HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall football team's gaudy offensive numbers in 2012 made the coaches in Conference USA take notice, so much that three of the main catalysts in those totals were named Wednesday to the preseason all-conference team.
Four Thundering Herd players in all made the list, led by quarterback Rakeem Cato. Cato, the reigning C-USA MVP was named both preseason all-C-USA quarterback and offensive player of the year. Not much of a surprise there, considering the rising junior led the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards with 350.08 per game and his 37 touchdowns were the third-best total in the FBS.
Cato was joined by receiver Tommy Shuler, whose 110 catches were a single-season team record, tight end Gator Hoskins, whose 10 touchdowns were a single-season team record for a tight end, and punter Tyler Williams, whose 45.2-yard average would have ranked among the top in the FBS, but didn't have enough punts in 2012 to qualify. The Herd as a team was picked by C-USA's 14 coaches to finish second in the East Division behind East Carolina.
The Pirates received 11 first-place votes in the East to Marshall's two and newcomer Middle Tennessee State's one. ECU, Marshall and MTSU were picked to finish first, second and third, respectively in the division, followed in order by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Southern Mississippi, Florida Atlantic and Florida International.
Tulsa was the unanimous pick to win the West, followed in order by Rice, Louisiana Tech, the University of Texas at El Paso, North Texas, Tulane and the University of Texas at San Antonio. The East and West division champs meet Saturday, Dec. 7, in the ninth-annual C-USA title game.
Marshall tied with ECU for the second-most preseason all-conference selections with four each. Tulsa had the most with five and Rice and Tulane each placed three. Rice senior defensive back Phillip Gaines was named preseason defensive player of the year and Tulane senior Cairos Santos, the 2012 Lou Groza Award winner as the nation's best kicker, was named preseason special teams player of the year.
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THOSE CONFERENCE honors weren't the only ones Cato picked up Wednesday. He also was named to the 34-man Davey O'Brien Award watch list. That award is given annually to the nation's top college quarterback.
Two former Herd quarterbacks were O'Brien Award candidates. Chad Pennington was one of three finalists for the 1999 award, while Byron Leftwich was one of 14 semifinalists in the 2002 season. Currently, Cato's 66.2-percent career completion rate is the best in school history ahead of both Pennington's 65.1 percent and Leftwich's 63.4 percent. Cato also is on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, given to the nation's top college football player.
He's one of four Herd players on a national watch list, joining Shuler (Biletnikoff Award), Hoskins (John Mackey Award) and Williams (Ray Guy Award).
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.