I am still not real sure on the exact placement of Conference USA in terms of where they stand in conference rankings. I think they are easily behind the Mountain West, but could be argued just ahead or just behind the WAC.
Top to bottom, they may be stronger than the WAC but at the same time lack a Boise State presence which helps the top of the WAC to to perhaps be stronger than the top of Conference USA.
At current they are a lynch pin in conference expansion reloading. If expansion goes through as people speculate, with the Big Ten inviting Big 12 and/or Big East teams, either or both conferences may look at Conference USA teams to keep themselves alive.
Much like when the ACC raided the Big East a few years ago, the Big East would again turn to Conference USA. At that time they took three football members as well as a couple of non-football schools.
I think the looks at this time would have to be at Central Florida, Memphis, and East Carolina with UAB and Southern Miss being secondary depending on how many more members they may need.
The Big 12, on the other hand, would likely really only look at Houston. I am not sure any other schools have a strong enough team or resume. Tulsa and UTEP may be outside long shots. And I mean really long shots.
After being raided, look for Troy, FAU, Middle Tennessee, Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech, and maybe North Texas to all be in the discussion to join the conference.
The biggest coaching change for the conference is at East Carolina. The Pirates have won the last two conference championship games. The cost of success was coach Skip Holtz, the new head coach at South Florida.
Ruffin McNeill takes over after serving as the interim head coach of Texas Tech for their Alamo bowl win. He was the Red Raiders defensive coordinator but was left go when Tommy Tuberville took over. Through the years, he has been all over the college world with stops at Appalachian State, Fresno State, UNLV, North Alabama, and Clemson, just to name a few.
Marshall brings in Doc Holliday who has been an assistant up and down the East Coast to some very prominent head men. He was at West Virginia under Don Nehlen and Florida under Urban Meyer.
Memphis was one of the first schools this past season to let go of their coach. Veteran head coach Tommy West was let go after a 2-7 start on the way to a 2-10 season.
Larry Porter returns to his alma mater, where he was a running back, to try his hand at being a head coach. His entire coaching career has been as running back coach, most recently with LSU.
The conference bowl picture remains mostly intact with the exception of the loss of the Texas Bowl but the addition of the Dallas Football Classic, which will take a Big 12 or Conference USA team in alternating years.
Houston will be the favorite to win the conference with, I believe, with UTEP challenging in the West. The division and the conference could very well be decided in early September.
The east I am not so sure on, but I would be surprised if East Carolina was still as big of a threat. But I don’t know if I would count them out either. Southern Miss and Central Florida should never be overlooked.
Houston and Central Florida for my early pick.