West Virginia: WVU will bust out the new system for the first time in this game. Much more speed, much more passing, much more fun. However, don't let the offense fool you. When run correctly, the offense is very balanced. Last year, Kendall Hunter ran for over 1,000 yards in the Holgorsen system. So, look for Geno Smith to pass first to set up the youngsters at running back. Smith was solid in his first year starting, throwing for 24 touchdowns. His efficiency was good, but could stand to improve his accuracy. He will have many of the same targets, including Tavon Austin, who may play the role of Justin Blackmon. Stedman Bailey and Ryan Nehlen will start on the outside, and converted tight end, Tyler Urban should provide good size on the inside. The rushing attack will be interesting. Three freshmen and Trey Johnson will be fight one another for carries. The initial depth chart shows Roberts as the number one, but that may not matter. These guys will all get their opportunity to shine. The biggest question will be on the offensive line. One of the weakest groups in the conference last season, WVU's line will have to play bigger, faster, and stronger in this offense. Smith was hit far too often last season, and one hit could certainly derail the season. It will be interesting to see how this unit plays early, especially against a pretty good Marshall front seven.
Marshall: The Herd will start a true freshman at quarterback. Miami product, Rakeem Cato will get the start in his first ever game. It fits, considering the Herd offense will be inexperienced at all of the skilled positions. Martin Ward is the leading returning rusher. He finished with just 345 yards on the ground, and one touchdown. After him, Tron Martinez will get some looks. Aaron Dobson will lead the receivers. Dobson did have a nice 2010 campaign. He will lead a young receiving and tight end corp. The offensive line is a very solid bunch. Good experience, mixed with good technique is a recipe for success. The group will give Cato and the youngsters plenty of opportunities to move the football this season.
West Virginia: WVU has to replace quite a few players from one of the best defenses of 2010. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller are both back to anchor the line. Najee Goode will run the linebacking unit, and Ketih Tandy is still around to harass receivers. However, the rest of the secondary has plenty of questions, which will put some pressure on the front six. Miller and Irvin may be the best sack-tandem in the country, but will that group be able to slow down the run? If not, the passing game will open up, and really put the pressure on the young safeties. However, this is Jeff Casteel's baby and is one of the best in-game adjusters in the country.
Marshall: The Herd will be led by Conference USA First-Teamer Vinny Curry. The defensvie end finished with 12 sacks last season, and is hoping to build on that. He is one of nine returning players for Marshall, including the everyone in the secondary. This unit will have to show better maturity in 2011. The linebacking unit will be young, and will probably be a bit susceptible early on. This unit should be pretty solid against inferior offenses, and should gain in confidence.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers will look to improve in this category from 2010. Kicker Tyler Bitencurt regressed from his first year, and punter Corey Smith is in his first year at the helm. Kick coverage has been a disaster since Rich Rodriquez left, which is interesting considering Bill Stewart was the Special Teams' coach...well...maybe that makes total sense. WVU will have to improve right away in that department. Kick/Punt returning duty will be split between Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, and Devon Brown. That's a pretty solid crop of speedsters.
Marshall: Tyler Warner returns as the primary placekicker. Warner hit just five field goals in 2010. Kase Whitehead is a very accurate punter, and will probably be used quite often early on. Troy Evans is the primary return specialist. He had an over 20 yard average last season on kick returns.
West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen steps into his first game. It's hard to truly get a gauge of how he will do, considering it will be his first game. e's an offensive genius, who wisely gave Jeff Casteel complete control of the defense.
Marshall: Doc Holliday spent a lot of time wearing Mountaineer colors during his career. He took over the Herd job last season, after many thought he would be Bill Stewart's successor. He has faced the Mountaineers once, and nearly beat them.
Marshall always seems to play up to WVU ever since this series was renewed a few years back. However, the Herd just don't seem to be a very good matchup this season. West Virginia has superior talent, and should be much more efficient offensively. Having a true freshman gets his first collegiate start on the road in Morgantown is no easy task either. Plus, Marshall's skilled positions just won't be enough of a threat to the younger Mountaineer defense. Expect WVU to have success early. Holgorsen will surely want to show off the new offense, and also show he belongs as a head coach. Cato will have the pressure on big time. A few mistakes early from him will probably lock up the game for Mountaineers. The effort will be there from Marshall, but sheer effort isn't enough to take down WVU.
Prediction: 35-14 West Virginia