By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
All the offensive firepower Marshall showed last season is being reflected in Conference USA’s preseason awards.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato was named the league’s Presesason Offensive Player of the Year, the league announced Wednesday. Cato, a Miami native, was the C-USA Most Valuable Player in 2012 after finishing among the nation’s leaders in several passing categories.
Also honored as first-teamers were tight end Gator Hoskins, receiver Tommy Shuler and punter Tyler Williams.
Cato, who last season was the first underclassman in Conference USA history to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player, led the nation in completions (406) and passing yards per game (350.1). His 37 touchdown passes ranked third nationally, while his 69.5 completion rate was fourth and his 352.7 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 currently a school record, just ahead of Herd legends Chad Pennington (65.1) and Byron Leftwich (63.4).
Also on Wednesday, Cato was named to the Davey O’Brian Award Watch List. The award is given annually to the nation’s top quarterback.
Hoskins, on the John Mackey Award Watch List (top tight end), had 10 touchdown receptions last season to lead all tight ends. He caught 35 passes for 374 yards.
Shuler, named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List (top receiver), was among the nation’s leaders in 2012 with 110 receptions for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns.
Williams was an honorable mention All-American after averaging 45.2 yards on 43 punts, 16 of which were downed inside the 20-yard line. He is on the Ray Guy Award Watch List.
As a team, Marshall was picked to finish second in the East Division behind outgoing East Carolina. Tulsa was a unanimous pick in the West.
The Herd will open the season Saturday, Aug. 31, at home against Miami (Ohio). Kickoff will be 7 p.m.
— E-mail: gfauber
2013 C-USA FOOTBALL COACHES PRESEASON AWARDS
Offensive Player of the Year
Rakeem Cato, Jr., QB, Marshall
Defensive Player of the Year
Phillip Gaines, Sr., DB, Rice
Special Teams Player of the Year
Cairo Santos, Sr., K, Tulane
First Team Offense
QB Rakeem Cato, Jr., Marshall
RB Vintavious Cooper, Sr., East Carolina
RB Darrin Reaves, Jr., UAB
OL Jake Alexander, Jr., Tulsa
OL Stetson Burnett, Sr., Tulsa
OL Scott Inskeep, Jr., UTSA
OL Nate Richards, Sr., Rice
OL Matt Shepperd, Jr., Louisiana Tech
OL Will Simmons, Sr., East Carolina
WR Justin Hardy, Jr., East Carolina
WR Ryan Grant, Sr., Tulane
WR Tommy Shuler, Jr., Marshall
TE Gator Hoskins, Sr., Marshall
First Team Defense
DL Christian Covington, So., Rice
DL Justin Ellis, Sr., Louisiana Tech
DL Greg Hickman, Sr., FIU
DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DL, Southern Miss
LB Shawn Jackson, Sr., Tulsa
LB Derrell Johnson, Sr., East Carolina
LB Andre Kirk, Jr., Florida Atlantic
DB Kevin Byard, So., Middle Tennessee
DB Lorenzo Doss, So., Tulane
DB Phillip Gaines, Sr., Rice
DB Marco Nelson, Sr., Tulsa
First Team Special Teams
K Cairo Santos, Sr., Tulane
P Tyler Williams, So., Marshall
KR Reggie Whatley, Jr., Middle Tennessee
PR Trey Watts, Sr., Tulsa
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. East Carolina (11) 95
2. Marshall (2) 82
3. Middle Tennessee (1) 70
4. UAB 54
5. Southern Miss 40
6. Florida Atlantic 28
7. FIU 23
1. Tulsa (14) 98
2. Rice 76
3. Louisiana Tech 72
4. UTEP 46
5. North Texas 39
6. Tulane 31
7. UTSA 30
(first place votes in parantheses)