This is the first installment of a 20-part series taking stock of the best players, teams and coaches in Conference USA's 20 years of existence.
With Conference USA entering its 20th anniversary season, now is a good time to look back on the relatively brief, but entertaining, history of football in the conference
No league has suffered more through conference realignment, but there is still plenty to be proud of over the last two decades.
In the lead up to the 2014 campaign, the Sun Herald will run a C-USA Top 5 series. This will include a series of 20 rankings in a wide variety of categories - everything from the top five running backs to the league's five best teams.
The series will run in print in the Sun Herald and online here on my blog (sunherald.com/keepingscore).
Today, we start with a ranking of C-USA's best all-time running backs:
1. DeAngelo Williams (Memphis, 2002-05) With 6,026 career yards, Williams ranks fifth all-time on the FBS level in rushing. He also has 55 career rushing touchdowns and averaged an amazing 6.2 yards per carry in his career.
2. Damion Fletcher (Southern Miss, 2006-09) He may not have been the fastest, the strongest or the biggest, but there's no denying that the Biloxi product was a special college running back. He ranks second behind Williams in C-USA history in career rushing with 5,302 yards and ranks 10th all time in FBS. In 2009, he became just the ninth running back to rush for at least 1,000 yards in his career.
3. Matt Forte (Tulane, 2004-07) Forte was a good back for his first three years, but he became special as a senior. In his final season, he rushed 361 times for 2,127 yards and 23 touchdowns. He accounted for 4,265 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns in his career.
4. Kevin Smith (UCF, 2005-07) No C-USA running back has had a bigger season than Smith did in 2007, when he ran a whopping 450 times for 2,567 yards and 29 touchdowns. He led the Knights to a 10-4 campaign as a senior, capping a career that ranks third all-time in C-USA in total rushing with 4,679 yards.
5. Derrick Nix (Southern Miss 1998-2002) For many USM fans, it's a case of what might have been for Nix. Treatment for an ankle injury led to major kidney problems, limiting him to just five games and 156 yards in 2000 and keeping him off the field in 2001. Even though he never fulfilled his potential as a top NFL prospect, Nix battled through health issues late in his career to end up with 3,584 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Also-rans: Former East Carolina running back Chris Johnson, Mewelde Moore of Tulane and Marshall's Ahmad Bradshaw all narrowly missed out on inclusion.
Here is a list of categories that I will be touching on in the coming weeks:
1. Running backs
4. Offensive linemen
5. Defensive linemen
7. Defensive backs
8. Special teams players
9. Best seasons by a team
10. Top seasons by individual players
11. Best football programs
12. Biggest victories
13. Top coaches
14. Most impressive bowl victories
17. Top C-USA players in NFL
18. Best overall players
19. Top players for 2014
20. Top teams for 2014