Quarterbacks — Marshall and Eastern Kentucky
Eastern Kentucky has the most experience at the quarterback position with Parker McKinney returning after seven starts in 2019. However, McKinney’s lack of success means that both sides likely feature a new quarterback when the 2020 season opens. Marshall starter Grant Wells will see his first collegiate experience behind center, but has impressed in camp.
Running backs — Marshall
This is a strength of both teams with Marshall’s Brenden Knox being the reigning Conference USA MVP and Eastern Kentucky’s Alonzo Booth having rushed for 14 touchdowns a year ago. Also look for Marshall’s Sheldon Evans to have a big impact as he shares carries with Knox in this one.
Wide receivers — Marshall
Marshall’s Broc Thompson is one player that has been impressive in fall camp for the Herd, building a connection with Wells that has been notable. Veteran Willie Johnson is also a threat while the Herd also has speed with Talik Keaton and Jaron Woodyard. EKU’s Keyion Dixon led the Colonels last season with 497 yards receiving.
Offensive line — Marshall
The Herd has an overwhelming advantage up front with five players who feature plenty of starting experience. Marshall’s Will Ulmer and Josh Ball are expected to be the tackles while Alex Mollette and Cain Madden provide a solid interior. Alex Salguero takes over at center for the Herd. EKU features a strong right side of its line with right guard Jackson Bardall and right tackle Tucker Schroeder earning preseason all-OVC honors.
Defensive line — Marshall
The Herd brings back two of Conference USA’s better defensive ends in Koby Cumberlander and Darius Hodge while Jamare Edwards and Rodney Croom are among those lurking inside. EKU defensive end Elijah Taylor leads the Colonels up front.
Linebackers — Marshall
Tavante Beckett led Conference USA in tackles in 2019 and has added leadership to his repertoire on the Herd defense for 2020. Beckett leads a Marshall group that includes Eli Neal and newcomer Abraham Beauplan. Eastern Kentucky replaces all its starters at linebacker from last season.
Secondary — Marshall
The Herd secondary features preseason all-Conference USA selection Nazeeh Johnson, but strong safety Derrek Pitts is a player to really watch out for — especially against the run. Jaylon McClain-Sapp and Steven Gilmore bring experience to the outside. EKU is led by cornerback Josh Hayes and safety TJ Comstock.
Special teams — Marshall
The return game will be pivotal for both teams with EKU’s Quentin Pringle averaging 27.1 yards per kick return last season. Marshall has Evans returning kicks while also featuring one of the country’s top punt return men in Keaton. The kicking battle for Marshall is going right up until kickoff. Don’t be surprised if unknown freshman Cameron Shirkey gets the call in some capacity on Saturday.
Getting it done — Marshall
Marshall has been known for its strength at home, and despite some personnel changes — most notably at quarterback — the Herd has plenty of weapons to start off the 2020 season strong. Marshall wins, 31-7.