For the past couple of seasons, Conference USA has had a team mount a small uprising to challenge the tradition non-AQ powers in the Mountain West and WAC. In 2008, it was East Carolina moving up the rankings early. Last season, Houston stayed in the Top 25 almost all season.
Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky took a few minutes this week to answer five questions about his conference and some of the national recognition it’s starting to get on a more consistent basis.
What are your thoughts on the past season and the direction your conference is going?
Britton Banowsky: We had another very competitive season and we were pleased that, for the third year in a row, we sent six of our teams to play in bowl games. Our teams play a very entertaining, exciting brand of football and we expect that to continue and just get better as more than half of our all-conference selections will be back in 2010.
In the past two seasons, you’ve had a team ranked in the Top 25 and several teams defeat ranked AQ schools. Do you feel like your conference is edging closer toward becoming a BCS bowl qualifier?
BB: We have been able to defeat a number of quality ranked opponents over the past two seasons and our coaches and administrators know we need to continue to do that in the future. There is an exceptional amount of talent in this league and proving ourselves against top-level competition is important to gain respect nationally.
Obviously, to gain the respect of voters and move higher in the polls, you have to show a pattern of consistency. Do you feel like your conference is on the road to doing that?
BB: I believe we are. We have had three different teams nationally ranked over the past two seasons and others that have received votes. The quality of play top-to-bottom in our conference has continued to improve and I believe that we will continue to show that we can succeed at a high level.
For the past few years, this conference has been able to attract several of the nation’s top up-and-coming coaches. What do you attribute that to?
BB: Our schools have a strong commitment to compete at the highest level. We have some very impressive facilities on our campuses, with several brand new multimillion dollar improvements made over the last five years. There are more plans for additional upgrades in place. A real commitment has been made to recruiting and providing coaches with support staffs that are needed for a program to succeed. Conference USA has also been a leader in making significant gains in ethnic-minority coaching opportunities.
How much did it mean for the conference in terms of national recognition to have Case Keenum considered for the Heisman Trophy?
BB: Case had an outstanding season and was deserving of the recognition that he received. When one of our players is considered for a top national award like that, it shines a spotlight on the entire conference. There have been many talented players in this league in recent years. Nine of our former players just played in the NFL Pro Bowl, which speak volumes to the caliber of players that have competed in C-USA recently.