CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 2011 college football season doesn't seem like too long ago. It really isn't, less than 24 months back. But for Conference USA's reputation, it might as well be a decade.
A heck of a year that was for C-USA. Six teams notched wins over teams from BCS automatic qualifier conferences. Southern Methodist toppled a Texas Christian team that was ranked 20th entering that game and finished the season 14th. Houston climbed as high as eighth in the country.
C-USA teams weren't just beating each other up to rack up wins. They were landing a few solid blows against bigger competition, too. It wasn't the Big Ten, but Conference USA was in a pretty good place.
That joy was fleeting.
A season later, half of the teams who won against AQ opponents in 2011 - Houston, the University of Central Florida and SMU - were packing their bags with Memphis and joining the Big East's leftovers in the new American Athletic Conference. Now they're waiting for East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane to follow. And Rice's win over Big 12 bottom-feeder Kansas was the conference's only win over an AQ opponent.
It hasn't been much better in 2013. Sure, C-USA teams have three wins over AQ opponents this season, but two of them are against Memphis and South Florida of the American, a conference that will slide back into the new "Group of Five" conferences that includes C-USA and will battle it out over a lone spot in one of the top bowls. The only 2013 win over a team from a power conference? Rice's second consecutive win over the cellar-dwelling
Couple the dearth of AQ wins with some disappointing losses, and the picture gets even darker. In the first three weeks of the season, C-USA teams are a combined 2-6 versus teams from the Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences - 2-3 against the MAC and 0-3 against the Sun Belt.
And then there's Florida International, whose 0-3 record includes a three-touchdown loss at home to Football Championship Subdivision member Bethune-Cookman. Even the tomato cans are punching back.
C-USA's football troubles aren't just a problem in that opponents will chuckle at their screw-ups and guffaw that FCS teams can walk into C-USA stadiums as road favorites. It could become a problem in terms of dollar signs.