For only the second time in Conference USA history, we will see a Florida based school square off against a Texas based school in the conference championship game. The only other time it happened was in 2010, when No. 21 UCF defeated SMU 17-7.
The Conference USA Championship Game has only been around since 2005, but the fact that we’ve only seen this type of matchup once before is pretty shocking. After all, Texas and Florida are universally touted as hotbeds for football talent.
While this iteration of Conference USA is not yet on the level where we’ll see two ranked teams play for the title like in 2011 when No. 24 Southern Miss defeated No. 6 Houston, it certainly has the potential to get there and it starts with the Texas and Florida schools in C-USA rising to the occasion.
When coming over from the Sun Belt in 2014 during conference realignment, FAU and North Texas were chosen to enter C-USA based off what they can potentially become. This year they have realized that potential.
For the first time in school history, FAU is receiving votes in the Coaches Poll and the AP Poll. They will enter the championship game 9-3 with an undefeated mark in conference play. The Owls are just the 7th team in Conference USA football history to go undefeated in conference play.
After going 1-11 two years ago, Seth Littrell has revived the North Texas program in this #NewDenton era of UNT football. UNT will go bowling in back-to-back years for the first time since 2004, a time when the Mean Green dominated the Sun Belt to the tune of four straight conference titles while going to four straight bowl games. With a 9-3 record, a win on Saturday would give UNT their first 10-win season since 1947.
The emergence of the Florida and Texas schools (FIU and UTSA are both bowl eligible this season) is what C-USA needs because these programs at their best will not only create more exposure and grant more respect to the conference, but will also force other teams in the conference to re-evaluate their programs and get better. If not, they’ll be left in the dust, as evidenced by FAU’s run during conference play under Lane Kiffin this season.
While Conference USA has had a very rough past couple of years, the appearance of new blood in the championship bout stands as evidence of the development between the recent additions to the league. As the Texas and Florida Twins continue to build their programs, they begin to provide the league with a higher ceiling than its had since the likes of Houston and UCF departed to the American.
With the nation tuning in on Saturday to watch Lane Kiffin coach up his Owls squad, the national attention could spark even more exposure for the conference in following seasons and hopefully shows casual observers that Conference USA football is on its way back to respectability.