HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - From the start of opening day, Marshall's non-conference schedule features a rugged path with three Division I programs that won bowl games last season.
The Thundering Herd's fourth non-conference opponent (Western Carolina) is a familiar foe that appeared on the schedule annually from 1977-96. The all-time series is deadlocked at 9-9-2.
Marshall opens with West Virginia in Morgantown on Sept. 1 then plays host to Western Carolina the following Saturday. The third week of the regular season has Ohio traveling to Huntington. Two weeks later, Marshall plays Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., in the first meeting between the two schools.
The following is a synopsis of Marshall's four non-conference opponents for the 2012 season.
Last year in Morgantown, the game was called at the 14:36 mark of the fourth quarter because of constant thunderstorms in the area with WVU leading 34-13.
The Mountaineers are coming off a 10-3 finish in head coach Dana Holgorsen's first year with the program. They capped off their season with a 70-33 victory over Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.
WVU is a bona fide top 10 program that enters its first season in the Big 12 Conference. Despite losing defensive end Bruce Irvin to the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the NFL Draft, the Mountaineers return plenty of experience - especially on the offensive side of the ball with quarterback Geno Smith and wideouts Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
After throwing for a school-record 4,385 yards with 31 touchdowns in 2011, Smith's name is being shopped around as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Bailey (1,279) and Austin (1,189) hold the top two spots in Mountaineer history for receiving yards in a single season.
The WVU defense returns six starters, including safety Terence Garvin, who finished with 43 tackles and two interceptions last year. New defensive coordinator Joe DeForest will try to improve upon WVU's No. 61 ranking for points allowed per game (26.8).
The Catamounts are a Football Championship Subdivision school which has not appeared in the postseason since advancing to the national title game in 1983.
Following last year's 1-10 finish and 0-8 showing in the Southern Conference, former WCU assistant coach Mark Speir replaced Mark Rhea, who served as the interim head coach after Dennis Wagner resigned with one week remaining in the regular season. Speir's first head coaching job comes on the heels of a successful run at Appalachian State where he was named the 2009 NCAA Division I FCS Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association.
The Catamounts return eight starters on defense and six on defense, including running back Shaun Warren and defensive back Ace Clark. Last year, the two players were named to the SoCon All-Freshman Team. Warren led WCU with 454 yards rushing and five touchdowns, while Clark ranked second on the team with 90 tackles.
The entire offensive line is intact with the return of Wesley Cook, Ryan Moore, Quevalas Murray, Nathan Postelle and Teddy Rhoney.
The Bobcats and head coach Frank Solich return several key figures from a squad which finished 10-4 after defeating Utah State 24-23 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Back in the fold is junior Tyler Tettleton, who set 12 single season records and became the first quarterback in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards. The native of Norman, Okla., joins cornerback Travis Carrie, safety Gerald Moore and tight end Jordan Thompson as a captain for the 2012 season.
Carrie led the Bobcats with four interceptions and 13 pass breakups, while Moore finished second on the team with 84 tackles to go with two interceptions and five tackles for loss. Named as the only junior captain a year ago, Thompson hauled in 24 receptions for a career-high 258 yards.
The series between Marshall and Ohio dates back to 1905. The Thundering Herd have played the Bobcats more than any other opponent in its football history. Until last year's loss, Marshall had won six straight meetings, including a 21-17 victory in the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.
The two teams are scheduled to play each other through the 2015 season.
The two schools have never met in football. The one coaching connection is Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg, who was in charge of the offensive line at Purdue from 2003-07.
The Boilermakers are coached by Danny Hope, who received a contract extension which will keep him at Purdue through Dec. 31, 2016. Hope led the program to its first bowl appearance since 2007 in his third season with the school. The Boilermakers defeated Western Michigan 37-32 in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit last December.
Three members from last year's 7-6 finish at Purdue have been named by first-team preseason All-Big Ten by Athlon. Defensive tackle Kawann Short enters his final season 15th all-time in school history in tackles for loss (33.5) and sacks (12.5). He is coming off a junior year that saw him finish with career highs in tackles (54), tackles for loss (17.0) and sacks (6.5).
Also recognized were cornerback Ricardo Allen and special teams standout Raheem Mostert. Allen led the team with three interceptions, including one for a touchdown which gave him three for his career, while Mostert led all Football Bowl Subdivision players in kickoff return average (33.5) as a true freshman in 2011. The highlight of Mostert's season occurred against Western Michigan when he returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.