2013 C-USA Preseason Football Awards
July 17, 2013
A trio of players that made an impact nationally during the 2012 season headline the list of 2013 preseason Conference USA Football award winners, as chosen by the league's 14 head coaches. Marshall junior QB Rakeem Cato was chosen as the preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Rice senior DB Phillip Gaines was named the Defensive Player of the Year and Tulane senior PK Cairo Santos earned Special Teams Player of the Year honors.
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 (350.08). 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 currently a school record, just ahead of Herd legends Chad Pennington (65.1) and Byron Leftwich (63.4).
The 2012 season was a breakout campaign for Gaines, as he returned to his role as the Owls' leader in the defensive backfield after missing most of 2011 with an injury. Gaines was a consensus All-Conference USA selection after leading the league and finishing second nationally with 18 pass breakups. His pass breakups saved 38 points from scoring (6 TD passes plus a two-point attempt in a tow-point win over Tulane). Gaines led the conference and was tied for eighth nationally with 1.50 passes defended per game. His career PBU total of 29 coming into the season is the most in school history. The 29 PBU's are tied for the 10th-most in NCAA history since the statistic was first tracked in 2003.
Santos won the 2012 Lou Groza Award with the first 21-for-21 field goal season in FBS history and was named a consensus All-American after leading the team in points scored (89) and hitting 26-of-27 on PATs. He was 12-for-12 from 40-plus yards, including 2-for-2 from 50-plus yards. Santos connected on a then-school record 54 yarder vs. ULM on Sept. 29 before eclipsing that with a 57-yard boot vs. Rice on Nov. 3. He claimed first-team All-America honors from the Associated Press, Football Writers Associated of America, Sports Illustrated and Phil Steele Publications while garnering first-team All C-USA and All-Louisiana recognition. Santos tied an NCAA Division I record in field goal percentage while becoming just the second player in DI-FBS to finish perfect with 20-plus field goal attempts.
Tulsa had the most overall preseason selections with five, while East Carolina and Marshall had four. Rice and Tulane each placed three players on the team. Twelve C-USA schools had at least one player named to the team.
Defending Conference USA Champion Tulsa was chosen unanimously as the preseason favorite to win the West Division. 2012 division co-champion East Carolina was chosen as the team favored to take the East Division crown. Marshall and Middle Tennessee were the other schools to receive first place votes.
The league's ninth annual Championship Game, pitting the champions of the East and West divisions, will be held Saturday, December 7.
The 2013 C-USA Football season kicks off Thursday, August 29, with three non-conference games. All but one of the league's 14 teams are in action during opening weekend, with seven games scheduled to air on television.
2013 C-USA FOOTBALL COACHES PRESEASON AWARDS
Offensive Player of the Year
Defensive Player of the Year
Special Teams Player of the Year
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
WEST DIVISION Pts 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)