MCGILL: Holliday Happy Herd Gets National Spotlight

Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone

By Chuck McGill

Huntington – As if Saturday's rekindled rivalry – Marshall versus Appalachian State – needed a little more spice, America's Most Watched Network got involved.

So at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday – two hours later than initially announced – two teams receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 college football poll will meet at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, and CBS will televise the non-conference showdown.

The Herd, ranked No. 25 by two media members with AP ballots, and the Mountaineers, tied for No. 23 nationally, will tangle in CBS' prime time afternoon slot vacated by BYU and Army, a postponed game.

The year 2020 hasn't always been so kind, but stars aligning this Saturday is a welcome boost.

"That's a great deal for our program just like ESPN was a couple weeks ago with Eastern Kentucky," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said during his weekly media session. "Anytime you can have that kind of exposure it's huge. It's huge for recruiting. It's huge for Marshall University, our fan base and our community … It's going to be a great opportunity for us."

Marshall (1-0) opened the 2020 season with a 59-0 win against EKU two weeks ago. As one of only a half dozen teams playing that weekend, ESPN picked up the Herd's home opener. Nearly one million people tuned in as Marshall scored eight touchdowns and never punted.

For Holliday, there was more to it than an impressive performance on national television. The coronavirus pandemic, which has hampered travel and limited fans at sporting events, has made it hard on families of student-athletes.

"A lot of these kids families can't see them play at this point, especially grandparents and other relatives who can't make it to games," Holliday said.

Now, when No. 23 Appalachian State (1-0) visits for the 23rd all-time meeting between the programs, everyone across the country can fix their eyes on college football in Huntington.

Marshall has won the two most recent meetings between the teams: a 50-17 win in Huntington in 2002, and a 24-10 victory in Boone, North Carolina, in 1996. The last time these Mountaineers defeated the Herd was Oct. 21, 1995 in Huntington, a 10-3 defensive battle.

The opportunity to play on ESPN and CBS in front of a national audience is not lost on Holliday.

"There are some people out there that aren't playing," he said. "We are getting some opportunities that we probably wouldn't have had on the national stage. It's one thing to get those opportunities, it's another thing to take advantage of them."

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A few notes regarding Grant Wells' dazzling debut. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 307 yards and four touchdowns against zero interceptions. Wells had the second fewest number of completions in a 300-yard passing game in Marshall history (Chase Litton, 13 for 16, 309 yards on Sept. 10, 2016).

Wells had the 120th 300-yard passing game in MU history. Of those, only 16 have included four passing touchdowns and zero interceptions thrown. Litton did it once. So did John Gregory and Carl Fodor. Rakeem Cato and Eric Kresser managed to accomplish the feat twice. Then we get to a couple of unsurprising names: Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich.

Pennington had three 300-yard passing games with at least four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Leftwich did it five times.

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The last time the Marshall football program received votes in the AP Top 25 poll was Oct. 22, 2017, when one voter ranked the Herd No. 25 after a 6-1 start.

The last time Marshall was nationally ranked was at the conclusion of the 2014 season. The Herd started that season 11-0 and reached No. 18 in the AP poll, then tumbled out before returning to the national rankings after bowl season. MU ended 2014 ranked No. 23.

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The two pollsters to rank Marshall this week were Conor O'Neill, who works for the Winston-Salem Journal in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Rob Long, who works for WJFK 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore, Maryland.

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