Kiel was one of the country's highest-rated prep quarterbacks when he signed with Notre Dame. He redshirted there in 2012 and then sat out the past season under NCAA transfer rules. Kiel has a very strong arm and seems like a great fit for offensive coordinator Eddie Gran's system. Even with McClung moving on, UC brings back four of its top five receivers, as well as tailbacks Ralph David Abernathy IV (518 yards), Hosey Williams (655 yards) and Tion Green (442).
The bad: The Bearcats have won at least nine games in each of the past three seasons, but they struggled to beat anybody of real consequence last year. Their best victory was a 24-17 win at Houston late in the season, but then they lost to Louisville in overtime and to North Carolina in the Belk Bowl. Can UC get over the hump this year?
The ugly: With Louisville moving to the ACC and Rutgers leaving for the Big Ten, the former Big East has lost its seat at college football's main table. Unfortunately, adding teams such as East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa isn't going to do much for the AAC's stock. The Bearcats and UCF are favorites to win the AAC this season, but how much weight would a league title carry with the playoff's selection committee?
But if the Bearcats can somehow win one (or both) of two challenging nonconference road games -- at Ohio State on Sept. 27 and at Miami on Oct. 11 -- and go unbeaten in the AAC, the committee would have to strongly consider them for a spot in the playoff.
The good: Quarterback Rakeem Cato is back after throwing for 3,916 yards with 39 touchdowns and nine interceptions the past season. Marshall has launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for Cato, who guided the Thundering Herd to top-25 rankings in scoring (42.1 points), passing (294.4 yards) and rushing (205.9 yards) last year.
Receiver Tommy Shuler, who was Cato's teammate and favorite target at Miami Central High School, caught 216 passes with 16 touchdowns the past two seasons. Tight end Gator Hoskins, a red zone weapon, will have to be replaced.
The bad: Cato, who ran 99 times for 294 yards with six scores the past season, might have to carry an even bigger load in the running game this season. Leading rusher Essray Taliaferro (1,140 yards with 10 touchdowns in 2013) is gone, along with Kevin Grooms (503 yards in 2013), who was dismissed on July 28 after his third arrest in two years.
Junior Steward Butler ran for 777 yards with eight touchdowns the past season, and he'll be the featured back this year. Remi Watson and freshmen Tony Pittman and Brandon Byrd might carry some of the load too.
The ugly: Marshall plays arguably the softest schedule among FBS teams, so there's absolutely no margin for error. The Thundering Herd don't play an opponent from a Power Five conference, and four of their opponents -- Miami (Ohio), Florida International, Southern Miss and UAB -- won two or fewer games the past season. Only five of the Herd's regular-season foes (Ohio, Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee State, Rice and Western Kentucky) had winning records in 2013.
Even if Marshall goes undefeated and wins Conference USA -- or loses one game along the way -- its soft schedule might preclude it from getting a spot in the four-team playoff and, perhaps, even keep it out of one of the New Year's Day bowl games.