HUNTINGTON — On paper, Marshall is looking like one of Conference USA’s most talented teams.
Marshall placed five players on the 2020 Preseason All-Conference USA Team, which was voted on by the league’s 12 coaches and released by the league on Tuesday afternoon.
Those five selections matched North Texas for tops in the league.
Of those five selections, they broke down into two offensive players: running back Brenden Knox and offensive lineman Cain Madden; two defensive players: linebacker Tavante Beckett and defensive back Nazeeh Johnson; and one special teams member: punt returner Talik Keaton.
Knox, the 6-foot, 223-pound junior from Columbus, Ohio, was also named the Conference USA Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. He rushed for 1,387 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 123.5 yards per game in league play.
Much of Knox’s success was credited to an offensive line that was led by Madden, who started all 13 games at right guard and became one of the league’s top run-blockers in 2019.
Madden, a 6-foot-3, 313-pound senior from South Webster, Ohio, led an effort for Marshall’s offensive line that landed the Herd second in Conference USA in rushing yards per game.
Defensively, Beckett was one of the top tacklers in Conference USA in 2019. He finished with 121 tackles — best in the league — while adding seven tackles for loss and two sacks.
The 5-foot-10, 214-pound linebacker from Chesapeake, Virginia, also showed his playmaking ability, forcing two fumbles, recovering two fumbles, securing an interception and breaking up four passes.
Johnson finished third on the team in tackles with 88 while adding six pass breakups and one interception while playing safety in the Herd secondary last season.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound former walk-on from Martinsburg, West Virginia, leads Marshall’s defensive returnees with 38 games of experience.
In the special teams department, Keaton was one of the nation’s most dangerous punt returners in 2019, finishing second nationally in punt return yards by a freshman and No. 10 nationally in average yards per punt return (12.6).
The 6-1, 188-pound sophomore from Sarasota, Florida, had the first touch of his Marshall career go for a touchdown when he returned a punt 67 yards for a score against VMI.
Keaton is also a wide receiver for the Herd.