Herd football preparing for difficult Conference-USA schedule

The first week of college football season is always action-packed, but the opening week of the 2016 season has provided more surprises than fans and players had expected, especially with the outcomes of a handful of Conference-USA games.

Pundits all expected that the conference would be improved this season, but after Southern Miss knocked off SEC school Kentucky on Saturday and Louisiana Tech came within inches of beating Arkansas, another SEC school, plenty of heads were turned, including those in the Marshall football program.

“I think Conference-USA is a little bit overlooked, as far as the talent,” said senior tight end Ryan Yurachek. Yurachek said with the bye week, he had the opportunity to sit down and watch both Southern Miss and Western Kentucky, two teams the Herd will face later this season.

“Both teams looked pretty good,” Yurachek said. “I think Southern Miss rolled off 34 straight points. They looked impressive, I don’t think anyone will lie to you. [Louisiana Tech] should have beat Arkansas. There’s good teams in our conference.”

The most shocking result of the weekend in C-USA was undoubtedly Southern Miss taking down the Wildcats. After a 9-5 finish to last year, many expected the Golden Eagles to be much improved, with the coaches going as far as projecting them as West Division winners earlier this preseason. But the SEC is widely regarded as the best football conference in collegiate athletics and, even though Kentucky is a perennial bottom-feeder in the Southeastern Conference, the upset was one very few predicted.

The same can be said for the final score of the Louisiana Tech vs. Arkansas game. While Arkansas ultimately eked out the win, the simple fact that the Bulldogs played them that close is a testament to how much that program has improved.

Even though the teams are rivals on the gridiron, Yurachek said, Marshall fans should pay close attention to fellow C-USA schools non-conference games.

“Every Marshall fan should be pulling for Southern Miss, they should be pulling for Western in every game we don’t play them,” Yurachek said. “The non-conference games they win, they make our conference look better and if we happen to go down there and beat [Southern Miss] and Western comes here and we beat them, that makes us look better in all aspects.”

As it currently stands, the Herd has the 59th toughest schedule in all of NCAA Division 1 I-A. With teams like Pittsburgh and Louisville on the schedule, Marshall already has a tough enough schedule that if they run the table, they have a legitimate shot at making a major bowl game. Continued tough non-conference wins by other Conference-USA schools helps boost Marshall’s bowl resume even further.

“Everyone should just be pulling for everyone in non-conference games,” said Yurachek. “I think we’re overlooked, but you can’t change that. The only thing you can do is go out and win games.”

Conference-USA has a chance to make its biggest splash in its 21-year history this week, as last year’s champion Western Kentucky travels down south to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to take on defending National Champions Alabama on Saturday. The game kicks-off at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Jacob Griffith can be reached at [email protected].