Greetings Conference USA Fans! It's about time football is back in our homes and hearts, and special Hyphen Blog correspondent Russ Anderson, Assistant Commissioner for Football and Baseball Operations, is here to get you pumped up for the occasion with his entry below. He has been with the league since it's formation in 1995 and no one else knows C-USA football more than him. Enjoy!
- A look at C-USA Football by Russell D. Anderson
Shortly after UCF defeated Georgia in the 2010 AutoZone Liberty Bowl , I began looking forward to the 2011 season. That's because there is nothing quite like football season. Those magical Saturdays in the fall, filled with all of the outstanding traditions that surround the great game of college football. The tailgating, the alumni, the band, and the cheerleaders - all of the pomp and circumstance that makes the game like no other.
Having worked for the league since its inception, I have visited every league campus for a football game and have learned that each one has great things to offer on game day.
Let's start with the venues themselves. The stadiums in Conference USA run the gamut, from historical structures like Legion Field in Birmingham, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis and Rice Stadium (site of my beloved Miami Dolphins victory in Super Bowl VII) to modern facilities like SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium and UCF's Bright House Networks Stadium, an edifice that literally shakes back and forth when the Knights student sections start getting rowdy.
We have a stadium that is nicknamed "The Rock" and a stadium that is built in between giant rocks (The Sun Bowl in El Paso). Tulsa's H.A. Chapman Stadium is one of college football's oldest stadiums, though you wouldn't know it after a dramatic renovation several years ago. It too has a Rock, a symbolic stone outside the TU locker room that represents team unity.
Marshall's Joan C. Edwards Stadium is one of only two FBS Stadiums named after a woman and is also known as the stadium in which the home team has the highest home field winning percentage in all of the FBS (.866 since its opening in 1990). Tulane plays in the comfort-controlled world-famous Louisiana Superdome, while Houston's historic Robertson Stadium hosted multiple AFL championship games when the Houston Oilers called the facility home.
There are great traditions that occur outside the stadiums on game day. Like at Southern Miss, where the Eagle Walk takes place before each home game. Players, coaches, band and cheerleaders walk all the way around M.M. Roberts Stadium as Golden Eagles fans cheer them on. Or at SMU, where Bishop Boulevard turns into one of the greatest tailgate scenes in all of the land, culminating with the Mustang band leading fans into the stadium prior to kickoff. At Memphis, Tiger Lane debuted last season to rave reviews. This grassy tailgate area on the west side of the Liberty Bowl fills with Tiger supporters, no doubt eating some of that world famous Memphis barbecue. And no mention of pre-game tailgating would be complete without mentioning East Carolina, where Pirate Nation has made game day a special experience for years.
Pre-game rituals include UTEP coach Mike Price leading the Miners team through the stands, carrying a 19th-century pickaxe over his head to the cheers of the crowd. Or, East Carolina taking the field through a smoke-filled entrance, while Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" blares over the loudspeakers.
Other unique traditions include a live Bengal Tiger (TOM, as in Tigers Of Memphis) that joins the Memphis team as it enters the field, and a white horse named Pegasus, ridden onto the field at UCF by the school's Knight mascot. You'll want to stay in your seats at halftime at Rice because you never know what you'll see from the MOB (the Marching Owl Band), one of the most unique college bands in the country. At Houston, you'll see Cougar touchdowns celebrated by The Frontiersmen, a group of students dressed in white Cowboy hats and dusters that proudly wave UH and state of Texas flags around the field following each UH score.
When the home team wins the game, well, I think all 12 schools know how to celebrate that in their own special way. And with the season about to begin, let's hope that fans all around Conference USA are getting ready to do a lot of that with class and good sportsmanship.
There are many great ways that you can follow the action in Conference USA Football this fall. We will have a record number of televised games by our TV partners, Fox Sports, CBS Sports Network and CSS, among others. Fox Sports will be producing several weekly TV shows containing extensive Conference USA coverage, including a weekly 30-minute show entitled "C-USA Showcase." ConferenceUSA.com will have video highlights and features, audio shows on our podcast page, press releases, statistics and much more. But the best way to truly enjoy Conference USA Football is at a stadium near you. What better way for a fan to show his support for the league than to be there in person cheering for his or her favorite team.
I look forward to seeing many of you at Conference USA stadiums this fall. Let us know some of your favorite football traditions below or share them with us on Twitter (@ConferenceUSA1) or the Conference USA Facebook page
Russell Anderson is C-USA's Assistant Commissioner for Football and Baseball Operations and has worked for the league since its inception in 1995