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 West division. Click the link below for C-USA East prestige rankings.
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.
USM Golden Eagles
- Academic Prestige: B - #220 in National Universities
- Campus Lifestyle: B - USM’s red-bricked campus looks the part of an SEC campus. Students are proud of their university and support their athletic programs. USM just misses an A ranking here due to its location in Hattiesburg where many amenities are lacking.
- Coach Experience: C - Jay Hopson has mostly made his impact at the FCS level where he amassed a 32-17 record as head coach at Alcorn State, his lone head coaching job before arriving in Hattiesburg. Hopson has three seasons of coaching at the P5 level but never earned a coordinator spot at the P5 level.
- Championship Contender: B - The Golden Eagles are practically always in the hunt for a conference championship in C-USA and have the resources to maintain their competitiveness.
- Fan Base: A - Southern Miss fans are arguably the most rabid fan base in the conference. They’re known to throw huge tailgate parties and pack The Rock for big games.
- Facilities: A - M.M. Roberts Stadium is truly daunting as the stands are dangerously close to the field of play. The stadium has seen some terrific upgrades over the past few years, including some awesome box suites and an impressive end zone facility containing locker rooms, meeting areas, training space, etc.
- Pro Factory: A - Southern Miss leads more players to the next level than any of their C-USA competition. Having an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback to claim in Brett Favre certainly doesn’t hurt their case.
- Program Stability: A - Despite the horrifying results of the Ellis Johnson era, the Golden Eagles are in great shape for both the current and future. It’s hard to imagine head coach Jay Hopson leaving the program any time soon.
- Program Tradition: A - Southern Miss is the lone original member of C-USA and are thr most accomplished and storied program in Conference USA.
- Television Exposure: B - The Golden Eagles had six games nationally televised last season, including four on the ESPN family of networks. USM did however have two home games that were unavailable on television last season.
- Overall Team Prestige: A
- Academic Prestige: A - #159 in National Universities
- Campus Lifestyle: C - Another commuter-heavy campus, UAB offers a ton of green space on campus however it does carry the stigma of being located near areas that are high in crime.
- Coach Experience: D - While Bill Clark has been awesome at UAB he’s objectively lacking in experience. After grinding his way up through the high school ranks, Clark spent four seasons as South Alabama’s defensive coordinator and one season as Jacksonville State’s head coach before taking the head coaching job at UAB.
- Championship Contender: D - Regardless of the talent UAB has on their roster right now they face a tough road back to championship competition after the program’s temporary shutdown.
- Fan Base: C - Anyone who follows Conference USA knows that UAB has some of the most passionate fans in the conference however, there just aren’t enough of them. While the decision to shut down the Blazers’ program was foolish and short sighted, detractors could point to the miserable attendance in Legion Field as exhibit A to support the shut down. Let’s hope the UAB community has changed their tune. After all, sometimes you just don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.
- Facilities: D - The Blazers are making progress in this department with a new practice facility under construction and a new stadium in the design process but as it stands now the Blazers are severely lacking in facilities relative to their peers with the albatross that is Legion Field dragging them down.
- Pro Factory: C - UAB was making great progress in placing athletes into the league before their disbandment but now the Blazers have to fight back to return to the momentum they had a few years ago. UAB can still point to stand outs like JJ Nelson and Darrin Reaves enjoying careers at the next level.
- Program Stability: F - It doesn’t get more unstable than at UAB. School president Ray Watts is still in charge after temporarily shutting down the football program. The Alabama Board of Trustees is still quite hostile to the university.
- Program Tradition: F - The Blazers have only played in one bowl game (a loss) through 24 seasons of football. They hold a .441 winning percentage and have never won a divisional championship.
- Television Exposure: D - #TheReturn will only be broadcast on Stadium and BeIn this season unless some games get picked up at a later date.
- Overall Team Prestige: D
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
- Academic Prestige: B - #202 in National Universities
- Campus Lifestyle: C - Drive-through daiquiris (shout out Ryan Higgins) are admittedly a huge boon to the Louisiana lifestyle but La Tech’s campus doesn’t have a whole lot to differentiate itself from the rest of the conference with. Campus renovations are helping change this though.
- Coach Experience: B - Head Coach Skip Holtz has plenty of both power five coaching experience as well as G5 head coaching experience. He spent several years at both Notre Dame and South Carolina before becoming the head coach at East Carolina and South Florida.
- Championship Contender: A - Louisiana Tech has yet to win a C-USA conference championship however the Bulldogs have won the western division twice since joining the league in 2013. The Bulldogs are the overwhelming favorite to win C-USA West this season.
- Fan Base: B - Bulldogs fans are widely appreciated as passionate fans however middling attendance at Joe Aillet Stadium holds the Bulldogs back from grabbing an A ranking.
- Facilities: C - Louisiana Tech’s facilities are starting to show their age. With a stadium built in 1968, an athletic center build in 2001, and a weight room opened in 1996, some renovations are needed to bring the Bulldogs back up to speed. The first step is underway as La Tech has started work on a renovated press box and luxury suites.
- Pro Factory: A - La Tech pumps out professional athletes. Their current group of 16 NFL players include 2017 draft picks Carlos Henderson (third round), Trent Taylor (fifth round), and Xavier Woods (sixth round).
- Program Stability: A - The Bulldogs have been able to avoid any threats of Head Coach Skip Holtz getting poached by other programs. La Tech has enjoyed continued success and do not appear to have any structural limitations preventing their growth.
- Program Tradition: A - Louisiana Tech enjoys an impressive .585 winning percentage through 116 football seasons. They’ve won three DII national titles, 25 conference championships, and can claim three consensus all-americans.
- Television Exposure: B - With six nationally-televised games last season the Bulldogs’ brand is certainly reaching the nation. La Tech currently only has two games lined up with major networks in 2017 so they’ll need some help from potential conference championship and bowl games to reach the masses this year.
- Overall Team Prestige: A
UNT Mean Green
- Academic Prestige: C - Unranked National University
- Campus Lifestyle: B - Located in Denton, Texas, UNT students get to enjoy a great college town while still maintaining proximity to a major city as Dallas-Fort Worth is less than an hour away from campus. UNT fits that “close but not too close” sweet spot for most college students who grew up in the Metroplex.
- Coach Experience: B - Seth Littrell spent his entire career at the power five level before taking the North Texas job. He’s worked closely with offensive minds such as Mike Leach, Mark Mangino, and Larry Fedora. While UNT is Littrell’s first head coaching gig, his experience as a coordinator is impressive.
- Championship Contender: C - While UNT is quickly improving under Littrell the Mean Green haven’t won a conference championship since 2004 and still appear to be a step behind their peers in the conference.
- Fan Base: C - Despite the overwhelming majority of the school’s alumni base residing in the nearby Metroplex, UNT has failed to generate impressive crowds since joining Conference USA. They have a strong group of dedicated core fans but their passion has yet to spread to the more casual fans in and around Denton.
- Facilities: A - It’s difficult for many G5 programs to match the amenities UNT offers its student athletes. With a dorm dedicated strictly to athletes, a private dining hall, and a gorgeous athletic training facility, UNT really knows how to take care of its athletes. Apogee Stadium also stands as one of the finer stadiums in the conference.
- Pro Factory: C - North Texas only has four players playing in the NFL but linebacker Zachary Orr has enjoyed a great start to his career at the next level.
- Program Stability: B - UNT is well positioned to become a force at the C-USA level however they’ll need more support from their alumni base to reach that next level.
- Program Tradition: C - The Mean Green have been playing football since 1913, racking up 24 conference titles over the years. “Mean” Joe Greene remains the face of the program after playing three seasons with UNT (1966-1969).
- Television Exposure: B - Boosted by an ESPN2 match-up with Iowa, UNT will have the majority of their games broadcast on a nationally-available outlet. The Mean Green had three games carried on major networks last season.
- Overall Team Prestige: B
- Academic Prestige: C - Unranked National University
- Campus Lifestyle: B - UTSA’s campus is dotted with resort-style dorms and apartments, providing a unique college living situation. The campus is right across the highway from a major amusement park (Fiesta Texas) and an upscale outdoor mall. A sizable collection of commuter students hold UTSA back from an A ranking.
- Coach Experience: F - Before taking over at UTSA, Head Coach Frank Wilson had never been a head coach at the collegiate level, nor had he been awarded a coordinator position.
- Championship Contender: C - The Roadrunners are in good shape to make a run at C-USA West this season but they’ll have to prove they belong among the big dogs of the conference before earning a “B” ranking.
- Fan Base: B - Despite the program starting up just six seasons ago UTSA has already developed an impressive following. By leveraging their access to the San Antonio market UTSA has maintained their position near the top of the C-USA attendance charts. The Roadrunners also have one of the better traveling fanbases in the conference.
- Facilities: C - UTSA would certainly earn an “F” here if it weren’t for the Alamodome. The Roadrunners need to find a way to build legitimate football facilities quickly as they currently have very little of which to speak of.
- Pro Factory: D - With six players currently in the NFL, the Roadrunners are lacking in professional products. Tight end David Morgan of the Minnesota Vikings is the Roadrunners’ lone draft pick.
- Program Stability: C - The program is in fairly decent shape overall but if Head Coach Frank Wilson were to depart then his replacement might have a hard time recruiting at a championship level without adaquete facilities. A new incoming school president also represents a wildcard.
- Program Tradition: F - As a six year old program UTSA has little tradition to speak of. Developing rivalries with Texas State and UNT might help the cause.
- Television Exposure: C - UTSA had just three games on major networks last season and they only have one lined up for 2017. The Roadrunners do however have a strong partnership with a local broadcaster in San Antonio that broadcasts the Roadrunners’ games that don’t get picked up by national outlets.
- Overall Team Prestige: C
- Academic Prestige: C - Unranked National University
- Campus Lifestyle: B - As long as you don’t mind the heat, El Paso is a great place to go to school. Statistically, El Paso is one of the safest cities in the country and has a great selection of restaurants and bars near campus. The landscape is dotted with gorgeous mountains. El Paso’s remoteness is the only clear knock against UTEP.
- Coach Experience: C - Kugler is a bit tough to judge on experience as most of the heavy lifting of his career has taken place at the NFL level. He had never been a collegiate of NFL head coach or coordinator before taking over at UTEP but his NFL connections are certainly a plus for recruits seeking a professional career.
- Championship Contender: F - UTEP has just two conference championships to their name despite having played football for 103 seasons. The Miners are expected to battle it out for last place in Conference USA with pseudo-start up UAB this season. Ouch.
- Fan Base: A - For how little success on the field the Miners have enjoyed in their recent history it’s amazing how strongly El Paso continues to support the program. There’s no doubt in my mind that a consistent winner in El Paso would pull some of the strongest crowds in the G5.
- Facilities: A - The Miners have, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful stadium in Conference USA as well as an expansive athletic center containing weight rooms, coaching rooms, etc. UTEP also has a huge weight room that overlooks the Sun Bowl. That’s a lot of check marks for a G5 school.
- Pro Factory: B - UTEP currently has 11 players active in the NFL including 2017 fifth round selection Aaron Jones.
- Program Stability: C - From a structural standpoint UTEP appears to be in really good shape however Head Coach Sean Kugler is sitting on arguably the hottest seat in C-USA.
- Program Tradition: C - As previously noted, UTEP has been playing football for a long time but not many of those years have been notably successful. The Miners do however have the privilege of playing in the storied Sun Bowl.
- Television Exposure: C - The Miners are gaining an exposure bump thanks to a tough schedule as games against Arizona and Oklahoma are bringing in a spotlight for the program. UTEP will still be relatively hard to find on TV throughout the rest of the season though.
- Overall Team Prestige: C
- Academic Prestige: A - #15 in National Universities
- Campus Lifestyle: B - While the living quarters at Rice can be a bit cramped, the university’s focus on grouping undergraduates into individual co-ed colleges helps create an awesome sense of community. The campus is also set in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Houston.
- Coach Experience: B - A Division I head coach since 2004, David Bailiff has been around the block a few times. While Bailiff was never a head coach or coordinator at a power five program, his years of success speak for themselves.
- Championship Contender: C - Rice is a major long shot to win Conference USA this season however they have won a conference championship as recently as 2013.
- Fan Base: F - It’s no secret that the majority of Rice’s student and alumni base aren’t huge college athletics fans. With an average mid-career salary of over $113,000, maybe they’re onto something that the rest of us aren’t.
- Facilities: B - Rice Stadium is absolutely showing its age however the incredible $33 million, 60,000 square foot Brain Patterson Sports Performance Center is enough to vault Rice to a “B” ranking.
- Pro Factory: C - The Owls currently have nine former players among the NFL ranks including Texans defensive end Christian Covington and Seahawks tight end Luke Wilson.
- Program Stability: C - Much like Kugler at UTEP, Bailiff is likely on the hot seat at Rice unless he can unveil a masterful come back effort. Besides Bailiff’s job security aside, the recent completion of the end zone facility shows an administrative commitment to football success.
- Program Tradition: B - Rice has fielded football teams since 1912, hosted a Super Bowl in 1974, once competed in the famed Southwest Conference, and boasts one of the finest, and funniest, marching bands in the nation.
- Television Exposure: F - After enjoying four games on premier networks last season, Rice has just one game on a major channel secured for 2017. Seven of their games have no broadcast partners announced at all.
Overall Team Prestige: C
Final C-USA prestige rankings
- A - Marshall
- A - USM
- A - La Tech
- B - FAU
- B - MTSU
- B - WKU
- B - UNT
- C - Charlotte
- C - FIU
- C - ODU
- C - UTSA
- C - UTEP
- C - Rice
- D - UAB