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Herd fans bracing for 'Public Ivy'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- LAST WEEK at Marshall's "Paint the Capital City Green" pep rally, some of the 28 players attending received an unexpected history lesson.

Those 20- to 25-year-olds entered the event excited about the end of preseason camp and looking forward to the opening game against Miami (Ohio). They get to play a rare opener at home, against a different opponent.

(This is the first time Marshall has faced an FBS opponent at home in the opener since 2004, against Troy.)

Fifth-year senior Jordan Jeffries was set straight about the history between the Thundering Herd and the RedHawks.

"There's no love lost for the RedHawks, that's for sure," Jeffries said. "We went to 'Paint the Capital City Green,' and everybody there, especially a lot of the older guys said, 'We hate them, they hate us, it's a mutual thing.' And they're glad to see that we're playing them again."

Pardon the youngsters who don't know the depth of that sentiment. It has been eight years since the teams last played as Mid-American Conference rivals, so some freshmen might not have been 10 years old yet.

It has been 11 years since one Miami assistant coach was arrested and another should have been. Twelve since Byron Leftwich somehow caught a touchdown pass in Oxford, 16 since Yager Stadium ran out of concession food by halftime, 37 since the Herd's shocking upset of the 20th-ranked Redskins and 42 since the Young Thundering Herd suffered the infamous 66-6 indignity.

My, oh my, where have the years gone?

It's tough to gauge how much extra emotion this game, 7 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards, will contain. I mean, the Herd should be hyped up for anybody this week, from any level of college football - with higher expectations colliding with the disdain over last season, players should be ready to run through a concrete wall.

And really, will Miami fans care? Students wore borderline obscene anti-Marshall shirts back in 2003 and the MU basketball team was once escorted by Butler County sheriff's deputies, but do those folks remember? Do they have the same nose-in-the-air disdain for Marshall? Will they even bring 100 fans?

I don't know.

I do know Miami folks carry the same high opinion of themselves, maybe even higher. The university markets itself as "Ohio's Public Ivy," and that catchphrase alone should supply enough fodder to get the hecklers behind the Miami bench through the evening.

Somehow, the mental pictures of an "Ivy" school and of famed alumnus Ben Roethlisberger do not mesh.

I'm not sure what to think about the Miami program, beginning its 125th season. Don Treadwell, a 1982 alumnus, is 8-16 over two seasons, lost 12,013-yard quarterback Zac Dysert to graduation and saw 3,166-yard receiver Nick Harwell bolt for Kansas as a graduate transfer. The defense was 119th of 120 FBS teams against the rush.

Some of the same visitors will be in the house, though. Defensive coordinator Jay Peterson served under the late Randy Walker as Marshall was entering the MAC, and ex-Miami quarterback Mike Bath tutors that position. (Bath was hazed by both the defense and the fans in 2000, a game the Herd led 37-3 at the half.) On Marshall's staff, Bill Legg was tight end coach in 2002.

MU athletic director Mike Hamrick was a freshman in the Herd's 21-16 win in 1976, a result so shocking the Associated Press moved it three times so members wouldn't think it was a hoax. The Herd dominated after falling behind 9-0, and Hamrick said the team came out of the locker room and discovered more fans had magically found their way to Fairfield Stadium.

Hamrick also remembers - somewhat - players getting free beer at Boney's Hole in the Wall, that off-campus landmark.

Hamrick was able to land the four-year home-and-home series with Miami athletic director Brad Bates, who was months into his Oxford tenure when he had to deal with the arrest of Jon Wauford after the 2002 game. He also had to discipline assistant Taver Johnson, who wreaked havoc in the Marshall Stadium sky deck.

(Wauford's charges were dropped, and he served as Findlay's head coach from 2007-10; Bates became Boston College's AD in October 2012; Johnson is Arkansas' cornerbacks coach.)

We all can do without that kind of theater Saturday night, but will we have a true Marshall-Miami rivalry game? That would be fun, wouldn't it?

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.rom or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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