UTSA is a brand new program entering the 2016 season. With an entirely revamped sideline, it's hard to predict what we can expect from Frank Wilson's Roadrunners. Coming off of a dismal 3-9 record, most people will probably continue to rule out the team from competing in C-USA West. That 3-9 record, however, is somewhat deceiving. Of UTSA's nine losses, four of them ended in a one-possession difference. Five of the them were within ten points, and in most of those UTSA opted to punt instead go for the gold in the final five minutes. With that in mind, the Roadrunners could have one helluva turn around this year.
1. Alabama State
The season opener is finally back home in the Alamodome -- the first time since the program's 2011 inaugural game. Add that to a hot new coach, and you've got a home crowd that's going to bring some thunderous noise. The Hornets finished 6-5 last season, placing second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Eastern Division. It should be a good showing for UTSA, and while it may or may not be a coming-out party for Wilson's Roadrunners, the team has more than enough talent to put some serious mustard on A-State. If the last home opener gives any indication, Roadrunner fans will have a whole lot to be excited about after this one.
2. At Colorado State
The first road test for Wilson is one of the most intriguing matchups on the schedule. Last year the Rams came to the Alamodome and narrowly escaped UTSA by two points. Given that fact it's safe to assume the Roadrunners will compete well in one of the last games at Hughes Stadium, the Rams' home since 1968. However, the team has a history of not faring well on the road, and in what I expect to be a shootout similar to last year's, UTSA will fall short to CSU again. It will be one of those hard losses that does more good than bad in the grand scheme, adding some grit and grind to team's developing identity.
3. Arizona State
The Sun Devils finished the 2015 regular season at 6-6. This will be the first matchup between the two teams, and every Roadrunner Faithful member and their mothers can tell you how close UTSA was to tasting glory in their last two matchups against rival-school Arizona. The biggest feat UTSA has yet to accomplish is winning a game against a Power-5 Conference school. This will be the game that changes that streak. Coming off of a tough loss to CSU, UTSA will come home and play some of the hardest football we've ever seen from them, matching the Sun Devils on both sides of the ball to pull out a victory in the closing minutes.
4. At Old Dominion
UTSA came up just short against the Monarchs at home last year, 36-31, after failing to convert on two fourth downs in the redzone in the final five minutes of play. ODU's pass game lit up UTSA's secondary, but with the Roadrunners premier defenders returning this year, it won't be quite as easy. This game is vital to UTSA's success, not only because it's the first conference matchup of the season, but also because it may forecast how the Roadrunners are going to fare on the road for the rest of the season. I expect Wilson and company to hit the Monarchs hard and fast in this one, earning the first road win of his head coaching career.
5. Southern Mississippi
Southern Mississippi is currently the class of C-USA West, and rightfully so. They finished 7-1 in conference last season, represented the division in the championship game, and for a while held their own against Western Kentucky pretty well. When the Roadrunners visited Hattiesburg last year, Southern Miss stomped them 32-10. Given that this game is at home, and UTSA now has former-Southern Miss assistant Pete Golding at the defensive helm, it won't be quite as easy for the Golden Eagles this time around. However, USM will still be a force that is tough to reckon with, and will hand UTSA its first home loss of the year.
6. At Rice
Last year's silver lining was UTSA defeating in-state conference rival Rice for the very first time. The once-dominant C-USA force suddenly collapsed last season, finishing 5-7 overall and 3-5 in conference. They didn't just lose games last year, though, they lost bad. Really bad. And with the defense ranking among the nation's worst, I don't see the Owls making a one-year turnaround back to being contenders. The Roadrunners will finally beat them in Houston this year.
Last year's lightning-palooza was one the wackiest games UTSA has ever played. After two weather delays, the Roadrunners' "Hard Hat Defense" eventually mauled the Miners 25-6, giving away a trash-time touchdown to forfeit the homecoming shutout. UTEP would go on to have the same record as Rice: 5-7 overall and 3-5 in conference. Neither team will need to worry about the weather being a factor in this game as the Roadrunners kick off a two-game home stand in the safe confines of the Alamodome.
8. North Texas
UTSA suffered a nightmare in Denton last Halloween. The Mean Green's sole win of the season came against the Roadrunners, 30-23, in a game that carried all attributes of a true rivalry -- big hits, insane turnovers, clutch scoring, and a packed visitors section. UNT seemed to do exactly what they had to against UTSA, but only displayed such ferocity in that single game. In what was otherwise a broken season, the Mean Green finished a pitiful 1-11 but defeated UTSA for the first time in school history. Technically, it can't be a rivalry unless both sides win some and lose some. The Roadrunners should still have a terribly sour taste in their mouths, and it's a given they won't take this one lightly.
9. At Middle Tennessee
MTSU embarrassed UTSA in the last game of season, 42-7. The Blue Raiders have proven to be contenders in C-USA, finishing last year with 6-2 conference record. UTSA wasn't the only team they crushed, either. The Roadrunners will be riding high after a clean sweep of C-USA Texas, and when they go on the road against MTSU expect them to get knocked off their rocker against what will still be a very dominate MTSU team.
10. At Louisiana Tech
LA Tech is another dominant conference team. They finished 9-4 and 6-2 in conference last season, but only after narrowly escaping UTSA in the Alamodome, 34-31. The Bulldogs made a 32-yard field goal with ten seconds remaining to outlast Dalton Sturm's four touchdown passes. In what will be the second of a three-game road trip, it's imperative the Roadrunners pull out a victory this time around but that's much easier said then done. Assuming the Bulldogs find an answer at QB, LA Tech will yet again have one of the most explosive offenses in the conference. UTSA's road woes will continue to be their downfall.
11. At Texas A&M
This matchup is the most exciting of UTSA's short history. Finally, the Roadrunners have played enough football to take the field with the state's top dogs, and on the turf of Texas lore at that. The Aggies are one of the most unpredictable programs in college football. Quarterbacks don't want to play for them, and right when you think the team has something going they seem to drop the ball. That said, they're still in the SEC, the best conference in college ball by a full head and shoulders. This will also be undoubtedly the most hostile environment the Roadrunners have ever walked into. Kyle Field will have UTSA's eardrums completely numb, and considering it's one of the last games of the season, A&M will be in full stride come Thanksgiving week. Still, a game that UTSA fans need to travel to as it'll be an experience for the ages.
The 49ers are the new kids on the block in C-USA, but still managed to tussle with UTSA last season. The Roadrunners managed to send the game into overtime in the final seconds and pull-out the program's first-ever OT win on the road in Charlotte. With this game taking place in San Antonio, expect the Roadrunners to put a hurting on them with their first bowl birth on the line.
At 7-5, the Roadrunners will reach another milestone and get invited to their first bowl. Frank Wilson's tenure will start with immediate success, and the program will launch into conference championship contention.