COLUMBUS, Ohio – No. 2 Ohio State doesn't know what to expect from Marshall.
A new head coach and new assistants, some new players and new schemes have made it difficult to pin down precisely what the Thundering Herd may try to do when they visit Ohio Stadium on Thursday night to open the season.
"You go through preseason camp and you try to cover the whole comprehensive realm of what you think you might face," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Monday. "Well, what's been difficult about that for us is that obviously Marshall has a new coaching staff."
Gone is coach Mark Snyder, a former assistant coach at Ohio State, who resigned a day after the Thundering Herd finished the regular season at 6-6. Snyder, who was 21-37 in five seasons, favored a ball-control offense.
First-year head coach Doc Holliday has assembled a staff which has roots in the state but has served programs all around the country.
Holliday has 31 years of collegiate coaching experience that includes stops at Florida, North Carolina State and West Virginia.
So does that mean the Buckeyes should prepare for a two-headed passing attack similar to the Gators ran in the 2006 national championship game against them, when Holliday was on coach Urban Meyer's staff? Will the defense mirror the Wolfpack's? Might the Thundering Herd take on a lot of the characteristics of their in-state rivals in Morgantown?
To further confuse matters, the new offensive coordinator (Bill Legg) has coached at Purdue and Florida International. The guy making the calls on the defensive side, Chris Rippon, has Rutgers, Mississippi and Syracuse on his resume.
"You don't know exactly what's going to come out of it, but you just study what you can," Ohio State offensive lineman Bryant Browning said.
Marshall's Brian Anderson passed for 2,646 yards and 14 touchdowns but also tossed 13 interceptions a year ago for Marshall. Six other starters are back on offense, but the most experienced running backs (Martin Ward and Terrell Edwards-Maye) have a combined three starts.
The defense surrendered 24 points a game, although four of the top five tacklers are back.
Like a science experiment gone haywire, no one knows exactly what will happen when everything gets mixed together.
Asked if the newness of his staff might give the Buckeyes something additonal to think about, Holliday said, "I hope so."
But he also recognized that, as is the case with most teams, Ohio State will likely dwell mostly on its strengths and force the other team to try to stop it.
"You look at that Ohio State team," Holliday said. "They've got a great player at every position, both offensively and defensively. I'm sure they're going to line up and do what they do best."
Ohio State receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said if the Buckeyes do their jobs, it shouldn't matter what Marshall does.
"It's been more of a self-study for us," he said of watching tape on the Herd. "Obviously, you have to know who's gong to be where, the personnel. But with so many unknowns all we can really do is make sure we're good enough that it really shouldn't matter."
Ohio State's 121st opener is a rare Thursday night game, which adds yet another element of uncertainty to the game. The last time the teams met, in 2004, the Thundering Herd nearly pulled off a shocker. But Mike Nugent's 55-yard field goal as time expired gave the ninth-ranked Buckeyes a 24-21 win.
Tressel hasn't forgotten that game. He believes Marshall has more talent now than it did six years ago.
He just wishes he had a better handle on how that talent might be deployed.
"We have to make sure we're ready for anything and expect the unexpected," he said.