After being pegged by many as the worst FBS conference after the 2015 season the level of football in Conference USA stepped up in a major way in 2016, leading to a fantastic National Signing Day for the conference in 2017.
Conference USA signed 114 three-star recruits in this signing class. In 2014 C-USA signed 96. We may have our own opinions about recruiting but there’s no denying that is major talent influx.
The top of the conference has always been among the best teams in the Group of 5 but since this configuration of C-USA formed the middle of the conference has been a slog until a slight breakthrough last season.
Based on the talent entering Conference USA this year and the new head coaches entering the league the conference appears destined to continue their upward trajectory.
Here are my observations on a successful National Signing Day for Conference USA.
Marshall doesn’t finish with a top three recruiting class
The talk of the conference on National Signing Day centered on FAU, FIU and UTSA mainly due to their successful classes. One of the main reasons that occurred is the attention garnered by their head coaches. Their media market probably played a big part of that too.
It was a bit strange to see schools who have mainly been irrelevant on the field be the talk of the conference. You know what else was strange? Marshall not being apart of the discussion on signing day.
Since hiring Doc Holliday Marshall has been a recruiting juggernaut in C-USA. In each of the past four years the Herd has finished with the best recruiting class in the conference.
This year they finished seventh, their worst ranking since Doc Holliday was hired as head coach. With the team struggling mightily last year the aura of the Marshall brand appears to be coming off.
The emergence of FIU and FAU on the recruiting trail in South Florida more than likely contributed to Marshall’s disappointing finish. Marshall signed six players from Florida, but for the first time in Holliday’s tenure none of them registered as a three star recruit.
Both FAU and FIU finished with a better recruiting class than Marshall for the first time ever since joining C-USA.
Jay Hopson is a pretty good recruiter
After a disappointing 7-6 season I thought Hopson may have been on the hot seat entering the 2017 year seeing as how he was given the job at the 11th hour of National Signing Day in 2016.
Despite the Sunshine State being tougher to recruit thanks to the emergence FAU and FIU, Southern Miss signed nine players from Florida. Hopson cleaned up Mississippi too as the Golden Eagles signed 12 players including beating out Ole Miss for Emanuel Dabney, their best prospect in this class.
With a full recruiting year under his belt Hopson really impressed with this class. Southern Miss didn’t finish better than UTSA but it appears the Golden Eagles won’t be taking any dramatic steps back on the trail either.
Western Kentucky storms the Peach State
The Tops had recruited Florida extremely well under Willie Taggart, and Bobby Petrino and Jeff Brohm continued that tradition, albeit to a lighter extent.
Under Mike Samford it appears WKU will be straying away from the Sunshine State and instead focus their efforts on the Peach State.
WKU signed 12 players from Georgia in this class versus five from Florida. Last year WKU signed zero players from Georgia.
The move could be a strategic one from Sanford and could be a trend we see from other schools with Florida on the verge of being even tougher to get kids to leave thanks to Butch Davis, Lane Kiffin, Charlie Strong and Scott Frost.
The back-to-back C-USA Championships and winning culture seem to be paying off for the Tops as they signed the fourth best class in C-USA, their highest ranked class since joining the conference.
C-USA East out-recruited C-USA West
The stronger division has been C-USA East for a while now. The last time a C-USA West division champ brought home the championship was Rice in 2013.
Although both divisions were represented equally in the top four, the bottom four classes all belong to West teams (North Texas, UAB, Rice, UTEP).
The East signed 66 three-star recruits versus 48 for the West. That is a huge gap for incoming talent. If we we are to believe that recruiting rankings are the greatest prediction of future success - and they really are - the better teams