Marshall QB Rakeem Cato led the nation in completions and passing yards per game last year.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marshall has been picked to finish second in the East Division in the Conference USA football preseason poll and Thundering Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato has been named the league's preseason offensive player of the year.The Herd also landed four (including Cato) on the C-USA preseason team. Voting for the poll, team and individual awards was handled by the league's 14 head coaches.The Thundering Herd garnered 82 points and two first-place votes in the poll, second in the East only to East Carolina's 95 points and 11 first-place picks. Middle Tennessee, which had one first-place vote, was third with 70 points, followed by UAB (54), Southern Miss (40), Florida Atlantic (28) and FIU (23).Tulsa was the runaway pick in the West, taking all 14 first-place votes, and 98 points.
In player voting, Cato was joined on the all-conference team by teammates Tommy Shuler (receiver), Gator Hoskins (tight end) and Tyler Williams (punter).Cato was named to the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award Watch List earlier Wednesday.
In addition to Cato, individual C-USA awards went to Rice senior defensive back Phillip Gaines (defensive player of the year) and Tulane senior kicker Cairo Santos (special teams player of the year).Last season Cato was the first underclassman in Conference USA history to be named the league's MVP. He led the nation in completions (406) and passing yards per game (350.08). His 37 touchdown passes ranked third nationally, while his 69.5 completion rate was fourth and his 352.67 yards of total offense per game stood fifth.Cato also led the league in pass efficiency (147.1). His 66.2 percent career completion mark (588 of 888) is a school record, just ahead of Herd standouts Chad Pennington (65.1) and Byron Leftwich (63.4).Gaines was a consensus All-Conference USA selection last season after leading the league and finishing second nationally with 18 pass breakups.Santos won the 2012 Lou Groza Award with the first 21-for-21 field goal season in FBS history. He was a consensus All-America pick after leading the team in points scored (89) and hitting 26 of 27 PATs. He was 12 for 12 on field goals from from 40-plus yards.Tulsa had the most overall preseason selections with five, while East Carolina and Marshall had four each.