HUNTINGTON — The cover of Athlon’s 2013 college football national preview magazine features Notre Dame’s Everett Golson.
The quarterback is clutching the ball with his right hand and his golden helmet is glistening in the light.
So much promise. So outdated.
Obviously, this particular Athlon magazine went to press before Notre Dame suspended Golson for the 2013 season for “poor academic judgment.”
Plenty can happen during the summer months that can change the makeup of a college football team. The preseason potential is based on returning starters, the 2012 performance of those players and perceived strength of schedule. Little is known about newcomers, how they’ll mesh with the returning players and how players grew — physically, mentally and emotionally — in the offseason.
One thing is certain: Marshall is popular with prognosticators.
“I enjoy high expectations,” fourth-year Herd Coach Doc Holliday said at a news conference inside the Shewey Building on Monday, one week before his team opens preseason camp.
“I’ve said all along, I don’t want to be anywhere that expectations aren’t high.”
The 56-year-old Holliday then added, “Expectations and potential mean absolutely nothing.”
Remember last season when Notre Dame couldn’t crack the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll, and then went 12-0 in the regular season and played for the national championship? Or how here in the Mountain State, West Virginia was preseason No. 11 and then stumbled through the Big 12 and tumbled out of the rankings?
That said, Holliday is not against the bar being raised in Huntington.
“That’s a good thing because everybody must think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good,” he said, “and I’d rather have that than everybody think we’re not a very good team and don’t have very good players.”
The biggest Thundering Herd cheerleader has been Phil Steele, who called MU the most-improved team. That prediction recently popped up again on ESPN.com, where Steele listed Marshall as one of five BCS busters.
This week, Paul Myerberg of USA Today revealed Marshall as the No. 40 team in his College Football Top 125 Countdown. The Herd is one spot behind Ohio, one of its non-conference obstacles. Marshall is 17 spots ahead of WVU.
“Polls at this point don’t mean a whole lot,” Holliday said. “The only time it means something is at the end of the year.”
Steele has Marshall as a favorite in 10 of its 12 games. Myerberg wrote that a dream season would include a 11-1 finish for the Herd and a chance at a BCS spot entering the Conference USA title game.
Those are big dreams for a program that hasn’t had a 10-win season since 2002. In the 10 years since, Marshall is 54-67.
Holliday is 17-20 in three years with the Herd. This team, however, is different than his previous three squads.
“From a personnel standpoint I feel better going into this year than I ever have,” Holliday said. “I think we’ve got some pieces in place that we got a shot if we take care of business and prepare, that we got a shot to have a pretty good football team.
“I don’t look around and see a lot of holes like I’ve seen in the past. For the most part, on both sides of the ball, we’ve got a chance to have some good players in place and as a head coach that’s exciting.”
Marshall was voted second in the East Division in Conference USA’s preseason poll. CBSSports.com had eight college football writers make predictions for each conference, and Marshall was first or second in the East Division in all eight polls. Athlon and USA Today’s preview magazines each picked the Herd to win eight games.
If Marshall does get to double-digit victories, it’ll be the first time the program went from a losing record to 10 or more wins in a single season.
In addition to 14 returning starters — including the nation’s leading passer (Rakeem Cato) and leading pass catcher (Tommy Shuler) in 2012 — the Herd had five losses of 10 or fewer points last season.
That could indicate a team on the brink.
A dozen schools lost at least five games by 10 or fewer points last season, but only four of those 12 programs also won five games: Troy, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Marshall.
Troy has just five starters returning, and Michigan State and Wisconsin — like Marshall — are popular picks to make a giant leap this season. The Spartans went 7-6 last season and five losses were by four or fewer points. The Badgers went 8-6 and all six losses were by single digits, including four by a difference of a field goal.
Michigan State and Wisconsin must face the rigors of the Big Ten. Marshall has a revamped Conference USA that is looking to rebuild its reputation.
It is easy to see why the Herd is generating buzz before camp commences.
Golson’s inclusion on the Athlon cover should be a reminder to any college football diehards who pick up preseason publications — or peruse the many prognostication or hype pieces online — that the plethora of polls and puff pieces are about as useful and valuable as Golson will be to the Irish this season.