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Examining each Conference USA team’s roster talent in 2021

Rice and Middle Tennessee greatly bolstered their rosters over the offseason, while Marshall and Charlotte are moving in the wrong direction.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 24 Middle Tennessee at Rice Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Week zero is in the books for college football as what promises to be another interesting season for Conference USA kicks off. With UTEP starting C-USA off right with a convincing road win, 24/7 Sports has locked in each Division I team’s roster to calculate their proprietary Team Talent Composite rankings.

I introduced the Team Talent Composite in one of my recent articles where I sought to determine whether or not teams’ recruiting success translated to the field (short answer: very much so).

The TL;DR summary of the Team Talent Composite is as follows: 24/7 takes a snapshot of each team’s roster at the start of week one. Each player on the roster is matched to their 24/7 composite recruiting rating. The algorithm then takes a summary of each player’s recruiting rating, with top-rated recruits having more weight in the distribution.

With these updated team talent ratings now available, I dove into the data to see what this season may hold for the conference.

Right off the bat, the team talent composites seemed to indicate a further tightening between the top teams in the conference and the middle of the pack. In 2017 the conference’s top-rated roster (FAU) was rated 40% higher than the conference average. FAU holds the crown again in 2021, but their advantage over the conference average is just 18% now. This trend has been playing out in the conference for a while as shown in the chart below.

Data via 247 Sports

As mentioned earlier, the FAU Owls boast the most talented roster in Conference USA, with four other teams within ten percent of their rating. Western Kentucky, surprisingly, sits at second, followed by Louisiana Tech, UTSA, and North Texas in that order.

On the inverse, UTEP is a distant last place in team talent as they have just 14 three-star talents on their roster. With two former four-star recruits on the roster, Old Dominion is rated quite a bit higher than UTEP, however their relative lack of depth (just 22 three-stars vs conference mean of 37) holds them back from the rest of the pack.

I love the 247 Team Talent Composite because it shows us that 1.) A big recruiting class is pretty meaningless if you can’t get your signees to campus and keep them there 2.) Recruiting is a long term game.

The FIU Panthers are a great example of both points. While Butch Davis has hoarded top-five recruiting classes in Miami, the Panthers are 7th in the team talent composite this year.

FIU and Marshall were both hit particularly hard by attrition, with FIU dropping 11 spots in the national team talent composite ranking (-69 total points), and Marshall dropping 7 spots (-42 total points). On a similar note, Charlotte made headlines this offseason by bringing in a haul of Power 5 transfers. However, an exodus of 12 transfer portal losses actually led to Charlotte dropping their overall team talent level by 39 points. Will Healy spoke candidly about this on a recent episode of the Underdog Pawdcast, detailing how the hardships of last season led to players and coaches choosing the leave the program.

C-USA Team Talent Movement

Team Rating Diff
Team Rating Diff
Rice 56.91
MTSU 28.56
WKU 17.01
UNT 8.28
La Tech -2.89
FAU -4.23
UTSA -4.62
UAB -15.12
ODU -17.73
USM -18.11
UTEP -25.42
Charlotte -38.5
Marshall -41.55
FIU -69.37

Meanwhile, Rice made the biggest strides in getting their roster to a competitive level. While the Owls still rank just 12th in the conference in Team Talent, they rose 18 points in the national rankings. This serves as a brutal reminder of just how poor of shape the roster was in when Mike Bloomgren took this job.

Middle Tennessee also made a big jump, as they now have the second-most former four-star talents in the conference (4 vs 5 at FAU). WKU also feasted in the transfer portal, jumping from 5th to 2nd in the C-USA talent rankings.

The overall talent level in Conference USA has decreased this year, following a record high in 2020. Only four teams saw their talent rating increase over last year which is concerning! I believe this indicates more of an attrition issue than a recruiting issue, as C-USA lost 142 players to the transfer portal, while bringing in a net total of 93 incoming transfers.

Without diving into each individual conference’s net composite rating shifts, I suspect the trends we’re seeing in Conference USA are holding up nation-wide. While C-USA lost a net total of 127 composite points, the conference gained a net 22 spots in the national composite rankings. This seems to indicate that a good percentage of FBS teams saw their composite rating decrease following the 2020 season.

Another factor that is worth further analysis is the impact of “Super Seniors” who were afforded an extra year of eligibility following the affects of Covid-19 on last year’s season. Some schools chose to spend the extra tuition expense to bring back the majority of their seniors, while other schools opted out of retaining these fifth and sixth year players. Teams with a large number of super seniors should have a relatively high team talent composite rating as they are allowed to have more than the previously-mandated 95 scholarship players on their roster, essentially displacing walk-ons who usually don’t have a recruiting rating to influence the 247 composite rankings.

In conclusion, we look to be in for another season of aggressive parity in Conference USA. While schools like Marshall, Louisiana Tech, and Southern Miss used to hold a decisive edge over the rest of the conference, schools like UNT, UTSA, and FAU have closed the gap, making this conference more competitive from top to bottom and preventing a single team from breaking out to dominate the conference.