HUNTINGTON, W.VA. —
Bigger things are expected for Marshall University football this season, and Conference USA coaches share in that forecast.
The Thundering Herd has been pegged for second place in the East Division, based on voting by the 14 head coaches. The C-USA preseason poll was released Wednesday by the league office.
Marshall, 5-7 last year despite a highly productive offense, received 82 points and two first-place votes to trail only East Carolina, which totaled 95 points and 11 first-place nods.
New league member Middle Tennessee picked up the other first-place vote and ranked third in the East Division with 70 points.
Next was Alabama-Birmingham at 54 points, followed by Southern Mississippi (40), Florida Atlantic (28) and Florida International (23).
Tulsa was a unanimous choice for the No. 1 spot in the West Division, racking up 98 points.
Next in line were Rice (76), Louisiana Tech (72), Texas-El Paso (46), North Texas (39), Tulane (31) and Texas-San Antonio (30).
Division winners will meet for the C-USA title Saturday, Dec. 7. The ninth annual championship game will be hosted by the team with the best conference winning percentage.
As for individual honors, Marshall junior quarterback Rakeem Cato was selected the league’s preseason Offensive Player of the Year. The Herd also landed wideout Tommy Shuler, tight end Gator Hoskins and punter Tyler Williams on the All-Conference USA team.
Earlier Wednesday, Cato was named to the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award Watch List. Cato already was chosen to the watch list for the Maxwell Award, which goes to the national player of the year.
Last season, Cato threw for 37 touchdowns and completed 69.5 percent of his passes. His 406 completions and 359 passing yards per game led the nation.
Rice defensive back Phillip Gaines was selected the C-USA preseason Defensive Player of the Year. The special team award went to Tulane kicker Cairo Santos.
Tulsa had the most preseason All-Conference USA selections with five, one more than Marshall and East Carolina.
The league season begins August 29 with three non-conference games. Marshall’s home opener is Aug. 31 against Miami (Ohio).