October 17, 2014

MIAMI (AP) Rakeem Cato's homecoming could be a historic one.

How's this for a script: A Miami native comes back home, with an undefeated football team, needing one touchdown pass to bump a Super Bowl champion out of the NCAA record book. Such is the scenario for Cato this weekend, when he leads No. 25 Marshall (6-0, 2-0 Conference USA) against FIU (3-4, 2-1).

Cato has thrown a scoring pass in 38 straight games, tying the record Russell Wilson - now the starter for the Seattle Seahawks - set when he played for North Carolina State and Wisconsin from 2009 through 2012. If Cato throws one on Saturday, the mark is all his.

''It's a blessing, but it's just a business trip,'' Cato said. ''It's not about the record, it's about one thing, and that's the `W.' If I get the record, that's a big deal. But if I don't, I'm just worried about the win. If I don't get the record, but I get the win, I'm still a proud man. Bottom line, it's a business trip and we're going down there for one thing: to come back 7-0.''

Cato's march to history started as inauspiciously as possible, with a couple of late-game touchdown passes while he got mop-up duty in a pair of blowouts back in October 2011.

Turns out, those unremarkable throws were the seeds to a remarkable run.

And now, a school that produced NFL quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich is now seeing Cato generate the same sort of acclaim.

''They've got a quarterback as good as anybody in the country,'' FIU coach Ron Turner said.

The Thundering Herd are entering the weekend as one of six unbeaten teams left at the FBS level; that number will fall to at least five when No. 2 Florida State and No. 5 Notre Dame put their 6-0 records on the line in Tallahassee, Florida on Saturday night.

But Marshall is a three-touchdown favorite to remain perfect.

''You have to be able to handle the distractions and eliminate the noise,'' Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. ''They have to understand that when we go down there, it is a business trip and we have to make sure we do a great job preparing.''


Here's what to watch when Marshall visits FIU on Saturday:

PERFECT HERD?: It might be time to at least consider the notion that Marshall is a contender to finish 12-0. The Herd has Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss, Rice, UAB and Western Kentucky left to play after FIU, with three of those games at home. Combined, those teams took 13-16 records into this week.

MISLEADING ROUT: Marshall rolled past FIU 48-10 last season, though it's easy to forget that it was a 13-3 game until the final seconds of the first half. Cato threw four touchdown passes against the Panthers last season; FIU has given up a total of eight passing TDs in eight games since.

IMPROVED PANTHERS: If not for some late mistakes against UTSA last week, FIU could be 3-0 in Conference USA right now and in position for a serious run at a bowl. The Panthers went 1-11 last season, but have won two of their last three games and have made big strides defensively as the season has gone along. ''They're playing hard, they're playing fast, they're playing well,'' Turner said.

LEONARD WATCH: Don't look for Cato to test Richard Leonard too often. FIU's top cornerback was someone Holliday recruited big-time coming out of high school, and Leonard has had a strong season for the Panthers. ''He is a guy who is going to play on Sundays someday,'' Holliday said. ''He is a really, really good player.''

CATO'S WEAPON: Marshall WR Davonte Allen doesn't get the ball often, but it's a big play when he does. Allen is averaging 23.9 yards on 14 catches this season, the seventh-best per-grab average in the country so far this season.

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