Keeping Score

C-USA Top 5: Southern Miss is top football program in league history

Conference USA has seen schools come and go, but only one football program has been there throughout its 20 years and been a consistent winner – Southern Miss.

Before the last two seasons of 1-23 football, USM ran off a string of 18 consecutive winnings, 16 of them coming in C-USA.

That's why Southern Miss tops this C-USA Top 5, which ranks the top football programs in league history.

USM has had its recent struggles, but top programs such as Louisville and East Carolina have also had miserable seasons in C-USA. Louisville went 1-10 in 1997 and ECU went a combined 3-20 from 2003-04.

TCU comes up short of making it in this top five because its stint in C-USA was so short (2001-04) and included two great seasons in 2002 and 2003 (a combined 21-4 in that stretch) framed by 6-6 and 5-6 campaigns.

Here are your top five football programs in C-USA history:

1. Southern Miss (1996-): USM has been considered one of the top football programs in C-USA since the league was founded in 1995. The Golden Eagles have five league titles, the most in C-USA history. Former coach Jeff Bower built the program around strong defense and his successor Larry Fedora turned USM into an offensive juggernaut. Second-year coach Todd Monken hopes to get the program back on track.

2. Louisville (1996-2004): From 1998-2004, the Cardinals were one of the better non-BCS programs in the country. Head coaches John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino built a proven winner and that allowed the program to make the climb to the Big East and the ACC, which it joins this year. Louisville had some very average teams in C-USA, but it closed out strong with three conference titles in its last five years in the conference with a 47-16 record during that stretch.

3. Tulsa (2005-13): Only topped by Southern Miss as a consistent winner, Tulsa had a better reputation as a basketball program when it joined the league in 2005. In its nine years in C-USA, Tulsa had seven seasons of at least eight victories and two C-USA titles.

4. UCF (2005-12): The Knights had their ups and downs in C-USA, but George O'Leary's teams were were always tough to handle in the East. UCF won four division titles and two C-USA championships, going 43-21 against league competition.

5. East Carolina (1997-2013): The Pirates edge out Houston for the final spot on this list because of the Cougars' early struggles in their first decade in C-USA. ECU had the most rabid fans in C-USA and they were witness to mostly very good football teams in Greenville, N.C. ECU won back-to-back C-USA titles in 2008-09 reached the postseason 10 times.

Also receiving consideration: Houston (1996-2012), TCU (2001-04).