Next two on road at Ohio and Va. Tech

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – For the first time in eight years, the Marshall University football program opens the season with back-to-back games at home.

The Thundering Herd better take advantage because they conclude the non-conference portion of their 2013 schedule on the road against two programs which have established themselves on a nationwide scale.

The following is a breakdown of the non-conference opponents for Marshall.

vs. Miami (Ohio),

7 p.m.

The RedHawks return to Huntington for the first time since 2004. Miami leads the all-time series 30-10-1. Between 1948 and 1997, Marshall managed just one victory in 26 meetings then turned the tables by posting six wins in the next seven games.

Third-year coach Don Treadwell is trying to change the outlook at Miami following a pair of 4-8 finishes.

Last year, the RedHawks won three of their first five games but slipped into a tie for fourth place in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division with a 3-5 showing.

Offensively, Miami’s ground game struggled and finished last in the MAC at 86.6 yards per game. Defensively, the news was not much better as the RedHawks allowed 467.7 yards per game. That ranked 11th out of 13 teams in the conference.

On the plus side, the presence of Zac Dysert enabled the team to average 290 yards through the air. His successor is slated to be Austin Boucher. Three years ago, Boucher led Miami to four straight victories en route to a MAC championship and a win in the Bowl.

Both Boucher and returning leading rusher Jamire Westbrook figure to see plenty of open space with the return of four of five starters on the offensive line.

On the other side of the ball, cornerback Dayonne Nunley leads the pass defense after earning first-team All-MAC honors a year ago. Nunley owns 12 career interceptions. Also back is the team’s leading tackler in linebacker Chris Wade.

vs. Gardner-Webb,

6:30 p.m.

A FCS program will visit Huntington the following week as Gardner-Webb and Marshall hook up for the first time.

The school from Boiling Springs, N.C., has failed to win more than six games since back-to-back eight-win seasons in 2002 and 2003.

Four years have passed since the Runnin’ Bulldogs last enjoyed a winning season.

Carroll McCray, who spent one season as the head coach at NCAA Division II North Greenville University, returned to his alma mater in the offseason to take over as a first-year coach at Gardner-Webb.

McCray has a foundation with the return of preseason FCS All-Americans Hudson Smith (longsnapper) and Tanner Burch (linebacker).

Smith is versatile and has started at tight end, running back and defensive end, while Burch ranked No. 2 nationally with 12.6 tackles per game last year despite missing the final two games because of injury.

As a sophomore, quarterback Lucas Beatty threw for 2,483 yards and 12 touchdowns.

His favorite targets return in Kenny Cook (48-666, 7 touchdowns), Deonte Swinton (41-467) and tight end Seth Cranfill (37-366, 2 TDs).

at Ohio, 8 p.m.

Marshall will get road-tested when it travels to Athens, Ohio, for its third game of the season.

Under ninth-year head coach Frank Solich, the Bobcats have become bowl-eligible six times. Last year, the Bobcats’ 45-14 win against Louisiana-Monroe at the Independence Bowl culminated a 9-4 season. A campaign which included a road win against Penn State at Beaver Stadium and ignited seven straight victories to open the season.

At one stage, Ohio was ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll.

This year’s meeting against Marshall will be the 57th edition of the “Battle of the Bell.” The Thundering Herd will face a similar cast of characters as the Bobcats return the likes of All-MAC preseason picks Ryan McGrath (offensive lineman), Beau Blankenship (running back), Keith Moore (linebacker) and John Prior (offensive line).

Then there’s senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who threw for 2,844 yards and 18 touchdowns while getting picked just four times.

Marshall, which trails the series 19-31-6, will seek to snap a two-game losing streak. Ohio secured a 27-24 win last year in Huntington when Jelani Wosley intercepted quarterback Rakeem Cato with the Herd offense in Bobcat territory late in the fourth quarter.

at Virginia Tech, TBA

Virginia Tech is the epitome of consistency. Under 27-year head coach Frank Beamer, the Hokies have made 20 consecutive bowl appearances. In 32 seasons overall as a head coach, Beamer is the winningest active coach in the FBS with 258 victories.

The Hokies finished 7-6 last season, including 4-4 in the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference, after scoring the final 13 points in their 13-10 overtime victory against Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Absent from last year’s roster are NFL Draft picks Corey Fuller (wide receiver) and Vinston Painter (right tackle), who were both selected in the sixth round. Quarterback Logan Thomas considered the NFL Draft, but returns for his senior season after producing 3,500 yards of total offense a year ago.

Also back this season is linebacker Jack Tyler, who was the team’s leading tackler with 119 stops. The entire defensive line returns as does the four starters in the secondary.

On special teams, Cody Journell converted 20-of-25 field goal attempts, including three last-play, game-winning kicks.

Marshall owns just two wins in 11 meetings against Virginia Tech. Since defeating the Hokies 13-7 in Huntington in 1940, the Thundering Herd have dropped the last seven games.

The last time these two schools hooked up, Virginia Tech limited Marshall to 6 yards rushing and sacked Cato five times in a 30-10 win in Huntington in 2011.