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East Division champion Marshall will host West Division champion Louisiana Tech in the 2014 Conference USA championship game Saturday. The Thundering Herd (11-1) are in the game for the second straight year while the Bulldogs (8-4) are in the contest for the first time in their second year in the league.

Marshall has one of the nation's most-prolific offenses, ranking seventh in rushing offense (288.5 yards per game), second in total offense (574.6 ypg) and scoring offense (46.7 points per game). Senior quarterback Rakeem Cato has passed for 3,314 yards and rushed for 429 this season. He has also extended his FBS record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 44.

"You start with Marshall on the offensive side of the ball and it starts with Cato who is one of the better players in this league statistically," LTU coach Skip Holtz said. "He is able to keep plays alive with his feet, and that is where I think he is at his best. He is really good in the pocket throwing the ball, but when he leaves the pocket he can make things happen with his feet and with his arm. I think he makes really good decisions and I think he is the engine.

"They really have not had a close football game until this most recent one last week at home. They are an 11-1 football team and they lost that game last week, but in the loss, they still scored 66 points. It is hard to score 66 points and lose with as strong as they are as an offensive football team."

Louisiana Tech is led by junior running back Kenneth Dixon who has run for 1,080 yards and scored 23 touchdowns (18 rushing), tied for the fourth-highest single-season total in C-USA history. Senior quarterback Cody Sokol is 239 of 400 passing for 3,117 yards and 29 touchdowns. Defensively, the Bulldogs lead the FBS with 36 forced turnovers and top the nation with 150 points scored off turnovers.

"The difference between this football team that we are about to play on defense than the others we have played is the speed of this defense," Holtz said. "I think that is where the difference is with this group, the speed and athleticism they have across the board and how well they run. I think they have done a really good job and as I have said, they have not had a close football game until last week in their overtime loss."

Both teams are coming off amazing offensive performances to close out the regular season. Louisiana Tech scored 76 points (one shy of the C-USA record) and rolled up 677 yards of total offense against Rice while Marshall scored 66 points and generated 708 yards of total offense in a 67-66, overtime loss to Western Kentucky.

Marshall and Louisiana Tech have met just one time, on Oct. 9, 1942. The Bulldogs posted a 26-0 shutout victory in Ruston, La., the third of four consecutive shutouts LA Tech posted to open that season.

The Thundering Herd are aiming to become conference champions for the first time since winning their sixth straight Mid-American Conference title in 2002. The Bulldogs have won 25 conference championships in their program's history, a number that ties for 11th among current FBS schools.

ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM (6-6, 4-4)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: OFF; Next TBD

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Cody Clements had a breakout junior season for the Blazers. He started 11 games and finished with 2,227 yards passing, 160 yards rushing and 18 total touchdowns. A transfer from Cerritos College, Clements only had two games of more than 300 yards passing and just three games of 200 yards or more passing.

RB Jordan Howard was an unstoppable force out of the backfield for UAB in 2014. The sophomore finished with 1,587 yards rushing and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. He had eight games of at least 100 yards rushing and exploded for 262 yards in the season finale at Southern Mississippi. Howard had 13 rushing touchdowns and also caught nine passes for 72 yards and a TD.

WR J.J. Nelson has Mr. Do-It-All for the Blazers in 2014. The senior caught 35 passes for 655 yards and four scores, returned 26 punts for 277 yards and returned 22 kickoffs for 843 yards and four touchdowns. He capped his senior season with a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD in the season finale at USM.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC (3-9, 2-6)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Season over.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Jaquez Johnson took over the full-time starting quarterback role and had a shaky season. The junior had three games of 300 or more yards passing, but also had three games of 100 or less yards passing. He only threw five interceptions in 11 games, but completed just 57.8 percent of his passes. Johnson scored seven rushing touchdowns and averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 120 runs.

RB Jay Warren battled injuries, but showed promise his sophomore season and finished as FAU's leading rusher. The 6-foot, 195-pound back totaled 571 yards on 121 carries in just nine games. He played in only three of the Owls' final six contests.

WR Jensen Stoshak caught at least one pass in FAU's final 11 games and finished as the team's second leading receiver. A junior, Stoshak had a career-high 37 receptions for 508 yards. He scored only twice in 2014, but averaged 13.7 yards per catch.

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (4-8, 3-5)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Season over.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

RB Anthon Samuel finished the year strong for FIU and will go into his senior season with plenty of momentum. The junior rushed for 115.3 yards per game over his final three and finished the campaign tied with freshman Alex Gardner for the team lead in rushing with 582 yards. Samuel rushed for 998 yards as a sophomore in 2012, then 2013 with injury.

TE Jonnu Smith finished the 2014 season as the team's leading receiver. The sophomore made 61 catches for 710 yards and caught eight touchdowns the next highest-scoring Panther caught three. A 6-foot-3, 230-pounder, Smith had five games with at least seven receptions and averaged 11.6 yards per reception.

QB Alex McGough finished his rookie campaign with 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns, but also threw 10 picks. The freshman had a career day of 231 yards passing and three scores against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 15, then followed that up with 56 yards and three interceptions the following week at North Texas. It was that type of year for McGough and the Panthers, but the program hopes the experience pays dividends in 2015.

LOUISIANA TECH (8-4, 7-1)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: at Marshall, Saturday, Noon ET. The Conference USA title game takes place in Huntington, W. Va., where Louisiana Tech will try to upset Marshall. The Bulldogs are coming off a 76-31 romp of Rice in the West Division title game last week while Marshall was stunned 67-66 in overtime at home against Western Kentucky. The teams did not meet during the regular season and have only met one prior time a 26-0 win by Tech in 1942 in Ruston, La.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Cody Sokol, a transfer from Iowa, went over the 3,000-yard mark last week by throwing for 387 yards against Rice. The senior threw four touchdowns to give him a season total of 29. Sokol also threw an interception for the fourth consecutive game and has thrown at least one pick in 10 of Tech's 12 games.

RB Kenneth Dixon has reached 1,000 yards rushing in a single season for the second time in his career. The junior ran for 137 on 17 carries last week against Rice and now sits at 1,080 for the season. Dixon has 18 rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns this season.

DB Kentrell Brice has been all over the field for the Bulldogs in 2014. The junior leads Tech with 73 tackles (three for a loss), has two interceptions, six passes defended, four breakups and four forced fumbles. Brice had 54 tackles all of last year, but has put together an all-conference season this year.

MARSHALL (11-1, 7-1)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: vs. Louisiana Tech, Saturday, Noon ET. The Conference USA title game takes place in Huntington, W. Va., where Louisiana Tech will try to upset Marshall. The Bulldogs are coming off a 76-31 romp of Rice in the West Division title game last week while Marshall was stunned 67-66 in overtime at home against Western Kentucky. The teams did not meet during the regular season and have only met one prior time a 26-0 win by Tech in 1942 in Ruston, La.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Rakeem Cato took the heat for his team's first loss of the season. The senior threw four interceptions in a 67-66 overtime loss at home to Western Kentucky. It was the first time Cato had been picked off four times in one game since 2010 his freshman season. Cato still threw for 417 yards and seven touchdowns in the loss.

RB Steward Butler busted out in a big way last week in the absence of starter Devon Johnson. Butler finished with a career high 233 yards on 24 carries against WKU he only had 211 yards rushing the four previous games. A junior, Butler is four yards and one touchdown away from matching his 2013 total in those categories.

WR Tommy Shuler has been the model of consistency this season and throughout his MU career. For the second consecutive game he totaled 132 yards receiving on 10 catches and scored a TD. The senior has 67 catches and eight TDs this season and is 131 receiving yards away from a third straight 1,000-yard campaign.



MIDDLE TENNESSEE (6-6, 5-3)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: OFF; Next TBD

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Austin Grammer was held to a season-low 99 yards passing and threw a costly red-zone interception last week in the loss at UTEP. Grammer has now thrown 11 interceptions in Middle Tennessee's six losses this season compared to one pick in the team's six wins. Grammer did, however, rush for a season-high 106 yards on 12 carries in the UTEP loss.

RB Reggie Whatley is averaging 120.7 all-purpose yards per game. The senior totaled 767 rushing yards on 113 carries and 692 return yards on 27 kickoff returns. Whatley finished the regular season with seven rushing touchdowns.

LB T.T. Barber was Middle Tennessee's defensive leader in 2014 by recording a team-high 72 tackles. The juniors was also second on the team with 7 1/2 tackles for loss, made a sack, intercepted two passes and forced two fumbles. Barber was a preseason all-conference selection, but fell well short of his 119 tackles in 2013.

NORTH TEXAS (4-8, 2-6)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Season over.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

WR Carlos Harris led UNT in receiving yards and became an all-purpose weapon for the Mean Green in 2014. The junior made 70 catches for 863 yards and three touchdowns while also racking up 496 return yards. Harris doubled his receiving total this season

LB Derek Akunne had an outstanding senior season to close his UNT career. The 6-foot, 242-pound Akunne led the Mean Green with 108 tackles, made three sacks and 8 1/2 tackles for loss and forced three fumbles. Akunne finished his career with 308 tackles.

QB Andrew McNulty became the full-time starter for UNT halfway through the season and the results were mixed. The junior finished the campaign 111-for-203 for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns while throwing seven interceptions. Five of McNulty's picks came in the final five games of the year.

OLD DOMINION (6-6, 3-5)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: OFF; Next TBD

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Taylor Heinicke played what was likely his final college football game last week. The senior finished with 14,959 passing yards and 132 career touchdowns. He threw for 282 yards and three scores against the Owls and finished with nearly 7,500 passing yards during his two seasons of FBS play.

RB Ray Lawry may be the next great offensive weapon the Monarchs build their offense around. The freshman ran for 947 yards this season on just 134 carries for an average of 7.1 yards per run. Last week the 5-foot-10, 192-pound back exploded for 213 yards and scored on a 68-yard TD run.

WR Zach Pascal has put himself in position to emerge as ODU's top receiver in 2014. A 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore, Pascal was second on the team with 743 receiving yards on 59 catches and scored seven times. He has exactly 100 receptions for his career and is averaging 12.8 yards per catch the last two seasons.

RICE (7-5, 5-3)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: OFF; Next TBD

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Driphus Jackson threw a season-high three interceptions last week in a blowout loss at Louisiana Tech. The junior also threw for a season-high 337 yards and four touchdowns, but was held to a net rushing total of minus -4. Jackson had thrown five interceptions in Rice's last four games and the Owls are 2-2 in those contests.

DE Brian Nordstrom has recorded a whopping 18 1/2 tackles for loss through 12 games. The junior and former walk-on is fifth on the team with 43 tackles, is second on the team with 7 1/2 sacks and has a team-high five quarterback hurries.

WR Jordan Taylor had his best game in nearly a month during the loss at Louisiana Tech. The senior caught 10 passes for 136 yards and a score, the first time he went over the 100-yard mark since Nov. 1. Taylor has 100 yards receiving in four of the nine games he has played in this season.



SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI (3-9, 1-7)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Season over.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Nick Mullens played in 10 of USM's 12 game as the team's full-time starter. He will likely be the starter in 2015 after a sophomore season that saw him throw for 2,470 yards and 12 touchdowns, but also throw nine interceptions and complete just 59.7 percent of his throws. Mullens now has 25 career TDs and 23 career interceptions in his first two seasons at USM.

WR Michael Thomas will return in 2015 as the Golden Eagles' leading playmaker. The junior caught 41 passes for a team-high 592 yards and scored five times during his first season with the program. Thomas had just two games with at least 100 yards receiving, but caught at least one pass in all 12 contests.

RB Ito Smith managed to find running room where he could in an offense that is pass-first. The freshman finished with 536 yards on the ground in the 11 games he played. He was held to 15 yards or less in four games, but also went over the 100-yard mark twice this season.

TEXAS EL PASO (7-5, 5-3)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: OFF; TBD.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

RB Aaron Jones had another monster performance to add to his resume. The sophomore finished with 147 yards on 29 runs last week and added a 72-yard touchdown catch. Jones has 1,233 yards and 11 scores on the ground and is now over 2,000 rushing yards for his career.

DB Wesley Miller, a former walk-on, tied his career high with 11 tackles, topping the team in tackles for the sixth contest of the season. He ended the night with an interception giving the Miners a 24-21 win over visiting Middle Tennessee.

QB Jameill Showers, a transfer from Texas A&M, had one of his better all-around games of 2014 in the win last week against Middle Tennessee. He threw for a modest 106 yards on 7 of 13 passing while also running for 59 yards. He threw a 72-yard TD pass and ran a score in from five yards out.

TEXAS SAN ANTONIO (4-8, 3-5)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Season over

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

S Mauricio Sanchez will be asked to become a leader in the secondary for the Roadrunners in 2015. He made 46 tackles four for a loss and picked off one pass while making seven starts as a junior.

LB Drew Douglas will be relied upon heavily for the 2015 UTSA defense. The junior finished third on the team with 71 tackles and seven tackles for loss while also forcing a fumble and recording a sack. Douglas also played in all 12 games as a sophomore for the Roadrunners.

QB Austin Robinson was forced into action in six of the team's final seven games of the season. A freshman, Robinson finished the year 81 of 146 for 645 yards with five interceptions and just one touchdown. He'll battle for the starting job with fellow freshman Blake Bogenschutz who played in three games before breaking his hand.



WESTERN KENTUCKY (7-5, 4-4)

THIS WEEK'S GAME: OFF; Next TBD

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB Brandon Doughty leads the nation with 44 touchdown passes and 4,344 passing yards. The senior threw eight TDs against No. 19 Marshall last week and completed 34 of his 50 throws for 491 yards. Doughty has gone over the 300-yard passing mark in 9 of 12 games this season.

RB Leon Allen recorded his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season and went over 200 yards for the second time in the past three games last week. He carried the ball 33 times for 237 yards and scored once on the ground at Marshall. He also caught five more passes for 51 yards and a TD to bring his receiving total to 431 yards and three scores in 2014.

WR Jared Dangerfield has just two 100-yard receiving games in 2014, but his 10 touchdowns leads the Hilltoppers' offense. Two of those came last week at Marshall and the junior recorded a season-high 117 yards on eight receptions. Dangerfield averages 11.5 yards per catch.


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