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June 26, 2013

Through Green Glasses: The New C-USA

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On Monday July 1st, four current members of Conference USA (UCF, Memphis, Houston and SMU) will depart for the American Athletic Conference. In 2014, they will be followed by ECU, Tulsa and Tulane.

Picking up the C-USA banner in their place will be Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion, the University of Texas at San Antonio and, in 2014, Western Kentucky. Charlotte football will begin conference play in 2015.

Whether it be good or bad, how Marshall fans feel about the nine schools officially joining C-USA next week is no secret. But what about how the incoming members feel about being newbies in the re-vamped conference? In this edition of Through Green Glasses, HerdNation takes a look at the new members of C-USA. Chris McLaughlin spoke with staff members of fan sites for all nine incoming schools about the upcoming changes…

Paul Smith - Moderator of the Lion's Den(ODU) on the CSNBBS board

What do you think your fan base is most excited about with regards to the move?

After the departure of ECU to the AAC, most ODU fans still are thrilled about burgeoning rivalries with UNCC and Marshall (where ODU great Gerald Lee's father played). Add to that a yearly series with UAB and WKU, and the glory days of the old SunBelt adds much excitement. Our fan base thrives on rivalries - important games between familiar opponents, and development of new rivalries is first and foremost.

Least excited about?

We are struggling with the geographic diversity of CUSA compared to the CAA. The Colonial was a Virginia-centric league (ODU, VCU, JMU, WM, and GMU), and games were an easy commute for our fans. Now, we have to be more selective in our away game planning.

Any schools in particular you think will make for a good rival?

Clearly, UNCC and Marshall top the list. We feel that Charlotte is doing it the correct way and respect the professionalism they have shown in starting a program. Marshall is harder to reach by car, but is a wonderful example of a former 1-AA power that has successfully moved up.

Shane Bearden - Staff writer for InsideHilltopperSports.com(WKU)

What do you think your fan base is most excited about with regards to the move?

I think our fans are relishing the opportunity to get back in a conference with so many familiar faces from our past. WKU has a long and proud tradition in basketball. Being in a conference with schools that actually care about the quality of the basketball in the league will be refreshing. Most of the institutions in the Sun Belt operate on low athletic budgets and place little emphasis on improving the quality of their athletics with the exception of football. WKU fans are smart enough to know and recognize the names of the teams that visit Diddle Arena and what basketball tradition they bring with them. I also think WKU fans are excited about a regional conference that fits us with more like minded institutions.

Least excited about?

Teams like FAU and FIU are constantly poked fun at for lack of fan interest. With a large recruiting presence in the state of Florida though, we need those teams. If that is the smallest thing we have to complain about then I think it is a fair assumption that all of Hilltopper Nation is ready to join CUSA without a second thought.

Any schools in particular you think will make for a good rival?

MTSU is obviously no. 1 across the board on the rival list for WKU. However, I think rekindling basketball rivalries with UAB, ODU, and Charlotte will be great. In women's basketball La Tech was always a thorn for the Lady Toppers. I could see ODU becoming a rival there as well with the talent of their women's team. On the football front I hope that because of proximity to one another that WKU and Marshall will develop into a great yearly game. With the schools only being about 5 hours apart and KY/WV bordering one another I think it has a lot of potential to become something great. When WKU made the transition from FCS to FBS we tried to take a look at different programs who made the jump and had success. Marshall was one of those teams that our administration looked at. So you could say Marshall had a helping hand in our move up the NCAA football ladder. I think I can speak for most of Hilltopper Nation when I say I can't wait to see the Herd on the gridiron next fall.

Casey Bowman- GoMiddle.com Publisher(MT)

What do you think your fan base is most excited about with regards to the move?

I think the fan base is most excited about the new brand that Middle Tennessee will be playing under. It seemed as though no matter how well MT played as members of the Sun Belt Conference, they just did not get the respect that some thought was deserved. That perception will definitely change with the move to CUSA, which if anything, is a more prestigious name. The fan base is also thrilled to know that if MT wins eight games, they will assuredly go to a bowl game. Lastly, this just seems to be the right time for the move. The football, mens basketball and womens basketball teams are all playing at a high level in recent years, and the expectation is to come in and compete for championships right away.

Least excited about?

I do not think there are any concerns from the fan base at this point. When the announcement was first made, some wondered if MT was jumping the shark a bit. The Sun Belt had made significant strides on the football field over the past few years, and some wondered if it would have just been better served to stay put and ride out the wave of realignment. Those thoughts have since vanished. The pros of this move far outweigh any of the cons.

Any schools in particular you think will make for a good rival?

Two schools come to mind - Southern Miss and Marshall. Both of these schools, in my opinion, could easily develop in to MT's premier rival as the years go by. MT and USM already have a history from having played each other in the New Orleans Bowl a few years ago, and Marshall serves as a geographical fit for an ideal rival within the conference. Marshall is obviously one of the faces of the conference. They have a wonderful tradition and go about their business the right way. You don't hear Marshall's name getting dragged through the mud, ever. Accompany that with their recent play on the gridiron, as well as the hardwood, and Marshall is one of the programs a school like Middle Tennessee will strive to compete with. In addition, MT already has a very strong, and very nasty, rivalry with Western Kentucky, who will be joining the conference after next season.

Mike Craven - Publisher of InsideUTSA.com(UTSA)

What do you think your fan base is most excited about with regards to the move?

I think for UTSA and its fans the move to Conference USA is about legitimacy in the program. The 2013 football season will be just the third season for UTSA to play opponents, so to already be a member of a FBS conference is an achievement and a reflection on the work over the past decade to make this possibility. It gives UTSA a home, and I think that is what this fan base is most excited about in regards to moving to Conference-USA.

Least excited about?

It is actually pretty hard to find something that UTSA fans are not happy about in terms of the move to Conference USA. I think the fans here were bummed that certain geographical rivals like Houston are leaving the conference. There has been so much uncertainty and movement for the UTSA football team over the past three or four years that I think Roadrunner fans are just anxious to feel secure in a conference home. I think the major worry is that realignment keeps popping up every offseason.

Any schools in particular you think will make for a good rival?

Rice has to be the front-runner to be the main rival for UTSA as it begins C-USA play. The two teams have already played, the cities are within drivable distance for games and a lot of students at UTSA are from Houston and a lot of alums from UTSA live in Houston, which is where Rice resides. UTEP could emerge as a rival because of the University of Texas system part, but El Paso is so far away from San Antonio that I don't think you see a ton of travel between the two fan bases. North Texas is another school that UTSA will clash with in C-USA. Right now, UTSA needs to win games against the other Texas programs to get a push in recruiting. Marshall is geographically remote for UTSA. People obviously respect the history and success of that football program, so there is familiarity in the Marshall name. UTSA is just happy to be at the table at this point.

Tim Parker - Publisher NinerReport.com(Charlotte)

What do you think your fan base is most excited about with regards to the move?

Definitely football, which is really what this move is all about. A lot of folks are also really excited about the step-up in competition in baseball because of all the good programs in C-USA. But again, football is the driving force behind this entire thing and the added exposure that comes with the sport along with the television package with Fox Sports 1 is something our fan base is really excited about.

Least excited about?

The only real concern our fans have is on the basketball side of things because we're leaving the Atlantic-10, which had a banner year in 2012. A few are worried about our strength of schedule in basketball taking a dip but there are enough good programs in the new conference so that shouldn't be a real concern. It really does always go back to football though, and with everything the program is gaining I think most basketball fans will eventually come around.

Any schools in particular you think will make for a good rival?

Marshall and ODU are the obvious choices to develop strong relationships with. ECU would have been the easy pick before they decided to switch conferences and that's obviously disappointing for our fans, but there are plenty of potential schools still around that we can form solid bonds with. Marshall, with its history and tradition in football, is probably the one football program our fans are most excited about right off the bat.

Jonathan Ford - Publisher BleedTechBlue.com(La Tech)

What do you think your fan base is most excited about with regards to the move?

They are excited. Tech fans have thought they belonged in Conference USA for quite some time but had been passed over until now. More than anything they are most excited about having games they can travel to unlike when they were in the Western Athletic Conference.

Least excited about?

There probably isn't an aspect of the move to Conference USA that Tech fans are not excited about but if there is, it's not having some of the regional conference mates they thought they would have at one time like Houston, SMU, Tulane and Memphis.

Any schools in particular you think will make for a good rival?

Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech have played many times over the years. After USM makes the move to the Western division, it will make Tech and USM fans much more familiar with one another. Marshall being a conference mate of Tech will help with strength of schedule in the major sports.

Solomon Frieder- Publisher PantherRage.com and OwlsBurrow.com(FIU and FAU)

What do you think your fan base is most excited about with regards to the move?

The conference move is huge for a number of reasons. C-USA represents a step up in competition, a better schedule for fans and a huge boost in recruiting. The SunBelt is good but FAU and FIU are moving to the next level now.

Least excited about?

There aren't too many negatives at all with the new conference. Distance and travel is the obvious but both schools are used to that. Really the positive so far outweigh the small negatives that the negatives aren't even worth mentioning.

Any schools in particular you think will make for a good rival?

Obviously, FAU and FIU will remain huge rivals but the clear cut next choice is Marshall, especially when it comes to FIU. Alex Mirabal is at Marshall now and Rakeem Cato was once an FIU commit. Plus the bowl game a couple of years ago was very competitive. Those things combined with the fact that all three schools recruit the exact same kids means the potential is huge for a solid rivalry to blossom.

Harry Miers- Publisher/Owner GoMeanGreen.com(North Texas)

What do you think your fan base is most excited about with regards to the move?

Our base is thrilled about C-USA. We were very much on an island in the Sun Belt being the only Texas school in that conference. It made it very difficult to develop rivalries. Now we have three schools in Texas (UTEP, Rice and UTSA). This opens up key markets where we have a lot of alums in both Houston and San Antonio. Back in 2005, we were a finalist for C-USA expansion and came up short to UTEP. That stung us but the truth is that we probably weren't ready from a facility standpoint. If you fast forward to now, we have a beautiful new stadium (Apogee) and athletic center and complex (Eagle Village). We believe our facilities to be among the top end of C-USA now which should help.

Least excited about?

I think some of the changes that transpired, specifically losing a close potential rival in Tulsa took a little of the shine off. In hindsight, I think the conference came out pretty well, I mean Middle Tennessee was probably the best all-around program in the conference and Western Kentucky is a very solid program especially in basketball. Florida Atlantic has a new stadium, new coach and is in a superb location so I do feel like they landed some solid replacements.

Any schools in particular you think will make for a good rival?

We are pretty fired up about all of the Texas teams, and I can also see us building a very good rivalry against Louisiana Tech who we recruit against quite a bit. I would probably put Rice and UTSA at the top of that list although UTEP is also a team we look forward to developing a rivalry with and they have a lot of alums here in the DFW area. I love your name, The Thundering Herd....very unique and recognizable. I think our fans have a healthy dose of respect for Marshall and looks forward to playing against them and the chance to visit Huntington. Marshall has a very recognizable name down here and carries a tradition that our fans recognize. Their fans seem very passionate about sports. We look forward to learning more about you in the coming months.

Chris McLaughlin is an analyst with Herd Nation. Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged on the Old Fairfield forum.









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