The mothership recently took a look at - and made a pretty graph out of - conference-by-conference Sagarin ratings going back to 1998, and Conference USA has steadily gone downhill. The teams have changed, but the mission is the same - to be the best G5 league out there. A cause for hope would be that CUSA actually outperformed the AAC and the MWC in Sagarin ratings in 2014.
In 1999, the teams looked a little different than they do today. Southern Miss finished ranked 14th by Sagarin, ECU was 31, Louisville 43, Memphis 48, Houston 52, UAB 62, Cincinnati 77, Tulane 98, Army 103. That was the league's strongest year and it was led by the one team that is still around. Most of the other teams are in the AAC now, with UAB in limbo, Army is Independent, and Louisville is in the ACC.
By 2005, TCU had come and gone and Louisville and Cincinnati went to the Big East for a while. Some of the old WAC teams even joined the party. Tulsa (44) had the highest Sagarin rating, followed by USM 64, Memphis 70, UCF 80, Houston 84, UTEP 85, SMU 88, ECU 92, UAB 93, Marshall 106, Tulane 130, and Rice 135.
2011 was a good year for the league. Houston finished ranked 15th by Sagarin, USM 24, Tulsa 35, SMU 51, UCF 77, Marshall 79, Rice 89, UTEP 92, ECU 93, UAB 152, Tulane 174, and Memphis 182.
2013 saw mass exodus to the AAC and the new teams all struggled in their new surroundings. ECU, Tulsa, and Tulane stayed around for one final year and ECU led the way with a 56 Sagarin rating. Marshall was 61, UBT 63, Rice 69, UTSA 80, FAU 87, Tulane 91, MTSU 103, Tulsa 132, LA Tech 166, UAB 167, UTEP 185, USM 199, and FIU 122.
2014 saw Conference USA bounce back, led by two teams that have had success back in the early days of CUSA; they were just with a different conference. Marshall (23) and Louisiana Tech (34) were the top two CUSA teams in the Sagarin ratings in 2014.
In 1999, Sagarin had Marshall ranked 13th in the country with a record of 13-0. Louisiana Tech was the highest rankled Independent in the country at 35. The Bulldogs were 8-3 in 1999. Along with the likes of Marshall, LA Tech, and Southern Miss, there are new programs in CUSA on the rise.
As new teams like FAU, UTSA, and Old Dominion continue to build their programs, there is no reason that Conference USA can't start climbing back in the rankings. Southern Miss will also make a comeback and hopefully UAB will come back better than ever.
Conference Realignment will never go away, but this current batch of underdogs has what it takes to rise back to the top of all of the non G5 leagues. The challenge will be tough as Memphis, SMU, and Houston among others in the AAC are investing more resources into their programs. Conference USA looks like it can continue to improve, of course there is always the next round of realignment to wait for around every turn.