defensive line. On the offensive side of the ball, Marshall has tons of questions remaining to be answered. The offensive line will start two freshman and shows overwhelming signs of inexperience. The same can be said for the running back position. Sophomore Tron Martinez is listed the starter, but he only posted 292 yards on 78 carries last season and has not proved that he can be a big play threat. Despite a talented group of receivers, the passing game will be under the helm of sophomore QB A.J Graham who has attempted just 12 passes in his career at Marshall. Therefore, a lot remains to be seen about what type offense Marshall will field in 2011 and how effective this group will be.

On the other side of the field, the Mountaineers defense is rock solid. West Virginia ranked 3rd in the country last season in total defense holding teams to just 261 yards per game. The Mountaineers hard nose group also gave up a stingy 13.54 points per game as well. This season West Virginia returns some of their most talented players such as defensive end Bruce Irvin. Irvin recorded 14 sacks last season which was the 2nd most in the entire nation. With Irvin anchoring down the defensive line and some returning depth in the secondary, the Mountaineers should be just fine defensively.

Offensively Coach Holgorsen will have plenty of talent to work with from a group that only produced 372 yards per game in 2010 (67th overall). QB Geno Smith is a big guy that is tough to bring down. Smith completed 65% passing for 2,743 yards with 24 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions in 2010. The new offense may have Smith running a bit more in the spread offense, but he should be able to deliver as well. The receiving core is very talented led by WR Tavon Austin. Austin caught 58 passes for 787 yards and 8 scores last season. Austin closed out the 2010 season strongly and should be the go to man in the passing game. The offense will have to find a guy to step up in the running game. Gone is long time tailback Noel Devine who was among the best in the Big East. This season freshman Vernard Roberts could get the starting gig. Roberts is a smaller back but possesses a lot of quickness out of the backfield. Overall the offense still has a long way to go. However, Mountaineers fans will be eager to see a more exciting type of offense take the field in 2011 despite the expectation there will also be some “growing pains” to overcome.

Jay’s Pick to Cover the Betting Line:

Marshall led this game 21-6 in the 4th quarter last season before the wheels fell off in the final 13 minutes of the game. Sure I know West Virginia will be better, but the same can be said for Marshall minus the national attention. Nobody played as many freshman last season than the Thundering Herd and I really believe this is an under rated group as they will be much improved this year. I believe the Thundering Herd give a great effort and keep this one relatively close. Take Marshall +21.

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