Keeping Score

C-USA Top 5: Marshall's Cato the one to watch in 2014

Up to this point, the C-USA Top 5 series has been devoted to looking back on the league’s history. Now, we take a look ahead.

When choosing the top players in Conference USA for the 2014 season, there’s little doubt as to who is the league’s best – Marshall senior quarterback Rakeem Cato.

His numbers the last two seasons have been as impressive as any other passer in the conference’s history.

Cato threw for 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a sophomore and tossed 39 touchdowns with nine interceptions last year as a junior.

With a good team surrounding him, Cato could be set up for a special senior season.

Here they are, the top five players in C-USA for the 2014 season:

1. Marshall QB Rakeem Cato (Senior): The reigning C-USA Offensive Player of the Year has received some buzz as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate. With Cato at the controls last year, Marshall ranked seventh in the nation in scoring offense (42.1 points a game). Marshall has a fairly soft schedule this season and has a shot at an undefeated season.

2. FAU CB D’Joun Smith (Senior): One of the best NFL prospects in C-USA, Smith had an impressive junior season. He ranked No. 2 nationally and No. 1 in C-USA in passes defended with 20. He also ranked first in the league and third nationally in interceptions with seven. Quarterbacks likely won’t be challenging the 5-foot-11, 190-pound corner much this year.

3. Marshall WR Tommy Shuler (Senior): Cato’s favorite target the last two years, Shuler has been a reception machine. In the last two seasons, Shuler has a total of 216 catches for 2,303 yards and 16 touchdowns. The former high school teammate of Cato should put up more huge numbers in 2014.

4. Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon (Junior): After scoring 27 touchdowns as a freshman, Dixon’s production dropped significantly with just four scores last year while dealing with injuries. Dixon is in a good position for a huge junior season for what should be an improved La. Tech team.

5. Marshall DT James Rouse (Senior): The preseason C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, Rouse was a big part of the Thundering Herd’s resurgence on defense last year. He had 14.0 tackles for lost yardage and six sacks last year to make first-team all-conference.