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Rank how each sport will do

Missouri State’s move to Conference USA will not only be a challenge for the football team as it moves up a level, but will also be a challenge for every other sport the university offers.

Some programs are in a better position than others and can compete directly for championships. Others will need to show massive improvements if they want to win at a high level.

We ranked each MSU sport based on its readiness to compete once it enters the new league for the 2025-2026 season. Please note that Conference USA does not offer men’s soccer or swimming and diving, sports that Missouri State has competed well in in recent years.

12. Women’s athletics

The US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association ranks five MVC teams in the top 125, not including Missouri State. Conference USA has five in the top 106, three of which are ahead of all MVC teams.

More: Ready for midweek Missouri State football? What to expect from the Conference USA TV deal

11. Men’s Golf

The Bears have had five different all-conference golfers since 2017 and haven’t finished in the top half of the MVC since 2019. Clippd.com, a college golf website, ranked MSU as the 188th best team in the country last season with Illinois State having the highest ranking at 89. Three CUSA teams ranked higher than ISU while also being a deeper league.

10. Softball

The Bears softball team will have a second-year head coach when it plays its inaugural season in 2026. The Bears are coming off a 19-32 season in the 16th best softball league, according to RPI. Conference USA was ranked as the ninth best softball league.

9. Women’s Golf

The Bears finished in fifth place at the Missouri Valley Conference Championship last season and haven’t won since 1993. Clippd.com ranked MSU as the 178th best program last season, with the highest-ranked MVC team being Illinois State at 138. Conference USA had six teams ranked higher.

More: How will the state of Missouri be “budget neutral” with the CUSA action? Here are new revenue streams.

8. Volleyball

Coach Steven McRoberts faces a big campaign in 2024, his fifth year leading the VolleyBears. He faced NCAA sanctions early in his career due to violations by the previous staff. MSU was 16-16 last year, an improvement from a 9-21 season. His deal was extended beyond 2021 through the 2028 season for $110,000 per year.

Conference USA was a strong volleyball conference last year with Western Kentucky ranked 16th in the RPI and four teams in the top 100 compared to the Valley’s three. Missouri State ranked 205th in the RPI last season, just ahead of three 2025 CUSA programs. The additions of Delaware and Kennesaw State will make the league even better. The state of Missouri will need to improve quickly.

7. Football

MSU football historically has not been good and until the renovations are completed, it will enter CUSA with some of the worst facilities in the FBS. But they’ve shown plenty of time in recent years while playing in the FCS’ toughest conference that they can be competitive on the field.

According to Jeff Sagarin’s College Football Ratings, an analytical tool that uses various metrics to rank college football teams, Missouri State would have been competitive in Conference USA a year ago. It would have ranked sixth in the 12-team CUSA league that the Bears will join.

More: Will Missouri State football struggle as it jumps to Conference USA? Not necessary

That’s not to say there won’t be growing pains or that MSU will immediately be in danger of becoming bowl eligible. Challenges await as MSU goes through two transition years and some players will choose to pursue playoffs and bowl games elsewhere. At the same time, the talent level should increase as MSU sells recruits for the opportunity to play for an FBS program.

Conference USA is a deeper class from top to bottom – there shouldn’t be pushovers like Indiana State, Murray State and Western Illinois have been in the Valley. There also might not be as big a gap between the top teams like Liberty, New Mexico State and Jacksonville State compared to South Dakota State and North Dakota State than you might think.

6. Baseball

CUSA has been a better baseball league than the Valley in recent years. In the 2024 tournament, both leagues received two bids, with the Valley passing Evansville through the MVC tournament as thanks for creating a big need for Indiana State.

Conference RPI has CUSA as the ninth-best league, while the MVC is the 11th. Dallas Baptist left the MVC in recent years to become a baseball affiliate of CUSA. MSU’s history suggests it should make the league better.

More: Keith Guttin, Missouri baseball player, retires after 42 years: ‘I loved every second of it’

There will still be challenges in the new competition. Missouri State had to play with 30 players on its roster last season for Title IX reasons. The school is trying to improve that number by adding two women’s sports programs, but those additions will also be used to account for the increase in football scholarships that will be distributed.

Missouri State baseball will come to CUSA in 2026, while every other team in the league had 35 or more players on the roster this year — an advantage for those teams with their depth, especially in pitching. At one point, MSU only had two healthy players on the bench due to its lack of depth. We’ll see if the roster size makes a jump or if it’s a challenge the Bears will continue to face.

American school conference Grid size 2024
Dallas Baptist 37
Florida International 39
The State of Jacksonville 39
Freedom 38
Louisiana Technology 44
Middle Tennessee 41
State of New Mexico 37
Sam Houston State 35
Western Kentucky 40
Kennesaw State 39
Delaware 36
State of Missouri 30

5. Women’s cross country

MSU cross country is having one of its better seasons in recent years after finishing fifth at the MVC Championship and 24th of 32 at the NCAA Midwest Regional, which did not include any CUSA programs.

Programs like Kennesaw State, Liberty, Delaware, Middle Tennessee State, Sam Houston and New Mexico State have had success qualifying for NCAA tournaments in recent years.

4. Beach volleyball

The first MSU team to get a taste of Conference USA play was the beach volleyball team that competed in last year’s CUSA. It had a 26-7 record and fell in the third round of the consolation bracket, with Florida Atlantic, TCU, FIU, Tulane and TCU all advancing. They are probably in the middle of this league.

3. Men’s basketball

Men’s basketball never became an annual contender in the Missouri Valley Conference, but it could be in a good position heading into Conference USA.

MSU’s first year in Conference USA will be Cuonzo Martin’s second season as head coach. He’ll have a year to set up his program, build a culture and try to figure out what he needs heading into a second year in charge of the program. He will also lead a program with the best basketball facilities in a new league.

More: Five shots from Cuonzo Martin’s new roster since his return to basketball at Missouri State

After a disappointing season that resulted in the firing of a head coach, Missouri State would have ranked fourth in the CUSA in the NET while seventh in the MVC. Of the teams in Conference USA in 2025-2026, the Bears would not have been the top team in the KenPom rankings until 2022.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bears were much more successful in CUSA than in the Valley.

2. Women’s football

MSU women’s soccer has made big strides in recent years, including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2022, the program’s third in its history and first since 2017.

The Bears were the only top 100 team in the RPI during the 2023 season from the Valley, ranked 100. Conference USA had two in Liberty (47) and New Mexico State (91), but no other team was ranked higher than the 213th. The valley was deeper and that won’t change if CUSA adds Delaware and Kennesaw State. The Bears should still be in contention here.

1. Women’s basketball

CUSA was considered a weaker league than the Valley in 2023-2024. According to WarrenNolan.com, the conference’s RPI rankings ranked the MVC as the 13th best league, while CUSA ranked 20th. The Valley was much deeper with seven teams in the top 160 of the NET, while CUSA had only two. Missouri State would have been the second team in CUSA last year, behind Middle Tennessee, when it was the fourth team in the MVC.

Missouri State women’s basketball should remain an annual conference championship contender. It has the best arena in the league, a promising coach and a history that few mid-major programs can match.

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