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Rice football picked to finish second in C-USA West

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The defending Conference USA champions Rice Owls have been picked by conference coaches to take second place in the West Division for the second straight season.

The C-USA West figures to be a three-team race between North Texas, Rice and UTSA. In the coaches poll released Wednesday, North Texas complied 66 votes, one more than the Owls. The Roadrunners received 62 points. Louisiana Tech was a distant fourth, followed by Southern Mississippi and UTEP.

Marshall was a runaway winner in the East Division poll. The Herd received 91 votes, outdistancing Middle Tennessee State by 18 votes and Florida Atlantic by 31. Conference newcomer Western Kentucky was picked fourth in the East, followed by Old Dominion, UAB and FIU.

Last season, Tulsa was picked to win the West and East Carolina was chosen as East favorites. The two teams projected to finish second, Rice and Marshall, ended up in the C-USA title game. Rice won 41-24 to capture its first outright conference crown since 1957.

The Herd will be looking for revenge when the teams square off Nov. 15 at Marshall. The Owls two other East opponents are Old Dominion and FIU. They will play every school in the West Division.

Rice went 8-1 in conference play in 2013, the lone blemish coming at North Texas on Halloween. The Mean Green come to Houston this season to face Rice on Oct. 25.

The two teams have a combined five 2014 preseason all-conference players. The coaches all-conference team also was announced Wednesday.

Rice selections were senior cornerback Bryce Callahan, senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor and junior defensive tackle Christian Covington. North Texas had two offensive linemen on the team, Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo.

Covington made his second straight appearance on the preseason team. He led the Owls with 11.5 tackles for loss in 2013 and recorded four sacks. Callahan has 11 career interceptions, which is tied for fourth most in school history. Taylor made 55 receptions for 848 yards last season. He has caught a ball in 22 straight games.

Rice’s three selections were the second most in the conference, but was well behind Marshall. The Herd had seven players chosen, including Offensive Player of the Year Rakeem Cato (quarterback) and Defensive Player of the Year James Rouse (defensive lineman). UAB punter Hunter Mullins was picked as preseason Special Teams Player of the Year.

The preseason all-conference list:

First Team Offense

QB Rakeem Cato, Sr., Marshall
RB Kenneth Dixon, Jr., Louisiana Tech
RB Aaron Jones, So., UTEP
OL Scott Inskeep, Sr., UTSA
OL Chris Jasperse, Sr., Marshall
OL Cyril Lemon, Sr., North Texas
OL Clint Van Horn, Jr., Marshall
OL Mason Y'Barbo, Sr., North Texas
WR Jamarcus Nelson, Sr., UAB
WR Tommy Shuler, Sr., Marshall
WR Jordan Taylor., Sr., Rice
TE Eric Tomlinson, Sr., UTEP

First Team Defense
DL Vernon Butler, Jr., Louisiana Tech
DL Christian Covington, Jr., Rice
DL Ra'Shawde Myers, Sr., Marshall
DL James Rouse, Sr., Marshall
LB T.T. Barber, Sr., Middle Tennessee
LB Evan McKelvey, Sr., Marshall
LB Andrae Kirk, Jr., Florida Atlantic
DB Kevin Byard, Jr., Middle Tennessee
DB Bryce Callahan, Sr., Rice
DB D'Joun Smith, Sr., Florida Atlantic
DB Triston Wade, Sr., UTSA

First Team Special Teams
K Sean Ianno, Sr., UTSA
P Hunter Mullins, Sr., UAB
KR Autrey Golden, Jr., UTEP
PR Kenny Harrison, Sr., UTSA
LS Jesse Medrano, Sr., UTSA

Projected order of finish:

1. Marshall 91
2. Middle Tennessee 73
3. Florida Atlantic 60
4. WKU 57
5. Old Dominion 33
6. UAB 31
7. FIU 19

1. North Texas 66
2. Rice 65
3. UTSA 62
4. Louisiana Tech 38
5. Southern Miss 24
6. UTEP 18