By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
When Marshall left the Mid-American Conference in 2005 to join Conference USA, many fans were upset by the move. They felt there were too many natural rivalries for the Thundering Herd in the MAC, while the closest road trip in C-USA was a seven-hour drive to East Carolina.
Then, with four teams leaving C-USA to join the American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East) this year — particularly Central Florida — there was concern that it would have a negative impact on recruiting.
Head coach Doc Holliday thinks Marshall will not only be fine in the new C-USA. He also believes the Herd will be better off.
“When you look at the conference now, it’s a better fit for us from a regional standpoint and from a recruiting standpoint,” Holliday said. “We lost a few teams, but Louisiana Tech was pretty good last year. Middle Tennessee beat Georgia Tech (49-28).
“Some of the teams we have brought in are excellent football teams that have won some big games.”
Lousiana Tech went 9-3 last year in its final season misplaced in the Western Athletic Conference. The Bulldogs had a prolific offense, scoring more than 50 points in eight of their 12 games, including 70 in a win over Idaho and 57 in a loss to Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M.
Marshall will not face the Bulldogs in 2013, but will welcome a familiar face to Huntington when they do play. Former East Carolina coach Skip Holtz is in his first season calling the shots at Louisiana Tech.
Proximity is a better issue than it had been, especially when UNC Charlotte joins in 2014. Charlotte is only four hours away and boasts a strong Marshall alumni presence.
“Our fan base has four or five games that they can get in the car and drive to,” Holliday said. “You can drive to Middle Tennessee and to (2014 entrants) Western Kentucky or UNC Charlotte or Old Dominion.”
As for recruiting, Marshall potentially could have been hurt by the loss of UCF. Instead, the Herd will be in Florida twice this season, against Florida International and Florida Atlantic.
“Our Florida presence is still in place,” Holliday said. “Our kids still get to go home, and their families can see them play. It’s a great recruiting base for us.”
At the same time, playing in the same conference can create problems as far as convincing players to come to Marshall when they have the option of staying where things are familiar.
“Old Dominion (located in Norfolk, Va.) can say, ‘We’re in the same conference. Why the hell would you go to Marshall University when you can stay home?’” Holliday said. “It’s the same with North Carolina and South Carolina, and even FIU and FAU. We used to beat those guys in recruiting. Now they can say, ‘Why would you go clear to Marshall University when you can stay in your own backyard and play in front of your family and play in the same conference?’”
In such cases, Marshall can always draw recruits with the successful players of the recent past, including quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich and wide receiver Randy Moss, all of whom played in the NFL.
“With the tradition we have here and with the players we have had here and who have been successful,” Holliday said, “I think we can continue to do that.”
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