DALLAS - Marshall University is favored to win the Conference USA East Division championship in 2019.
The Thundering Herd was the pick of the league's media members to claim the East title in a poll released Tuesday afternoon. North Texas is the favorite in the West Division.
Marshall welcomes back nine starters on offense and six on defense from a squad that finished 6-2 in the conference and 9-4 overall last season when the Thundering Herd defeated South Florida 38-20 in the Gasparilla Bowl.
Quarterback Isaiah Green was named co-Freshman of the Year after averaging 245 yards passing per game with 15 touchdown passes in 10 outings. In addition to four returning starters on the offensive line, led by senior All C-USA center Levi Brown, the Herd brings back a pair of productive rushers in junior Tyler King (the team's leading rusher the last two seasons) and sophomore Brenden Knox (578 yards and 4 touchdowns in the final five games last year).
The Marshall defense did not allow a 100-yard rusher all of last season and senior defensive end Channing Hames and linebacker Omari Cobb will lead the way up front, while cornerback Chris Jackson spearheads the secondary.
North Texas returns nine starters from the league's top-ranked scoring offense (34.6 points per game).
Included in that group is senior quarterback Mason Fine, the back-to-back C-USA Offensive Player of the Year and the FBS active leader in passing yards with 9,417. He threw 27 touchdown passes in 2018, tossing 12 to senior wide receiver Rico Bussey Jr. (68 catches for 1,017 yards).
Junior running back DeAndre Torrey ran for 977 yards and 15 scores behind a line that welcomes back a trio of starters.
On the other side of the ball, senior defensive end LaDarius Hamilton (7.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss) and senior safety Khairi Muhammad (67 tackles, four interceptions) headline the six starters that are back on defense.
Marshall received 14 of 26 first-place votes.
FIU was picked second in the East, with nine first-place votes. The Panthers are armed with 16 combined returning starters on offense and defense, including senior and 2018 C-USA newcomer of the year quarterback James Morgan (C-USA-best 157.6 passer efficiency rating and a school-record 26 TD passes) and senior linebacker Sage Lewis (school records with 132 total tackles and 83 solo stops).
Florida Atlantic and senior linebackers Rashad Smith (team-high 86 tackles, four interceptions and one fumble recovery) picked up three first-place nods and was picked third.
Rounding out the media picks in the East were Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Old Dominion and Charlotte.
Behind North Texas in the West was Southern Miss, which received four first-place votes. The Eagles allowed the fewest first downs in the FBS and was third in the nation last year in total defense and returns six starters on that side of the ball, led by senior safety Ky'el Hemby (51 tackles, six interceptions). Nine starters return on offense. Louisiana Tech and playmaking junior safety Amik Robertson (61 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, 12 pass breakups) was picked third.
Closing out the media picks in the West were UAB, UTSA, Rice and UTEP, respectively.
The 15th annual Conference USA football championship game, pitting the champions of the East and West divisions, will take place Dec. 7. The 2019 C-USA football season kicks off Thursday, Aug. 29.
Conference USA football preseason media poll:
(First-place votes in parentheses)
1. Marshall (14)
2. FIU (9)
3. FAU (3)
4. Middle Tennessee
5. Western Kentucky
6. Old Dominion
1. North Texas (20)
2. Southern Miss (4)
3. Louisiana Tech
4. UAB (2)