Military Bowl 2013: Rakeem Cato Shows He's a Name to Watch in 2014 Heisman Race

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterDecember 27, 2013

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The room for error is minuscule, but Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato is a name you should keep in mind when talking about next year’s Heisman award. Don’t put him at the top of your list—not yet, at least—but don’t lose track of him, either. 

As we saw this year with Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, you don’t have to play at a major university to be considered for college football’s most prestigious award. Playing quarterback certainly doesn’t hurt, winning a lot of games is a necessity and big numbers will be required. But that’s something Cato has delivered plenty of over the past two seasons and could continue deliver going forward.

In the Military Bowl, those big numbers arrived as expected. Cato threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns in Marshall’s 31-20 victory over Maryland, taking MVP honors in the process. 

His brilliant touchdown pass to Gator Hoskins late in the fourth quarter put this one away, capping off a superb game and season for Marshall.

A 10-win season for the Thundering Herd was not in the cards before the season began. After a disappointing 5-7 mark in 2012, reaching a bowl game seemed like a realistic hurdle to approach. This team did that and then some while operating with a completely rebuilt staff.

Kudos must go out to head coach Doc Holliday, who was able to bring it all together in just one offseason.

Doc Holliday hired 7 new assistant coaches last off-season and proceeded to win 10 games. Helluva job, Doc.

— Pete Roussel (@coachingsearch) December 27, 2013

With a potent offense that averaged more than 40 points per game—and balance with an improved running game—Marshall was able to cruise past most Conference USA opponents. Not only that, but it could have been better. 

Marshall's first three losses were by a combined 13 points—eight of those points coming in a triple-overtime thriller against Virginia Tech.

This team was good, one people should have paid more attention to, and it will return a lot of key pieces in 2014. This includes Cato, who ended the season absolutely blazing. In the last seven games, Cato accounted for 27 total touchdowns (3 rush) and only three interceptions. 

For the season, Cato accounted for 45 total touchdowns and nine interceptions. In 2012, even in a down year for the team, Cato notched 38 scores. The numbers have been there, and there’s no reason to believe it will change next season. Cato’s favorite target, Tommy Shuler, will be back, and this duo could prove to be one of the nation’s best.

ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 27: Quarterback Rakeem Cato #12 of the Marshall Thundering Herd holds up the MVP trophy after the Herd defeated the Maryland Terrapins 31-20 to win the 2013 Military Bowl at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 27, 2013
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Another offseason to work in a pass-friendly system will also help, and Cato will continue to develop at the position. All of this points to the possibility of an enormous senior season for the quarterback, one that could garner Heisman discussion early and pick up momentum with big performances and key victories throughout the year.

If Marshall can build upon its stellar 10-win season, coming away victorious in some of the matchups it just barely let slip away this season, perhaps Cato will get looks from the Heisman voters.

Playing for a non-power program certainly won’t help matters—neither will the relatively simple Conference USA schedule—but the box scores could be difficult to ignore. And if Marshall can win enough games, Cato could build upon a reputation that grew plenty with an impressive showing over an ACC school in the Military Bowl.

Our obsession with the Heisman aside, he will be one to watch next season. Although Cato isn’t a physical presence like many of the other quarterbacks discussed in the award, checking in at around 6'0", he has been incredibly productive.

CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd quantified his worth perfectly. I’d actually put the number a little higher.

I can think of about 25 BCS programs that would kill for Rakeem Cato.

— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) December 27, 2013

What is the ceiling for Marshall going forward? At the very least, it’s not in sight just yet. And the sky appears to be the limit on the team’s star quarterback, who won’t go unnoticed and underappreciated much longer.