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Conference USA East NCAA Football Recruiting Prestige Rankings

How would each conference member stack up in prestige rankings if the current iteration of the conference were to be featured in NCAA Football’s Dynasty Mode?

Marshall v Florida International Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

We should all be playing NCAA Football 2018 right now. Virtual Ed Oliver should be racking up tackles for loss against Power Five opponents in your dynasty while Brent Stockstill passes for 4,000 yards as you run four verticals on every play. Alas, the outlook for any future college football video games is muddy at best.

While actually playing the game was the biggest attraction, reviewing the grades given to players and programs was a lot of fun for nerds like myself. Aside from overall player grades, one of the more interesting rankings in the games were the “recruiting prestige” marks given to each FBS program. These grades were used in the recruiting aspect of Dynasty Mode. Auto-generated recruits were matched up with universities depending on their priorities for their next four to five years of life.

As you began to recruit a potential student-athlete you would learn what their interests are, whether it is academics, playing on TV often, or playing for a program that could help them reach the NFL. If your university aligned with the recruit’s interest then you would be granted a recruiting bonus, making it more likely for that 6’5”, 250 pound defensive end to sign with your program.

As it’s been four years since we received updated prestige rankings I decided to take on the massive task of assigning prestige rankings for every school in Conference USA. This was an arduous effort that took place over months of internet research, interviews, and recollection of previous travels.

It’s often very hard to make judgments on subjective topics such as “campus lifestyle” from afar so please hop in the comment section to argue for your alma mater if you feel that my grade was unfair in any particular category.

This post will contains all team prestige rankings for the East division. Stay tuned for the West division which will be published tomorrow.

All academic rankings per US News. High ranking national universities were given an “A” grade. Low ranking national universities were given a “B” grade. Unranked national universities were given a “C” grade while regional universities were given a “D” grade. I know ranking academics is practically impossible and I’m sure all of these universities have tremendous programs but I felt this ranking system was the most fair.

Charlotte 49ers

  • Academic Prestige: B - #202 National University
  • Campus Lifestyle: A - Charlotte has a beautiful campus set in a growing metropolitan area. All sporting events are held on campus with ample residential halls on campus.
  • Coach Experience: C - Brad Lambert has a 16-30 record as a head coach. He previously enjoyed assistant coaching stints at Georgia and Wake Forest.
  • Championship Contender: D - Charlotte is quickly improving but they’re a long ways away from competing for a division championship, much less a conference championship.
  • Fan Base: D - Charlotte ranks near the bottom of the FBS in attendance. The fan base appears to still be growing its appetite for football. This will improve as the program starts to win on a consistent basis.
  • Facilities: C - Once Jerry Richardson Stadium is upgraded to full capacity then this ranking will surely increase but for now Charlotte’s facilities merely earn a passing grade.
  • Pro Factory: D - Charlotte has four alumni playing at the next level, including their lone draft pick Larry Ogunjobi.
  • Program Stability: B - While the program is a young start up, the administration does seem supportive. Charlotte has only had one head coach in program history and he doesn’t not appear to be on the hot seat.
  • Program Tradition: F - Charlotte is simply too young to have any substantial program tradition although I do like the fact that they have an honorary #49 jersey that is worn by an outstanding student athlete for each game.
  • Television Exposure: F - The 49ers only had one game broadcast on a major network last season and that appears to be set to repeat in 2017.
  • Overall Team Prestige: C

FIU Panthers

  • Academic Prestige: C - Unranked National University
  • Campus Lifestyle: C - FIU’s campus is a majority commuter campus with just 8% of students living on campus. The main campus has a unique vibe to it, with palm trees dotting the campus. If the main campus were closer than 17 miles away from downtown Miami or the beach then the campus would be ranked higher.
  • Coach Experience: A - Butch Davis boasts a 63-43 record at the collegiate level and a 24-35 record in the NFL. Davis is 5-2 in bowl games and has orchestrated huge turn arounds at Miami and North Carolina.
  • Championship Contender: C - FIU has a lot of potential but it’s hard to label them as a championship contender before seeing how the team looks under Butch Davis.
  • Fan Base: F - FIU’s fan support is deeply disappointing as the program routinely fails to host crowds of over 20,000. Images of the stands during game days are down right depressing. The Panthers deserve better, hopefully Butch Davis can energize the fan base with some quality wins.
Louisiana Tech v Florida International
Thomas Owens celebrates a touchdown in FIU Stadium.
Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images
  • Facilities: D - Riccardo Silva Stadium feels incomplete as the press box is tiny and amenities are lacking. However, FIU boasts one of the coolest athletics weight rooms in the conference.
  • Pro Factory: C - FIU doesn’t have many guys in the league but T.Y. Hilton and Jonnu Smith are prominent names that bring the university some exposure.
  • Program Stability: C - The lack of community support for FIU is troubling but Butch Davis should help stabilize things moving forward.
  • Program Tradition: D - FIU started to develop a winning tradition under Mario Cristobal but Butch Davis will have to essentially start from scratch this season after previous momentum has tarnished by Ron Turner.
  • Television Exposure: C - The Panthers didn’t land any marquee TV listings last season but their games were easy to find with most games landing on some type of TV broadcast.
  • Overall Team Prestige: C

FAU Owls

  • Academic Prestige: C - Unranked National University
  • Campus Lifestyle: A - It’s really tough to beat FAU here. While Boca Raton can feel a bit sleepy due to the large number of retirees in town, it’s a beautiful place and the campus is just three miles away from the beach.
  • Coach Experience: B - Lane Kiffin... where to start? The 41 year old has coached all over the country, from USC to Alabama to the Oakland Raiders. Kiffin hasn’t been super successful as a head coach but he does boast a 35-21 record at the collegiate level.
  • Championship Contender: C - FAU has plenty of talent and the transfer of quarterback De’Andre Johnson could help put their offense on the next level. It will take some big upsets but it’s feasible to imagine FAU winning the East this year.
  • Fan Base: C - The Owls have strong support from its student body but need more help from the larger Boca Raton community to hit impressive attendance numbers.
  • Facilities: B - I love FAU’s beautiful on-campus stadium with Atlantic Ocean views. The Owls have recently started construction on a state-of-the-art practice facility that will include an indoor field.
  • Pro Factory: B - FAU is missing a top draft pick but the Owls have quietly pumped out NFL talent including Alfred Morris and Cre’Von LeBlanc.
  • Program Stability: C - The Owls are consistently trending upwards and show no major structural cause of concern. Lane Kiffin probably won’t stick around very long but I think everyone is aware of that.
  • Program Tradition: D - With just a 76-115 overall record and two bowl appearances since 2001 the Owls still have a lot of work to do in this area.
  • Television Exposure: C - FAU had one game on Fox Sports, two games on BeIn, and two games on ESPN3 last year. The Owls will have at least three games on major networks this fall so things are trending up.
  • Overall Team Prestige: B

Marshall Thundering Herd

  • Academic Prestige: D - #47 Regional Universities (South)
  • Campus Lifestyle: B - Located in Huntington, West Virginia, Marshall’s campus offers a serene setting in the state’s second largest city. On campus living is ample and the natural scenery is breath taking however the campus is lacking a distinctive feature that would put Marshall over the top.
  • Coach Experience: B - Head Coach Doc Holliday boasts a 53-37 all-time record however he has never been a head coach or coordinator at any other programs.
  • Championship Contender: B - While Marshall was terrible in 2016 their winning tradition keeps them at a B ranking. We’ll assume 2016 was a fluke year until proven otherwise.
  • Fan Base: A - Marshall fans are passionate and have deep, personal ties to the university. They do a great job of filling their stadium despite some occasional disappointing turnouts against lesser programs.
  • Facilities: A - While Joan Edward Stadium isn’t decked out with fancy modern amenities, it’s perfectly sized for the program and provides an authentic college football experience in front of passionate fans. Marshall also gains bonus points for having an impressive indoor practice facility and program Hall of Fame.
  • Pro Factory: B - Marshall doesn’t have the quantity of NFL products that other programs do but they certainly win in the quality section— Chad Pennington, Randy Moss, Ahmad Bradshaw, Byron Leftwich...
NCAA Football: Louisville at Marshall
Marshall hosts Louisville in front of a packed Joan Edwards Stadium.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
  • Program Stability: B - The sudden and turbulent downturn of the 2016 season and recent attempts from the state government to influence program decision makers are troubling but Marshall has a very strong program overall with no real risk of a crisis.
  • Program Tradition: A - Simply put, you won’t find a G5 program with better tradition than Marshall.
  • Television Exposure: B - Marshall usually draws in at least one marquee television game each season as well as several CBS Sports national broadcasts.
  • Overall Team Prestige: A

ODU Monarchs

  • Academic Prestige: B - #210 National University
  • Campus Lifestyle: B - Students at ODU get to live in one of the best regions of the country in Norfolk/Hampton Roads. Virginia Beach is just 20 miles from campus and Norfolk itself is surrounded by water. ODU’s campus is compact and student friendly with large green spaces, dining services, and a large recreation center near student housing.
  • Coach Experience: C - Bobby Wilder holds an impressive 67-30 record at ODU however he has never held a head coach or coordinator position at another university. The majority of his coaching experience has come at the FCS level.
  • Championship Contender: C - Old Dominion was a surprise contender last season but they’re still likely a few years away from consistently being in the conversation for division and conference championships.
  • Fan Base: B - This is a really tough one to rank. While ODU has sold out practically every game in their FBS existence, the number is a bit misleading due to the tiny capacity of Foreman Field. Their crowds never struck me as particularly rabid and ODU has a very limited online following but the sell out streak commands a “B” grade.
  • Facilities: C - Foreman field currently holds just 20,000 fans however ODU is moving forward with plans to tear down the current stadium in favor of another small stadium, albeit with a glamorous face lift. Once the rebuild is complete it may stand as the conference’s top stadium but ODU needs to break ground before their grade increases.
  • Pro Factory: D - Old Dominion has five alumni in the NFL but the group hasn’t found much success at the next level yet.
  • Program Stability: B - While ODU football’s current iteration hasn’t been around a long time, the program is in great shape with a solid coach that recently turned down other opportunities to sign an extension.
  • Program Tradition: C - ODU is still in the process of building their program tradition but their sell out streak is a very good start. The Monarchs need to find a fiery rivalry within Conference USA to take the next step.
  • Television Exposure: D - For some reason ODU has had tough luck with gaining television exposure despite scheduling several Power Five programs. Even the Monarchs’ home game against NC State this season wasn’t picked up by a major national network.
  • Overall Team Prestige: C

MTSU Blue Raiders

  • Academic Prestige: C - Unranked National University
  • Campus Lifestyle: C - 85% of MTSU students live off campus. There isn’t a whole lot to do in Murfreesboro but Nashville is less than an hour away.
  • Coach Experience: B - Rick Stockstill holds a 72-66 record as a head coach with stops at East Carolina, Clemson, and South Carolina.
  • Championship Contender: B - MTSU is always right on the cusp of breaking through to a division championship but the Blue Raiders have won only one conference championship through a decade under Stockstill’s influence.
  • Fan Base: D - Given the program’s relative success over the past few years MTSU’s attendance figures are quite disappointing. A crowd of just 10,227 showed up to watch the Blue Raiders take on FAU last season and just 22,411 showed up for last year’s iteration of the 100 Miles of Hate game.
  • Facilities: C - No indoor facility hurts the Blue Raiders here. Floyd Stadium would be passable if MTSU was pulling in large crowds but the sparse attendance shines too bright of a spotlight on the stadium’s outdated fixtures.
  • Pro Factory: C - The Blue Raiders only have six players in the NFL but former safety Kevin Byard was drafted in the third round of the 2016 draft.
  • Program Stability: A - As one of the few programs that has had the same coach for ten years or more, very few G5 programs are as stable as MTSU.
  • Program Tradition: B - MTSU might have more rivals than any other program in C-USA. They also maintain tight tension with their in-state Power Five programs.
  • Television Exposure: A - The Blue Raiders are regularly featured on the ESPN network and have also recently enjoyed nationally-televised contests on Fox Sports, CBS Sports, and BeIN. They make the most of C-USA’s limited television contracts.
  • Overall Team Prestige: B

WKU Hilltoppers

  • Academic Prestige: D - #31 in Regional Universities (South)
  • Campus Lifestyle: B - WKU’s campus is drop dead gorgeous, no doubt about that. While the campus being rapidly modernized, it’s still a work in progress. The campus can be a bit of a commuter campus but that’s not out of the norm in C-USA.
  • Coach Experience: D - Mike Sanford Jr. is in his first year as a head coach after serving just three years as an offensive coordinator (Boise State and Notre Dame).
  • Championship Contender: A - C-USA East still runs through Bowling Green until proven otherwise.
  • Fan Base: C - WKU is a bit notorious for delivering underwhelming crowds for huge games on the national stage. Unfortunately WKU remains a basketball-first fan base despite rampant football success in recent years.
  • Facilities: B - While Houchen Industries - L.T. Smith Stadium holds a pretty low capacity, WKU’s facilities stand near the top of C-USA across the board.
  • Pro Factory: B - The Hilltoppers have a fair number of players in the league and recently saw former offensive lineman Forrest Lamp taken in the second round of the NFL Draft.
  • Program Stability: B - WKU has had repeated coaching turnover over the past decade but they’ve done a great job of finding excellent coaches after every departure.
  • Program Tradition: B - Strong rivalries, a winning tradition, and the best mascot in sports.
  • Television Exposure: A - As far as C-USA programs go it’s really tough to beat WKU’s television exposure. I counted eight nationally-televised contests last year.
  • Overall Team Prestige: B