New Look Conference USA Offers Number of Unknowns

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Today we look at the new changes in Conference USA football and what the future could/will bring.

Since 2005, Miner and fellow C-USA fans have been treated to high flying offense, basketball like scoring, and record breaking quarterbacks. Jordan Palmer, Kevin Kolb, Paul Smith, GJ Kinne, and Case Keenum to name a few, wowed crowds and gave D-coordinators from El Paso to Dallas to Orlando fits with superb offense and video game like numbers.

To me the “old” C-USA was an any given Saturday league; great parity, 300+ yard passers, and long standing regional rivalries were the highlights of each Saturday C-USA slate. To prove the parity only one team (Houston 2011) has gone un-beaten in conference play since 2005 and even a ranked team whose QB (Case Keenum) threw for a record amount of yards and TD’s and had BCS aspirations walked out of the Sun Bowl in 2009 with their heads down.

In my opinion, gimmick offensive schemes like the run and shoot and zone-read are made solely to compensate for the lack of something missing, mainly defense, to make a team dominant. C-USA coaches and schools have turned those offenses into money and win makers and have given C-USA the identity of all offense no defense. ECU fans may have a strong argument to my last point though.

I'm an old school, ground and pound, defense first football fan, but the offensive prowess of C-USA teams had me very interested and glued to box scores. C-USA boasted some of the best offensive minds of the game and has produced some of the top up and coming big time coaches and coordinators.

But, as in all things in life, all good things must come to an end. And, with the 2013 departures of offensive juggernauts Houston, SMU, and UCF and longtime C-USA member Memphis, and after this season Tulane, Tulsa and ECU, the landscape and identity of C-USA will and has undergone a huge makeover.

New Teams New Look New Rivalries

2013 offers 14 teams, new markets to tap into, and new in state rivalries to build for future recruiting and bragging rights. South Florida will now have a strong presence in C-USA as Florida Atlantic University (located in Boca Raton) and Florida International University (Miami, FL) have gotten the call up from the Sun Belt, and will now call C-USA home.

Traditionally, and obviously, Florida is a top producer of D-1 talent each year and those two schools will have to battle themselves, as well as the other power programs to attract recruits from that area that is a hot bed for future 1st round NFL picks. Middle Tennessee State also joins the C-USA via the Sun Belt and will be the lone representative from the Volunteer state.

The most noticeable and direct affect to the Miners is in the great state of Texas and western division. UTSA, North Texas and Louisiana Tech will join the Miners in the west division. The biggest challenge moving forward is the recruiting battles that will take place between the three Texas schools and with the recent success and proximity to Texas, La Tech will be a factor in that as well.

The Miners have done quite well recruiting the DFW and Houston area, but adding these three up and coming programs to the mix will likely prove to be a huge challenge to coach Kugler and his staff.

Its going to be very interesting to watch the growth of the programs in the west. There is no clear leader as far as recruiting and on field domination between these schools, meaning a team will grow up right in front of our eyes and be the new model of success for mid-majors, who next year could have a say in the new college football playoff.

Who and when will be answered very soon, and I believe the Miners are front runners with the changes that have been made and talent that is here for the next couple of seasons. But, UTSA and La Tech are not that far behind.

If the recent success of infant program UTSA continues the San Antonio area could be fertile land for C-USA recruits, and I see the Miners and Roadrunners developing a very interesting and intense rivalry there.

Overall the future looks really bright for C-USA, but the change has just begun. Expansion will bring three more teams to C-USA by the start of the 2015 season. A new identity will be formed beginning this season but the real change and shake up wont be felt until next year.

Even as you look at the divisions now, by this time next year things will be different. Now it hasn’t been reported but the divisions will have to be shaken up once Western Kentucky University joins next year. Old Dominion will play 8 conference games next year and is eligible for the C-USA championship, but can't bust out there bowling shoes until 2015.

In that year, Charlotte joins as a football member, which would certainly change the division landscape and make the C-USA Miner fans are used to look un-recognizable.

2013 Outlook

While the future is un-clear of who will dominate this conference or be a year in and out competitor; 2013 has a couple of clear answers. Tulsa, ECU and Marshall are the clear favorites and it is basically them and then everyone else.

Again, C-USA will boast great parity but the offensive star power outside of Rakeem Kato and Tulsa’s two headed monster in the back field just isn’t there as in years past. But, there will be some very competitive teams this season.

I expect Rice to be a dark horse contender and surprise some folks with the experience returning. Everyone else is an enigma, and will be exposed and known about very soon.

The new comer school with the biggest expectations in my mind is La Tech. With 17 wins the past two seasons and almost upset of Texas A&M and Johnny Autograph last year, the Dogs are the lone newcomer who I feel will make some noise in C-USA immediately.

Sorry UTSA fans. I really love your QB Eric Soza, but I feel ya'll are a couple of years away; but UTSA will be a contender in this conference going forward, and should be a huge rival for the Miners.

This is a season for any one of these new teams, or the teams that have aspirations of running this conference in the coming years to make a mark and build for the future. That will all start to un-fold this weekend.

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