If winning at least 10 games and three bowl games in as many seasons is the recipe of success, college football certainly smells what Marshall is cooking. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Herd, although head coach Doc Holliday suggested it was nothing less than a year to reload.
After all, Holliday only had to replace the 2014 Conference USA offensive and defensive Players of the Year in Rakeem Cato and Neville Hewitt along with several other pieces of the puzzle.
Names like Darryl Roberts, James Rouse and Jermaine Holmes gone from defense. Tommy Shuler, Eric Frohnapfel and Chris Jasperse left giant voids on offense. But the Herd found a way to roll off a 10-3 season with a freshman quarterback in Chase Litton, a makeshift backfield after losing Devon Johnson to injury for much of the year and a defense that won more games for Marshall than it lost.
2016 may be Holliday's biggest challenge yet, and there are 18 reasons why. It's the number of seniors departing the program, 16 of which were starters.
Over the next few weeks, I will break down each position for the Herd, and the challenges that it faces in preparation for the 2016 season. But first, here's a list of the departing pieces of the Herd's puzzle that Holliday must replace.
Davonte Allen- WR: 58-715 5TD. Allen led the team in receptions in 2015 while providing the Herd a deep outside threat. He departs with 101 receptions for 1612 yards and 13 TD.
Remi Watson- RB: 80-398 5TD. It was supposed to be a breakout year for Watson, who finally started a season without a setback. But the injury bug wouldn't stay away long, sidelining him at Ohio (Game 2). Watson ran for 1,444 yards and scored 18 TD in his career.
Deandre Reaves- WR: 56-705 4TD. Reaves was voted the team MVP and rightfully so, considering what he brought to the table. Reaves began the year in the slot, moved to the outside, then back inside, all with a smile on his face. But Marshall's biggest benefit from Reaves, his return abilities. Reaves took three kickoffs to the house, two this season. He also added his first punt return for a score. Reaves' speed will be missed, but his leadership will be hard to replace.
Devon Johnson- RB: One look at Johnson's numbers provides an easy answer to just how dominant he was in the Herd's backfield. The tight-end converted running back saw action in seven games, although one could argue it was really four, considering he had limited carries at Kent State, FAU and the Bowl Game. No matter how it's sliced up, Johnson made Marshall a much different team. He led the Herd rushing attack with 593 yards and 5 TD, while racking up 2,373 yards and 25 TD in his career. Don't be surprised to see him on Sundays in 2016. He's a great blocker with a blue-collar work ethic. The only question is how durable can he be in a 16-game NFL season.
Sebastian Johansson- OL: The man they call "Big Swede" came to Holliday after spending time as an exchange student at nearby Raceland High School in Kentucky. Swede spent his high school career playing center, but worked his way into one of the best offensive guards in Alex Mirabal's room. Whether in the NFL or elsewhere, someone will give him a chance at the next level.
Clint Van Horn- OL: Van Horn was considered one of the best lineman in CUSA but a season ending injury took away one of the Herd's biggest assets. The chance remains of a possible medical redshirt for the senior. If granted, Marshall will reap the benefits of his presence.
Keith Baxter- DB: Injuries plagued Baxter his entire career at Marshall, but he managed to stay on the field for all 13 games in 2015 collecting his first interception in the win over Purdue.
Armonze Daniel- DE: Playing in a position that Marshall thought it saw a major void after 2014, Daniel found himself battling for playing time with Blake Keller & Ryan Bee. Daniel added depth to Marshall's line playing in all 13 games.
Taj Letman- S: The leader in the last line of defense for Marshall's secondary. Letman finished with three picks in 2015, all coming in the first three games. Letman finished third on the team in tackles and recorded 224 stops in 41 games while picking off eight passes. Letman's length and speed made him a tough customer in the secondary.
DJ Hunter- LB: His teammates called him "land shark" and he had a knack for flying to the ball. Chuck Heater purposely moved him closer to the ball because of his speed and explosiveness. Hunter finished fourth in tackles with three sacks and forced fumbles. Hunter closed out his stellar career with 297 tackles, 20 for loss, and 8.5 sacks.
Evan McKelvey- LB: How does Holliday replace the 2014 CUSA Defensive Player of the Year? He rolls out the 2015 CUSA Defensive Player of the Year. McKelvey returned from a season-ending ACL tear in 2014 with a team-high 121 tackles. In his 41 games, McKelvey registered 256 tackles, 17 for loss.
Jarquez Samuel- DT: Samuel had a break out season in 12 games for the Herd, making 42 stops while battling double teams nearly every down.
Steve Dillon- DT: The counterpart to Samuel, Dillon was responsible for opening up gaps in the opposition's line for the linebackers to fly in to the backfield.
Ricardo Williams- DT: Another staple in the Herd's front line, Williams saw limited action playing behind Dillon & Samuel.
Tyler Williams- P: A specialist for the Herd, Williams' abilities was like a fine artist who works in oils. Williams 211 career punts netted over 9,000 yards while averaging 43.9 per kick. With all the potential NFL bound players from the 2015 squad, Williams' name may be at the top of the list for several teams.
Matt Cincotta- LS: A position often overlooked, Cincotta's duties provided Marshall with consistency in the kicking game by delivering precision snaps to the Williams. Only one other player appeared in as many games as a member of the defense, DJ Hunter, both playing in 53 games. The man who replaces Cincotta has big shoes to fill.