Sunday we graded how each AAC program has done since the formation of that conference in 2013. Since most of the current schools in Conference USA were added to replace teams that left for the new conference, let’s take a look at how each program has done since the current version became a reality. For teams that joined after 2013, records shown only reflect what they did as a member of C-USA. (The list is in alphabetical order.)
Charlotte 49ers: D (6-18, 0 Bowl Appearances)
The newest FBS football program had a rough start. Charlotte went 2-11 in their first C-USA season in 2015, with a 0-8 conference record. They improved by a lot in 2016, winning three conference games, but didn’t record a winning season. Considering they’ve only been playing football since 2013, all you can realistically hope for is improvement, and that’s what 2016 showed. They’ll be looking to continue improving in 2017 in hopes of reaching their first ever bowl game.
FIU Panthers: D (14-34, 0 Bowl Appearances)
After a miserable 2013, FIU has been able to piece together slight improvement each year. They flirted with bowl eligibility in 2015, but a loss to arch-rival Florida Atlantic and two blowout losses to Marshall and WKU to end the season kept the Panthers home in December. With new head coach Butch Davis now in Miami, there is new excitement surrounding the FIU program.
FAU Owls: D (15-33, 0 Bowl Appearances)
Like FIU, FAU has struggled so far during their time in C-USA. They actually achieved bowl eligibility with a 6-6 2013 campaign, but were not invited to a bowl game. The Owls have recorded three-straight 3-9 seasons since. Just like FIU, FAU has a new head coach coming in with former Alabama OC Lane Kiffin, and fans in Boca Raton are hopeful he’ll be able to pull off a huge turnaround.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs: A- (31-22, 3 Bowl Appearances)
You could make the case that the Bulldogs have been the biggest benefactor since this version of C-USA has formed. After being a remote outpost in the WAC, La Tech is now in a conference with geographical rivals and has been a consistent winner under Skip Holtz in C-USA.
After a 4-8 season to start their time in C-USA, the Dawgs have become the team to beat in the West division. Other teams have had great seasons, but only Louisiana Tech has been able to enjoy sustained success at a high level. The Bulldogs have recorded three-straight nine-win seasons and three-straight bowl victories. The only smudge on their record is that despite two division titles, they have yet to win a C-USA Championship. The goals for 2017 are simple: Win C-USA, reach 10 wins, and beat arch-rival Southern Miss after two-straight losses.
Marshall Thundering Herd: A (36-17, 3 Bowl Appearances, 1 Conference Championship)
For the first three seasons post-realignment, Marshall was a dominant force in the East and the flagship school in C-USA. The Herd won the East in 2013 and 2014, winning the title in 2014. Although losing the East to WKU in 2015, they still had an impressive 10-win season which was their third-straight double digit win campaign. However, 2016 was a bizarre and unexpected collapse that saw the Herd finish 3-9. Marshall will hope to get back to their winning ways in 2017, but you’ve got to wonder what’s going on behind the scenes in Huntington.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders: B (29-22, 3 Bowl Appearances)
Since joining C-USA, the Blue Raiders have been always the bridesmaid, never the bride. They have finished in the top three of the East division every year, but have yet to appear in the C-USA title game. Although they’ve made three bowl games, they’ve yet to win one as a C-USA member. They’ve cemented themselves as a good team in C-USA, but have fallen short of being a great one. Rick Stockstill only has one conference title to show for his 11 years in Murfreesboro so perhaps this is their celling. With Brent Stockstill and Richie James returning, MTSU figures to be the favorite in C-USA East once again and should give the elder Stockstill his best chance at getting his second conference title since 2006.
North Texas Mean Green: C- (19-31, 2 Bowl Appearances)
In their first C-USA season, a loss to UTSA cost them a division title but they still ended up finishing with a bowl victory and a nine-win season. Since then, however, wins have been lacking in Denton. The Mean Green went the wrong way, dropping to four wins in 2014. After a winless start to 2015, Dan McCarney was fired.
They would manage to find a win over budding rival UTSA under interim head coach Mike Canales, but that would be all. Seth Littrell got them to a bowl (thanks to APR) in 2016, but they fell short in the rematch with Army in overtime. Still, 5-8 is an improvement over 1-11. North Texas will look to get back over .500 in 2017.
Old Dominion Monarchs: B- (21-16, 1 Bowl Appearance)
Old Dominion had a much better start to their FBS life than Charlotte did, going 6-6 in 2014 with a .500 conference record which included wins over the top two West division teams (Rice and La Tech). A 5-7 campaign followed, with a tough loss to FAU at the end of the season, costing them a potential bowl berth.
However, the Monarchs exploded in 2016 as they won 10 games, finished second in the East, and captured their first ever bowl game and bowl win. Keeping Bobby Wilder was a huge coup for ODU during the offseason as the Monarchs will set out to prove 2016 was no fluke.
Rice Owls: B- (26-25, 2 Bowl Appearances, 1 Conference Championship)
Rice gets a B- mainly because they won the conference title in 2013. They had a strong 2014 campaign as well, but have been going downhill ever since. Early in 2016 the Owls were making a case to be the worst team in the FBS. They managed to win their last two conference games and escaped that dubious honor, but still finished with a disappointing 3-9 record. After surviving last year, David Bailiff will enter 2017 on the hot seat.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles: C+ (20-31, 2 Bowl Appearances)
Southern Miss had a fantastic 2015 that saw them win a division title, but that’s about it. The 2013 and 2014 seasons were rough for Todd Monken. After a breakout 2015 season he left for the NFL, and Jay Hopson’s first year was a bit disappointing. The Golden Eagles managed to sneak into a bowl game with a week 13 upset of rival La Tech, but 7-6 was a step in the wrong direction. If Southern Miss doesn’t get it turned around in 2017, 2015 will start to look like a fluke.
UAB Blazers: D+ (8-16, 0 Bowl Appearances)
UAB has become better known for shutting down their football team than they were for anything the team actually accomplished. A 2-10 2013 season was followed up by a 6-6 2014 that got UAB bowl eligible, but the Blazers were shut down right after the regular season. After what’s felt like an eternity, the Blazers will return to the gridiron in 2017 and try to pickup from where they left off in 2014.
UTEP Miners: C- (18-31, 1 Bowl Appearance)
In the last four years, UTEP has been mediocre at best while playing perhaps the least exciting football in the conference. The Miners finished last in C-USA West twice, with their highest finish being third in 2014. That 2014 season and its bowl appearance gets them out of “D” territory, but Sean Kugler’s days could be numbered if something doesn’t happen in 2017.
UTSA Roadrunners: C+(20-29, 1 Bowl Appearance)
UTSA had a strong first season in C-USA, finishing second in the West. The next two were less than stellar which led to UTSA parting with Larry Coker. Frank Wilson came to San Antonio in 2016 and took the Roadrunners bowling for the first time ever. He has since pulled in a stellar recruiting class and will be aiming to challenge for division titles in the coming years. UTSA gets a C+ for the past four seasons, but could make huge strides going forward.
WKU Hilltoppers: A+ (31-10, 3 Bowl Appearances, 2 Conference Championships)
What do I even need to say? Even in their adjustment year in 2014 they managed to knock off the top team in the league by ruining Marshall’s undefeated season in week 13. Since then, they’ve been the team to beat.
After a 4-4 finish in C-USA play in 2014, they’ve gone 17-1 against conference foes with the one loss coming in Ruston this year when La Tech got a three point win. Two conference titles and three straight bowl wins makes WKU the best program of this version of C-USA so far. With Jeff Brohm leaving for Purdue and Mike Sanford cleaning house, we’ll see if they can continue their run going forward.