HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The coaching carousel which took place during the offseason in Conference USA will be reflected in Marshall's 2012 schedule when the Thundering Herd encounter four of the five hired to take over their respective programs.
Schools under new leadership include Southern Miss (Ellis Johnson), Houston (Troy Levine), Memphis (Justin Fuente) and UAB (Garrick McGee).
By finishing 5-3 in the East Division, Marshall finished second behind Southern Miss. Both the Golden Eagles (No. 21) and Houston (No. 19) finished in the top 25 for the BCS rankings.
The following is a breakdown for Marshall's conference opponents.
Rice returns five starters on offense and as many starters on defense from a squad which finished 4-8 in coach David Baliff's fifth season with the program.
Offensively, the leading candidate at quarterback is Taylor McHargue (1,072 yards passing with eight TDs), while running back Turner Petersen ranked second on the team with 485 yards on the ground. The top two receivers - Vance McDonald (43-532, 5 TDs) and Luke Willson (29-313, 3 TDs) - also are back.
Defensively, the Owls will once again rely on linebacker Cameron Nwosu, who finished with a team-high 108 tackles, including five for loss.
Last year, the Golden Hurricane managed to survive an 0-3 start and string together seven straight conference wins - including a 59-17 domination of Marshall in Tulsa, Okla. - before losing to Houston in the regular-season finale.
Tulsa welcomes the return of running backs Ja'Terian Douglas (883 yards rushing with four TDs) and Trey Watts (882 yards with three TDs), along with wideouts Willie Carter (61-868, seven TDs) and Bryan Burnham (54-850, nine TDs).
The Golden Hurricane's leading returning tackler, junior Shawn Jackson, will miss the first three games of the 2012 season after violating team policy.
Among the five starters lost on offense was quarterback Austin Davis, who threw for 3,496 yards and 30 TDs while adding 352 yards and four TDs on the ground. In addition to being drafted as a pitcher by Boston Red Sox, the four-year starter is listed on the roster for the St. Louis Rams.
Southern Miss will be deep at the running back position where its top four ground gainers return - Jamal Woodyard (110-732), Tracy Lampley (91-463), Kendrick Hardy (72-426) and Desmond Johnson (75-424).
Also back are three of the Golden Eagles' top four tacklers from a year ago. As a freshman, linebacker Jamie Collins accumulated 98 tackles with 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
Southern Miss was Marshall's first victim in 2011 after the Thundering Herd recovered from a 17-3 first-half deficit and defeated the Golden Eagles 26-20.
With 16 starters returning, UCF appears to be the favorite in the East Division.
Back on the offensive front are the Knights' top two ballcarriers - Brynn Harvey (574 yards rushing with three TDs) and Latavius Murray (549 yards with eight TDs) - and top three receivers - JJ Worton (41-531, four TDs), Quincy McDuffie (43-482, one TD) and Josh Reese (30-461, two TDs).
Anchoring the defensive unit is senior free safety Kemal Ishmael, who needs just 35 tackles to join the school's all-time top 10. Last year, he led the Knights in tackles (81) for the second straight season.
Among the candidates looking to replace Jeff Godfrey as the full-time starter at quarterback are Blake Bortles, who threw for 958 yards and six TDs in a backup role, Colorado State transfer Nicolas Ranieri and Missouri transfer Tyler Gabbert, who is the younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
UCF has dominated Marshall in recent years after winning the last seven meetings, including a 16-6 victory in 2011 when a torrential downpour resulted in 7-plus inches of rain.
The Tigers did make history in this year's NFL Draft when defensive lineman Dontari Poe was selected 11th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs - making him the earliest C-USA player to ever be selected.
Memphis is in a better place from this time a year ago when only seven starters returned. This year's unit brings back seven starters on both offense and defense, including linebacker Akeem Davis, who ranked second on the team with 78 tackles and three interceptions.
Last year's 2-10 finish included a 23-22 loss at home against Marshall. The Thundering Herd managed to overcome six turnovers and rallied from a 22-10, fourth-quarter deficit.
UAB's 3-9 campaign included a 59-14 defeat at Marshall. The Thundering Herd scored four second-quarter touchdowns, including one on an interception return, while building a 38-0 halftime lead.
The Blazers have an abundance of experience returning on the offensive side of the football. At running back, Greg Franklin gained a team-high 430 yards. Starting quarterback Jonathan Perry threw for 2,042 yards and 10 TDs. Jackie Williams led all receivers with 58 receptions and 607 yards.
The offensive line took a significant hit because of graduation. Among those who played their final game as a Blazer was tackle Matt McCants, who was drafted in the sixth round by the New York Giants and became the first offensive lineman chosen in the NFL Draft. Only one player - Chris Hubbard - returns with starting experience.
The Cougars return seven members from their defensive unit, including linebackers Derrick Mathews and Phillip Steward. As a freshman, Mathews finished second on the team with 106 tackles, while Steward led the squad with six interceptions to go with 77 tackles.
Offensively, junior Charles Sims seeks to improve upon last year's numbers when he gained 821 yards and scored nine TDs on the ground, while hauling in 51 receptions for 575 yards and four TDs. Sophomore quarterback David Piland redshirted last season after throwing for 2,641 yards and 14 TDs in 2010.
Ranked as high as No. 7 last season, Houston finished the campaign 13-1 following a 30-14 victory over Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl. The Cougars are now coached by Tony Levine, who spent four seasons as an assistant at the school before being named the interim head coach on Dec. 10 when Sumlin departed for Texas A&M.
East Carolina has a plethora of running backs in the stable with the return of Torrance Hunt (109-489), Reggie Bullock (95-428) and Michael Dobson (63-221), and the addition of North Carolina transfer Hunter Furr. At wide receiver, Justin Hardy (64-658, six TDs) returns.
One glaring hole created by graduation is at quarterback where Dominique Davis finished his career setting 15 single game, season or career Pirate records in just 25 games. In the offseason, Davis signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent.
Defensively, the top three tacklers from a year ago return to the fold - including sophomore linebacker Jeremy Grove, who set a Pirate rookie record with a team-leading 122 stops and ranked him fourth overall in C-USA.