July 9, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – If the preseason prognosticators are on target, it’s going to be a Dickens of a football season for Marshall.
You know … great expectations?
Coach Doc Holliday really doesn’t want his team to read its preseason press clippings, so to speak.
The only thing that’s supposed to go to the players’ heads is their helmets, right?
Well, there is plenty of good to go around, and there is plenty of them for what is expected to be a turnaround season for the Marshall program.
No Conference USA title has been won on paper – or on the internet for that matter – but the preseason college football publications and websites really like Holliday’s team as a C-USA contender.
The “official” C-USA preseason all-conference team and coaches’ selection on the order of finish in the two seven-team divisions won’t be revealed for another two weeks, at C-USA Media Day in Dallas.
However, as a preview, we went to the magazines and the web pages to get an idea of who likes the Herd, and how much. And there are 13 Herd players who have received first- or second-team projections from one source or another this summer.
As previously written here in “The Word,” the Phil Steele College Preview has Marshall winning the C-USA Eastern Division title, facing Tulsa in the title game and winning the Liberty Bowl berth. The Steele staff has plenty of love for the Herd.
Steele selected Marshall as his “No. 1 Most Improved Team” in 2013, over Southern Miss and Indiana, and opines that Holliday’s fourth MU team will have the nation’s most improved scoring defense and ranks No. 7 among improved rush defenses.
Steele ranks Marshall at No. 38 nationally.
Another publication that has Marshall in the conference title game is Athlon. That preseason magazine predicts the Herd to fall in the title game to Tulsa, and finish the regular season with an 8-5 record (conference title loss in 13th game; 6-2 C-USA regular season).
USA Today’s publication figures the Herd for an 8-4 (6-2) season, but finishing second behind East Carolina for the East Division title.
Lindy’s Sports magazine puts the Herd third in the C-USA East, behind ECU and newcomer Middle Tennessee State, but says MU junior quarterback Rakeem Cato is the league’s “most accurate passer” and “coolest in the clutch,” with slot receiver Tommy Shuler listed as the “best hands” man.
The resurgence the Herd enjoyed offensively last season is reflected in the major college football award watch lists that will continue to be revealed on a daily (weekday) basis through July 19.
Marshall already has Cato on the preseason Maxwell Award (nation’s top player) list, with Gator Hoskins among 37 listed for the John Mackey Award (top tight end). As these lists continue to be revealed, the Marshall names will continue to appear.
USA Today ranked Cato as No. 48 among the 76 “early” Maxwell candidates based on “likelihood of winning the award.” And BleacherReport.com has made the Cato-to-Shuler connection that dates back to their Miami Central High days as the No. 9 QB-WR combination in the nation for 2013.
The Ray Guy Award (top punter) Watch List will be announced Wednesday. The Herd’s Tyler Williams was a semifinalist for that one last season as a freshman. Shuler figures to be a name on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List (top receiver) a week from now after his school-record 110 catches a year ago.
Cato also could appear on another two or three top quarterback and player watch lists (Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien, Manning) before the Aug. 31 season opener against Miami of Ohio at Edwards Stadium.
Another player or three could sneak onto their positional lists, too.
Led by Cato – the first underclassman to win C-USA’s MVP Award – Marshall has plenty of individual mentions this summer (see list that follows), with a few more to come with the season seven weeks away.
A look at Marshall football individual player preseason recognition from national awards, magazines and websites to date (as of Tuesday, July 9):
AWARD WATCH LISTS:
Maxwell Award – Rakeem Cato, QB
John Mackey Award – Gator Hoskins, TE
College Football Performance Awards – Cato; Hoskins; Tommy Shuler, WR; Jeremiah Taylor, DE; Jermaine Holmes, LB; Justin Haig, PK; Tyler Williams P.
ALL-AMERICA (magazines, websites):
Honorable Mention – Shuler.
ALL-CONFERENCE USA (magazines, websites):
Phil Steele’s Preview:
First team – Cato; Shuler; Hoskins; Chris Jasperse, C; Taylor; D.J. Hunter, S; Williams.
Second team – Devon Smith, WR; Holmes.
Third team – Kevin Grooms, RB; Gage Niemeyer, OT; Alex Bazzie, DE.
Fourth team – Josh Lovell, OG; Brandon Sparrow, DT; Kent Turene, LB; Derrick Thomas, CB.
First team – Cato; Shuler; Hoskins; Jasperse; Sparrow; Williams.
Second team – Jeffries; Bazzie.
First team – Cato (also Offensive Player of Year); Hoskins; Bazzie.
Second team – Shuler; Jordan Jeffries, OT; Grooms; Holmes; Hunter; Williams.
Firat team – Cato (also Offensive Player of Year); Hoskins; Jeffries.
Second team – Shuler; Taylor; Hunter; Williams.
Third team – Jasperse; Bazzie; Holmes.
First team – Cato; Hoskins; Williams.
Honorable Mention – Shuler; Jeffries.
Frist team – Cato; Shuler; Hoskins; Jasperse; Williams.
Honorable Mention – Grooms, Taylor, Hunter.
First team – Cato; Shuler; Hoskins; Holmes; Hunter; (no kick specialists on team).