Florida International U

With stability in Conference USA (finally), FIU and others ready to establish rivalries

Everybody needs somebody to hate. Now, maybe Conference USA schools have a chance to build more of those special relationships.

Conference USA commissioner Britton Barnowsky feels comfortable with the league’s place in the college football world, in “The Second Five” of conferences. New media deals keep a steady income stream. In 2015-16, Barnowsky expects all conference schools, including FIU and FAU, to be giving all student-athletes scholarships that cover the full cost of college (most leave a gap).

And he expects stability after two years of college athletics conference alliances written in pencil.

“There are better legal structures to hold conferences together,” Barnowsky said. “The idea that conference membership is like a country club membership, when you can leave when you want, is over.”

Said Rice senior safety Malcolm Hill: “It’s about some time for some consistency. Build some rivalries within the conference.”

That has been difficult when annual membership changes leave the league’s best players not entirely sure who’s even in Conference USA.

At this week’s Media Day, FIU fifth-year senior center Donald Senat and North Texassenior linebacker Derek Akunne each correctly named all the current football-playing Conference USA schools. Each missed Charlotte, which won’t be a full FBS program until 2015.

Hill and Rice senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor admitted they couldn’t name everybody. Preseason conference Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, Marshall’s Rakeem Cato (Central High graduate) and James Rouse, came close, between them.

Southern Mississppisenior defensive back Jacorius Cotton got on a roll and named several, but included East Carolina, which left after the 2013-14 academic year. Louisiana Tech linebacker Tony Johnson named four schools, then playfully began looking at the logo-heavy signs on tables around the interview room for help.

The league isn’t bereft of healthy hate. There’s the geographic rivalries imported from the Sun Belt: FIU vs. FAU and Western Kentucky vs. Middle Tennessee State, two schools separated by 95 miles. UAB and Southern Miss have something going after UAB upset Southern Miss when the latter was C-USA champion in 2011 and Southern Miss ended its 23-game losing streak by annihilating UAB last year.

When Houston left C-USA after 2012, it also left Rice’s schedule. Taylor and Hill will miss playing the school 10 to 15 minutes away (and were shocked FIU and the University of Miami don’t play).

They’d like to build something with North Texas, which handed 2013 C-USA champion Rice its only conference loss last year, but Taylor said, “I don’t know if they’d consider us a rival.”

Nothing says such rivalry relationships must be monogamous. Both Western and Marshall recruit South Florida heavily, making them natural rivals for FIU and FAU.

“Every time I played Western Kentucky, that game has been very physical, and they have a lot of Florida guys,” FAU senior linebacker Andrae Kirk said.

FIU doesn’t like Western, either, and exchanged pushes and shoves after the 2012 game. Current Hilltopper teams play a more wide-open, less-muscular style than the teams under Willie Taggart, now at South Florida.

“Let’s get some rivalries going,” North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. “If we need to get some [darn] trophies to play for, let’s get some trophies to play for. I’ll help, I’ll be on the committee for that. I used to take the Cy Hawk Trophy with me into the bathroom when we won that thing at Iowa State [over Iowa].”

Related stories from Miami Herald