At Marshall, Cato has better supporting cast

Rakeem Cato has already done enough to be on the preseason watch list for a number of postseason awards.

The Marshall quarterback started as a freshman. His statistics were impressive and the Thundering Herd won often enough to be invited to a bowl game.

[cleeng_content id="703169324" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]As a sophomore, Cato and Marshall showed a record that fell short of qualifying for one of the 35 bowls that were held after the 2012 season. Cato threw for numerous touchdowns, threw for thousands of yards and didn’t get Marshall beaten with too many interceptions.

Here in 2013, Marshall and fourth-year coach John “Doc” Holliday have found more talented and experienced players to give Cato the support needed to at least find the necessary wins to go to another bowl game.

Wide receiver Tommy Shuler is on the Biletnikoff list of the best pass catchers in the nation. Gator Hoskins has drawn favor as one of the better tight ends. From the defensive side, both Jeremiah Taylor, a productive pass-rushing end, and linebacker Jermaine Holmes have drawn notice.

Even punter Tyler Williams and placekicker Justin Haig have been given preseason publicity.

Even after all the scrambling and conference maneuverings, Marshall is still a member of Conference USA. The conference now has two divisions and Marshall is in the East where it is picked by some to finish second behind East Carolina and ahead of Middle Tennessee, Alabama-Birmingham, Southern Mississippi, Florida Atlantic and Florida International.

Marshall plays all of the teams in the East Division as well as Tulsa and Texas-San Antonio of the West Division.

Tulsa was the near-unanimous choice to win the West and was selected ahead of Rice, Louisiana Tech, UTEP, North Texas, Tulane and Texas-San Antonio.

The season begins at home against Miami of Ohio and Gardner-Webb (NC). Road games at Ohio University and Virginia Tech complete Marshall’s four-game, non-conference schedule.

Marshall’s season finale against East Carolina at Joan Edwards Stadium could well decide the Conference USA East Division champion.

Surrounding Cato, the returning Conference USA Player of the Year, and giving Holliday and company more all-conference possibilities are center Chris Jasperse, tackle Gage Niemeyer, guard Jake Lovell, running back Kevin Grooms and wide receiver Devon Smith from the offense and end Alex Bazzie, tackle Brandon Sparrow and cornerback Derrick Thomas from the defense.

This will not be a “As goes Cato, so goes the Thundering Herd” season. Even though he set a school record for completions in a single season with 406, threw for 4,201 yards and 37 touchdowns, completed almost 70 percent of his throws and led the country in passing yards per game (350.1), it’s easy to see that Cato isn’t Holliday’s only weapon.

Marshall has to win six games to qualify for a bowl. However, the goals are much more extensive and they include a conference championship and winining eight or more games.

Team recognition is the most important item on this year’s agenda. If a bowl game comes, the individual honors will be sure to follow. And playing a 13th game in a bowl will be an honor everybody at Marshall will be chasing after this season. [/cleeng_content]

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