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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Conference USA Expands; 3 From the F.C.S.

Alright, so we’re here. One day, when we all look back on the expansion era, we should view the day Conference USA added three teams that had combined to play in 45 games since 1941 as the tipping point – you know, the moment when things got really out of hand. Texas-San Antonio, which began playing football a season ago, has 10 games to its name. Charlotte is still 16 months away from playing the first game in program history. Old Dominion has played in 35 games from 2009-11, but none from 1941-2008; the Monarchs rechristened their program three seasons ago after that 47-year absence.

This trio is among six teams expected to join Conference USA in 2013, along with Florida International, North Texas and Louisiana Tech. The latter threesome are terrific additions to the league; unfortunately, at least for today, their names get lost in the shuffle.

Don’t begrudge Texas-San Antonio for trading in the WAC for a spot in Conference USA. Not only is the second league stronger today, but a place in Conference USA nearly ensures that a program – like Idaho or New Mexico State, for instance – won’t be left standing by the side of the road the next time the F.B.S. plays musical chairs.

And, in a way, don’t begrudge Conference USA for extending the Roadrunners an invite. More so than both Charlotte and Old Dominion, U.T.S.A. has the potential for great things: part of this potential stems from its spot in a major metropolitan area of Texas, but adding this program and North Texas allows Conference USA to offset the loss of Houston and S.M.U. to the Big East.

The main issue with adding Charlotte and O.D.U. is not that it’s merely a proactive move; it’s a bit too proactive, and the league probably could have hit pause on expansion and stuck with 12 teams – North Texas, F.I.U., Louisiana Tech and U.T.S.A. joining the eight programs still on board.

The only reason for adding three F.C.S. programs – one that has yet to play a down in the F.C.S. – is the fear that the Sun Belt could swoop in and beat Conference USA to the punch. That’s a realistic fear, but the conference could have waited, passing a turn, until the Sun Belt revealed its hand.

Conference USA is taking a big chance on both the Monarchs and the 49ers. The latter, like U.T.S.A., will have only one year of seasoning before leaping, feet first, into a pretty deep league. Old Dominion has fared well since recommencing play in 2009, but the crop of freshmen who arrived that fall will be seniors come September; in other words, that program could use another few years of recruiting to increase depth to an F.B.S. level.

I’m splitting hairs – sort of. It’s important to keep in mind the fact that Conference USA might have needed to be proactive, and not just because the Sun Belt might have extended offers to the 49ers and Monarchs. There’s every reason to believe that at some point in the near future, a bigger fish will sweep in and corral a team out of Conference USA. If the league’s brass reached here, they reached with a purpose: to plan ahead.

It’s also important to consider the entire six-team crop Conference USA is bringing in for 2013. Louisiana Tech, a fast-rising program that should thoroughly dominate the WAC this fall, should have been in Conference USA years ago. The Bulldogs have a strong coaching staff, a gifted roster and the recruiting ground to more than keep pace with the rest of the conference.

Florida International was a coup. There’s a reason why Conference USA needs to watch its blind side with the Golden Panthers: they were a legitimate option for the Big East over the last few months, in my mind, and will be again if the program continues its climb as part of Conference USA.

Like U.T.S.A., the Mean Green allow Conference USA to maintain some hold in Texas. This is key, as is the program’s recent resurgence under Dan McCarney after a six-year lull from 2005-10. North Texas isn’t quite up to Houston’s standard, but the program will join U.T.S.A., UTEP and Rice to give the league four Texas-based schools in the West division.

With three of the new additions suited for the West, the league will need to retool its divisional split. Barring any losses – or any more additions – the conference will feature two seven-team divisions. Here’s how they might look:

East Carolina
Florida International
Old Dominion
Southern Mississippi

Louisiana Tech
North Texas
Texas-San Antonio

One more minor issue with adding Charlotte and Old Dominion: seeing that each should play in the East, the league would feature an unbalanced split – the West would be deeper – while each gathers its footing on the F.B.S. level.

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  1. Parker says:

    Hi Paul

    Reports are that Old Dominion is not a done deal yet. Middle Tennessee could sneak in there.

    Also, if C-USA and the MWC form a football alliance, I would not be surprised if UTEP and UT-SA move to the Mountain West (at least for football). That would let Southern Miss slide over to the West with its neighbor Tulane, and create two geographically tight divisions.

    Glad my Houston Cougars got called up. I feel badly for Southern Miss and East Carolina most of all.


  2. Josh says:

    Just as a heads up, Charlotte won’t play its first football until August 2013, not 2012

    Paul: Thanks, Josh. Fixing above. I knew that, I swear.

  3. Paul says:

    4 Texas teams. UTEP, UTSA, UNT, Rice.

    Paul: More counting issues. Fixed, thank you.

  4. NTXCoog says:

    UTSA and UNT offset the loss of Houston and SMU? They’re in the same state, but hardly on the same level. Next you’ll say Utah State offset the loss of BYU or Utah.

  5. Matt says:

    ODU & Charlotte were added to help out ECU & Marshall. ODU is a pretty good candidate as an all around program, as their BBall is usually pretty good. They also have a fairly large waiting list for season tickets.

  6. NTFan says:

    I no way do I think UNT offsets Houston. But SMU? They aren’t that great. Sure they have some decent seasons the past 2 years…but other than that? Nothing but mediocrity. They can’t even keep their QBs from transferring.

  7. Chappy says:

    I think that – once you dig a little deeper – Charlotte and Old Dominion make perfect sense. Charlotte is a founding member of C-USA, and had they started their program back when UAB did, they never would’ve left. They bring a geographical rival for ECU and Marshall, and have a solid basketball history. Old Dominion also keeps ECU and Marshall from being on an island and has a nice basketball program, and despite being and FCS team have a larger season ticket base than most C-USA schools including the four off to the Big East. ODU (if they join) and Charlotte can contribute in baseball and basketball right away, even if the football teams don’t come on board until 2015.

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