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What bettors need to know: Marshall at West Virginia
Marshall Thundering Herd at West Virginia Mountaineers (-23.5, 55.5)
THE STORY: West Virginia has a new coach who's known for gun-slinging offense. Marshall has a second-year coach who played for WVU and goes by "Doc" Holliday. Last year the teams went to overtime in what was their closest game since 1911. What more can you ask for from this intrastate rivalry in wild West Virginia? To be fair, last season's 24-21 Mountaineers triumph was only the programs' 10th meeting all-time, and WVU has won all of them, but still, it sounds like a fun opening fight.
TV: ESPN, ESPN3.com
ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA (2010: 9-4, 5-2 Big East): The Mountaineers have had their share of success in the post-Rich Rodriguez era, but only to a point. They've posted three consecutive 5-2 conference marks, but have been unable to close with bowl victories the past two seasons. WVU won its last four regular-season games in 2010, then flamed out against North Carolina State in a 23-7 Champs Sports Bowl defeat.
Bill Stewart was supposed to continue at the helm for this season, with Dana Holgorsen hired as his offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting, but Stewart was forced out in June and Holgorsen took over. The preseason Big East favorites return junior QB Geno Smith, whose 24 TD passes last year (against only seven picks) were second-most in school history. Behind Smith, as many as seven running backs and fullbacks could see action in the opener, Holgorsen has said. Top receiver junior Tavon Austin caught 58 passes for 787 yards and eight TDs last year.
ABOUT MARSHALL (2010: 5-7, 4-4 C-USA): John "Doc" Holliday was on staff at WVU from 1979 to 1999, and was a candidate to succeed Rodriguez but wound up serving under Stewart as an associate coach. After suffering through a 1-6 start to his first head coaching season, the Thundering Herd rebounded to win four of their final five games.
Defense spurred the turnaround; Marshall allowed 35.6 points allowed over its first seven games and just 19.2 the last five. Marshall returns nine defensive starters. Senior end Vinny Curry (94 tackles, 12 sacks) is the C-USA preseason Defensive Player of the Year and one of four team captains, including two more senior defenders, safety Omar Brown and linebacker Tyson Gale. Senior left tackle Ryan Tillman is the other captain.
LINE MOVES: WVU opened as a 21.5-point home favorite and was bet up as high as -23.5. The totaled opened at 51 points and has climbed to as high as 56.5 with action on the Over.
1. Holgorsen has led prolific offenses at Oklahoma State, Houston and Texas Tech in recent years. Last season the Cowboys ranked third in total offense, jumping from 61st the previous year without Holgorsen, and OSU wide receiver Justin Blackmon garnered the Biletnikoff Award.
2. Holliday played 28 freshmen last season, with only Florida (31) putting more freshmen on the field at the FBS level.
3. West Virginia won back-to-back meetings in 1915 and 1923 by a combined 173-6 (92-6 and 81-0), and before last season's 24-21 OT victory the closest game was the first, a 17-15 Mountaineers win in 1911.
- Home team is 4-1 ATS in their last five meetings.
- Thundering Herd are 16-34-2 ATS in their last 52 road games.
- Mountaineers are 1-7-1 ATS in their last 9 games as home favorites of 10.5 or greater.
- Under is 11-5 in Thundering Herd's last 16 road games.
- Under is 6-1 in Mountaineers' last seven games as favorites.
PREDICTION: West Virginia 55, Marshall 20 -- Holgorsen could have fun testing his offensive scheme and range of contributors in the opener. Plus the Mountaineers get to avenge their surprising loss to the Thundering Herd on the basketball court back in January.