Updated: Oct 25, 2021
By: Jamar Brown
College football is finally upon us and for the fans of UTSA, this year couldn’t have come soon enough. We’re in the second year of the Jeff Traylor era in San Antonio and the expectations from a local and national perspective couldn’t be any higher for the ‘Runners. As a team, UTSA is coming off a 7-5 campaign which was capped off by a one score loss to the University of Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in the Servpro First Responder Bowl who at the time were ranked in the top 25. The expectations this year for UTSA is improving on last year’s success. Due to an extra year of eligibility granted to players because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pilla Killas return as many experienced starters as anyone else in the country. This combined with a full spring and offseason under Jeff Traylor should translate to a huge jump for the team that is projected by the conference to finish second in the western division. The start of this series will serve as a season preview as well as a game preview for Saturday’s game against Illinois. Expect more in depth analysis of future games during those weeks.
Sept. 4th: @ Illinois
The second year of the Jeff Traylor era starts in Champaign, Illinois when the Roadrunners travel to face the Fighting Illini. This will Bret Bielema’s second game coaching the Illini as they took care of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in week 0, 30-22. Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters is currently questionable after leaving the first quarter of the Nebraska game with an injury. Backup Artur Sitkowski (great name) shined in relief of Peters, going 12-15 and tossing two 3rd quarter touchdowns. While the offense seemed to be balanced for most of the day, it was defense and special teams that led the way in this win. The first points scored on the day was a safety followed by a defensive touchdown late in the second quarter. Expect Illinois to slow the pace with their stable of running backs and try to win this game in the trenches. On the UTSA side of things, experience in the trenches will be key hear. Every single starter from last year’s offensive line returns with Outland Award watchlist member Spencer Burford leading the way. The reigning CUSA offensive player of the year Sincere McCormick will likely receive the bulk of the carries with Brenden Brady spelling him when needed. Senior Quarterback Frank Harris returns along with his two leading receivers from last year, Zakhari Franklin and Joshua Cephus, both sporting new numbers. It seems Franklin will be in a slightly different role this year, operating out of the slot primarily for at least this game. The opposite receiver outside of Cephus will be the Houston transfer, Tre’Von Bradley. On the defensive side of the ball, you’re looking and an extremely experienced unit who brings back all but one starter. This defense will be anchored by the front seven, but solid play from the secondary and players like Tariq Woolen and Corey Mayfield could mean all the difference to this defense. Expect star safety Rashad Wisdom to make just as big of an impact as he did his sophomore campaign. UTSA showed last year that they can hang with the big dogs, and I think they prove that they can actually beat the big dogs. I project a 20-17 UTSA victory to start off the season.
Sept. 11th: vs. Lamar
For the home opener on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Roadrunners welcome FCS member Lamar to the Alamo Dome. The newest team to the WAC will be coming off a long week having played their season opener on the 2nd. They bring in a very young team who played a COVID shortened season in the spring. While young, they return every starter on the offensive line along with their starting running back(s) and quarterback. The also return two All-Southland conference players on the defensive side of the ball. With that all being said, this game shouldn’t even be close. I expect the clear favorite Roadrunners to roll over the Cardinals to start the season 2-0.
Sept. 18th: vs. Middle Tennessee
The Blue Raiders come into the Alamo Dome projected to finish 5th in the East Division ahead of only FIU and Old Dominion. They open up with a very winnable game against FCS opponent Monmouth and face a likely loss against Virginia Tech. While the defense should be the strength of this team, the offense has too many question marks. It seems like a game that the experienced defense of the Roadrunners should dominate against. I expect the third Roadrunner victory to kick off the season.
Sept. 25th: @ Memphis
Will the Roadrunners gift me an early birthday present by knocking off a talented Memphis team on the road? It’s not impossible, especially with a team that is replacing probably the best quarterback the school has ever seen. They do return 16 starters however and have one of the best receivers in the conference in Calvin Austin III. Depending on how the Roadrunners go about defending him will decide how this game goes. This might be the first bump in the road for UTSA. I project a close victory for the Tigers, dropping the Roadrunners to 3-1 heading into the final non-conference game.
Oct. 2nd: vs. UNLV
The first game following a loss, especially a close one as I am predicting against Memphis can be a real eye-opener for anyone, especially the Roadrunners. The blue and orange welcome the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels who will likely be looking for the first win of the year after scheduling a pretty grueling non-conference schedule ahead of UTSA. The Rebels are led by 6th year (yes, you read that right) running back Charles Williams and former Oregon Coordinator Marcus Arroyo. I expect the ‘Runners to bounce back splendidly and run away with the game late in the 3rd quarter.
Oct. 9th: @Western Kentucky
To officially kick off conference play, UTSA travels to HBU- I mean, WKU to take on a Hilltoppers team that looked EXTREMELY impressive in their home opener against UT-Martin. Former Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe transferred to Western Kentucky and brought along his offensive coordinator and three receivers with him. This is a game that will have the Roadrunners taking on a highly thought-of offense on the road. This screams trap game and could have the Roadrunners starting off conference play on the wrong foot. I project a shootout leaning the Hilltoppers way.
Oct. 16th: vs. Rice
Homecoming couldn’t have come soon enough as the Roadrunners will be looking to bounce back from a tough loss at the hands of the most improved CUSA team on the road. The ‘Runners have had their fair share of success against the Owls, and I can’t see that changing in front of the home faithful. With all the expectations the Birds carried into this season, this might be a must-win game for Traylor and Co. to stay on the right path. Birds by a lot.
Oct. 23rd: @ Louisiana Tech
Ruston, Louisiana: Where birds go to die. I can’t imagine a worse game to have to play on the road before the much-needed bye-week. No matter how good LA Tech may or may not be, they seem to be the team that always (with the exception of last year) have the Roadrunner’s card. The Birds have an overall record of 2-7 against the Bulldogs and have never won at Joe Aillet Stadium. Before last year’s one-point victory, the Bulldogs had knocked off 5 straight victories with only two of them being relatively close. Why does this change this year? I’m not sure it actually does.
Nov. 6th: @ UTEP
After suffering a tough loss in Ruston, the Birds head into the bye week looking to rest and eventually prepare for a sneaky UTEP team. The Miners have a solid defensive line and a coach that is looking to turn around a perennial loser. They smacked New Mexico State in the Week 0 opener and don’t have the most intimidating schedule outside of Boise State, LA Tech, and FAU before hosting UTSA. While the defensive line is talented, expect to see some flashes from the Roadrunner’s deep receiving core to get the team back in the win column.
Nov 13th: vs. Southern Miss.
If LA Tech has been the definition of domination for the Roadrunner’s, what does one call USM? With a Roadrunner victory, the all-time series is pulled to .500. The ‘Runners scrapped by with a 3-point victory last year in Hattiesburg and I think another, much needed victory is in store for the Roadrunners against the Golden Eagles.
Nov 20th: vs. UAB
This is the game that most serious UTSA fans have circled on their calendar. The two favorite teams to win the West Division enter the penultimate game of the regular season looking to secure their ticket to the conference championship game. A close game in Birmingham last year without both Frank Harris and Josh Adkins was the first sign that UTSA was a force to be reckoned with. A year later, the ‘Birds pull off what many think is impossible and knock off the Blazers for the first time since 2013.
Nov 27th: @ UNT
How prophetic is it for the ‘Runners to cap off arguably their best regular season ever with a road trip up to Apogee Stadium? Many of the new school believe UNT is UTSA’s one true rival and not Texas State. I am apart of that school. Both teams head into this game with a .500 record against each other and it’s always personal. The last time I stepped foot in Apogee, I witnessed a 45-3 loss that was culminated in the Birds starting quarterback being lost for the season in the first offensive series of the game. This time? I walk out with a berth in the CUSA Championship game.
A 9-3 record and a berth in their first ever conference championship game isn’t as crazy of a thought as one might think. The Triangle of Toughness that Jeff Traylor has instilled in his boys is real. They, along with the city and university, have bought in to the ideology that Traylor has used to forge his name into Texas football lore. I leave you with a quote from one of my best friends, “Taco” Joe Rodriguez. “If we only get one good year, Lord, let it be this one.” See y’all at the ‘Dome. Birds up.
- Jamar Brown (@CranEnthusiast)