CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Preseason predictions are a tricky forest to navigate. Heck, it doesn't get much easier even one or two games into the regular season.
Experts (at least that's what we like to call ourselves) sift through reams of information, take into account coaching changes, roster turnover and strength of schedule - essentially, we predict an unknown based on other unknowns - and come out with what we feel is the most accurate prediction of a college football team's record.
A whole bunch of people figured Marshall would be better this year than the 5-7 record it ended with last year. The degree of improvement differed.
I figured Marshall would have a baseline of eight wins, with four games as toss-ups. That list began with Ohio, Virginia Tech, Middle Tennessee and Tulsa. Tulsa's collapse led to its removal and the addition of East Carolina. Depending on the degree of Marshall's improvement this season - and how the seasons of those four opponents shook out - the Thundering Herd could finish anywhere between 8-4 and 12-0.
Others, like prognosticator Phil Steele, went big. He called Marshall his pick for most improved team in America and ranked the Herd 38th in his preseason poll. And that wasn't a terrible prediction. Marshall returned most of the main cogs of its offense and made plenty of improvements on defense.
So, as the Herd sits at 4-3 following a last-second loss to Middle Tennessee, some voices from the fan base sound anywhere from disappointed to downright enraged that Marshall isn't any better than it is right now.
This begs the question: Which has been more off the mark - the Herd's performance or outsiders' expectations of the Herd's performance?
Three early events energized Herd fans in their belief that 2013 could be the year of a historic turnaround. The first was the Phil Steele prediction. He's been pretty accurate with them over the past few years. The teams he picked as the most improved since 2010 won at least five more games than the previous season.
The other two came when Marshall beat Miami (Ohio) 55-14 and Gardner-Webb 55-0. The offense looked as potent as ever and the defense was able to do things it never could in 2012.
But as the season wore on, we saw the true caliber of those first two opponents. At 0-8, the RedHawks are one of the worst teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They've already jettisoned their head coach and are losing by an average of almost 22 points per game. Gardner-Webb started the season 4-1, but has lost its last three and is 0-2 in the Football Championship Subdivision's Big South Conference.