HUNTINGTON - Western Carolina's Mark Speir is considered a rookie where head coaches are concerned.
However, that doesn't mean he is entering unchartered waters when his Catamounts visit Marshall University for a 7 p.m. kickoff today at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Speir served as an assistant at WCU from 1991-96 when the two programs met on a regular basis as members of the Southern Conference.
"When you roll into Huntington, W.Va., you know you're in football country," Speir said. "They've got passionate fans - they've got a good football team with a rich history and a lot of national championships at the I-AA level."
The two schools last met in 1996 when Marshall defeated WCU, 56-21, marking the ninth Thundering Herd victory against the Catamounts in 10 meetings. The only blemish during that span occurred in 1992 when Marshall was ranked No. 2 in the country and lost 38-30.
Picked to finish last in the SoCon following a 1-10 campaign last season, WCU opened the 2012 regular season with a 42-14 win against Mars Hill. Freshman quarterback Troy Mitchell earned Freshman of the Week honors in the SoCon after completing 20-of-29 passes for 149 yards while rushing for two touchdowns.
"In today's age of college football, it doesn't matter who you play - you better be prepared and play your tail off or you're going to get beat," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "It's amazing in college football that every Sunday you'll pick up the paper and see a team get beat that shouldn't have been beaten.
"We just have to make sure we're prepared."
Marshall must prepare for two quarterbacks, since the jury was still out on whether Mitchell or redshirt sophomore Eddie Sullivan would start. Sullivan, who was suspended for the season-opener, started his collegiate career at Marshall before transferring prior to this year's spring semester.
As a true freshman with the Thundering Herd two years ago, Sullivan saw action in seven games and completed 6-of-24 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown while rushing 51 yards on 12 carries.
"I don't think Western Carolina will change what they are doing offensively, whether it is Eddie or Troy," Holliday said. "Regardless of who is in there, we have to make sure we do a great job and get stops."
Marshall looks to rebound from last Saturday's 69-34 loss to West Virginia University in Morgantown. Sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato threw for 413 yards and two touchdowns.
"We've seen Rakeem grow up as a quarterback this year and I thought he made great progress in that first game," Holliday said.
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.
"I told our team, we're going up to Marshall to win," Speir said. "We're not going up there to play good or to earn a check. It's an opportunity for us to go up, play a tremendous opponent in a hostile environment, and see how far our program has come."