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UTSA 2021 Season Preview and Prediction

UTSA is coming off a solid 2020 season. Can Jeff Traylor and the Roadrunners replicate and even surpass last year’s success in 2021?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Middle Tennessee at UTSA
UTSA against Middle Tennessee, Sept 25, 2020
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s finally September, and UTSA’s 2021 football season is upon us. The word of the season is “expectations,” and UTSA certainly carries heaps of expectations after fielding one of its better teams in its young history. The Roadrunners enter their 11th season of field play with a chance to take the program to new heights. It includes the opportunity to record some new “firsts” in program history: first C-USA West 1st-place finish, first C-USA championship, and first bowl win. UTSA can check each of these “firsts” off the list if the team plays to its potential.

Last year was a chaotic and tumultuous year for all of college football, as our country battled the Covid-19 pandemic. Some schools had to routinely cancel games and reschedule opponents while others canceled their football season entirely. Despite the challenges, UTSA managed to play a full football schedule, a feat that more established programs could not do. It was not ideal for first-year head coach Jeff Traylor. Nevertheless, UTSA managed to notch its first winning season since 2017, its first winning season in Conference USA since 2016, and its second bowl appearance in program history. Coming off an impressive showing against No. 19 Louisiana in the First Responder Bowl, the Roadrunners are primed to continue their strong play in 2021.

UTSA returns twelve “super seniors” and field one of the best running backs in all of college football in Sincere McCormick. Most of the team’s star playmakers from 2020 return as well, including quarterback Frank Harris, wide receivers Joshua Cephus and Zakhari Franklin, safety Rashad Wisdom, and linebacker Charles Wiley. UTSA also brings back an incredible special teams duo with kicker Hunter Duplessis and punter Lucas Dean. In addition, UTSA added some strong transfer talent in guard Lamonte McDougle, edge rusher Ronald Triplette, safety Clifford Chapman, and wide receiver Tre’Von Bradley. There is no shortage of talent on this year’s team, which gives UTSA a great opportunity to build on its success from last year.

Thankfully, UTSA will get tremendous help from their schedule. In out-of-conference play, the Roadrunners face Illinois and Memphis but also get Lamar and UNLV. In league play, the Roadrunners avoid the East Division’s heavy hitters Marshall and FAU and get returning league champion UAB at home. Combined with the remaining matchups from the West Division, UTSA has a clear path to its second bowl in two years and will be a strong contender for the conference title. The Roadrunners can finally claim that they expect to compete and win most of their games, rather than hoping to just exceed expectations.

Game-by-Game Prediction

@ Illinois. The Roadrunners will first take on Illinois from the Big 10 on the road in Champaign, Illinois. Like with any P5 opponent, UTSA will have to contend primarily with players of larger size and depth on the team. Illinois comes into the game having already played, and beaten, Nebraska while UTSA comes in fresh but untested. This matchup would ordinarily be a one-sided affair, but UTSA is not an ordinary G5 team. Make no mistake, UTSA can win this game. UTSA played at a higher level towards the end of its 2020 season and had the chance to upset No. 19 Louisiana in the First Responder Bowl. If that 2020 team shows up on gameday then Illinois will be on full upset alert. Even so, UTSA will have to play clean and mistake-free football for most of the game, which is difficult to do in the first game of the season. For these reasons, UTSA likely opens the 2021 season with a loss.

Prediction: Loss

Lamar. The Roadrunners have competed against Lamar University before, back when the two schools were both members of the Southland Conference. However, this is the first time the schools will meet on the football field. Lamar went 2-4 in conference play in 2020 and does not appear to have improved much in 2021. This will be UTSA’s home opener and should welcome an enthusiastic crowd to the Alamodome. UTSA should have no problem winning the game and will hopefully have the chance to play some of its promising freshmen by the fourth quarter.

Prediction: Win

Middle Tennessee. The rare conference game during the out-of-conference schedule, Middle Tennessee comes into San Antonio again after losing to UTSA in 2020. The Blue Raiders ended their season 3-6 and are looking to return to their competitive days under head coach Rick Stockstill. Last year, the Roadrunners narrowly won 37-35 and the team will be looking to avoid a similar performance. Like last year, UTSA will play Middle Tennessee after a home game against an FCS opponent while Middle Tennessee will be coming off a road game against a stronger FBS opponent. If there is any noticeable difference this time, it is that UTSA has the 2020 season under its belt, and the team will be more familiar with Jeff Traylor’s playbook than it was previously. UTSA should be in control throughout the game and will likely walk away with a comfortable win.

Prediction: Win

@Memphis. The Roadrunners travel to Memphis, Tennessee to take on the Memphis Tigers for the first time in program history. Memphis is coming off a strong 2020 football season, going 8-3 overall, 5-3 in AAC league play, and beating FAU 25-10 in the Crampton Bowl. Memphis was also ranked in the AP top 25, coming in at No. 16 in week 2, No. 17 in week 3, and No. 25 in week 4. UTSA did play No. 19 Louisiana close last year, but the Roadrunners never led in that game and could not close the game out in the fourth quarter. A similar showing is likely the best UTSA will do against Memphis, especially considering that Memphis will be at home.

Prediction: Loss

UNLV. This will be the final out-of-conference game for UTSA and if the Roadrunners are unable to upset either Illinois or Memphis then the team will be looking for the 2-2 split before full conference play. UNLV should make that endeavor easy. The UNLV Rebels went 0-6 for the 2020 season and their closest loss was by 13 points at home to Fresno State. Barring significant injury to Frank Harris or Sincere McCormick, UTSA should have little difficulty controlling this game and closing out its out-of-conference schedule on a high note.

Prediction: Win

@Western Kentucky. The first out-of-state conference game for UTSA will be in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the Roadrunners will look to even their series against WKU. The last, and only, time these two teams played was in 2014 when WKU put up 45 points to UTSA’s 7, and this matchup should prove to be just as tough. WKU’s 2020 season was disappointing to be sure, but the team returns much of its talent and brings in a star transfer in quarterback Bailey Zappe from Southland Conference’s Houston Baptist to lead WKU’s offense. Zappe was college football’s leading passer in 2020 and nearly led Houston Baptist to an upset of Texas Tech in Lubbock. Meanwhile, UTSA comes into the game with a storied history of disappointing road games against Conference USA’s East Division teams. Part of meeting expectations this season will be proving that UTSA can overcome its past mistakes. WKU is not a daunting opponent, but it is unfortunate that UTSA will have an improved WKU team on the road. It is likely UTSA leaves Kentucky with a close loss.

Prediction: Loss

Rice. In this writer’s opinion, the Rice Owls were UTSA’s original albatross hanging around the team’s neck. UTSA has played Rice in eight of the ten seasons since UTSA began playing games, with only the inaugural 2011 season and last year’s Covid-19 restricted season as the two outliers. Rice came away victorious for the first three games, and it seemed like there was nothing UTSA could do to overcome the Owls. Not anymore. The Roadrunners have won the last five games in the series and will likely be looking to regroup after the WKU game. Rice has certainly improved over the years and won a statement game on the road last year when it shut out Marshall. But while Rice fields a strong team, UTSA is even stronger and should have the playmakers needed to win in a grind-it-out type of game.

Prediction: Win

@ La Tech. If Rice was the albatross for UTSA, then Louisiana Tech is the Sword of Damocles dangling over UTSA’s head, always a threat and always ready to drop and ruin UTSA’s season. The Bulldogs have been a tough opponent from the start, but these teams often play each other particularly hard. Like Rice, La Tech has been a staple on UTSA’s schedule, having played in nine of UTSA’s ten seasons. Unlike Rice, however, La Tech owns a commanding 7-2 series lead over UTSA, with UTSA’s second win coming just last year. And UTSA has never won in Ruston, Louisiana. The Bulldogs will be fully competing for the West Division title and will no doubt be looking for revenge in this game. There is a good chance this game is the first true litmus test for UTSA to see how well they stack up to expectations this year. Unfortunately, those expectations will have to overcome a strong and competitive La Tech team while on the road, which has traditionally hurt UTSA.

Prediction: Loss

@ UTEP. UTSA will get a much-needed bye week and could be sitting at a 4-4 record before traveling to El Paso, Texas to face UTEP. Regardless of the record, UTSA enters this game as the first of four games to end the season and the best chance for UTSA to string together wins to ensure bowl eligibility. It starts with UTEP. The Miners went 3-5 overall and 0-4 in conference play in 2020, nearly lost to FCS Abilene Christian at home and lost to UTSA 51-21. Thankfully for Conference USA, UTEP appears to be much improved. It opened the 2021 football season with a strong road win against rival New Mexico State and has recruited a few standout players on offense. Even so, UTSA has had the advantage over UTEP in recruiting and the series. UTSA owns a 6-2 series lead and its last loss to UTEP came in 2016 when Aaron Jones—current NFL running back for the Green Bay Packers—ran all over UTSA in a 5OT thriller. UTEP might make the game more competitive than last year, but UTSA should walk out of the Sun Bowl with a win.

Prediction: Win

Southern Miss. Last year Sincere McCormick broke UTSA’s single-season rushing record against Southern Miss. It still took all four quarters for UTSA to put away the Golden Eagles after Southern Miss’s own star running back Frank Gore Jr. gashed UTSA’s defense. The final score was 23-20 in UTSA’s favor, and the Roadrunners will need to be careful to avoid a repeat affair. Southern Miss plays North Texas the week before and could be looking to right their season after a loss. If UTSA can run the ball effectively like it did last year, it should be enough for the win.

Prediction: Win

UAB. This game should be circled, highlighted, or otherwise marked by both UTSA and UAB on their respective schedule. It will likely determine Conference USA’s West Division champion. Under head coach Bill Clark UAB has torn through Conference USA and established itself as a premier college football team. UAB continues to bring in exceptional recruits and continues to receive massive buy-in from the Birmingham community. If UTSA is going to finish at the top of the conference, it will need to take down UAB to do so. This season seems to be the best chance for UTSA to do just that. UTSA played UAB well on the road last year with two backup quarterbacks and gets UAB at home this year. UTSA will come into this game having played UTEP and Southern Miss, while UAB will have played La Tech and Marshall, respectively. UAB’s game against Marshall will also be on the road, while UTSA will have just come off a home game. Finally, there is a good chance that UTSA will be bowl eligible and could have a loud and sizeable home crowd cheering them on. This will undoubtedly be one of UTSA’s toughest games this season, but the Roadrunners should have the players, the schedule, and the drive to pull out a close win.

Prediction: Win

@UNT. The final game of the season and it’s a road game against a heated conference rival. Both teams have dealt heartbreaking losses to the other, with UTSA stealing a road win in 2013 to deny North Texas the Conference USA West title and North Texas stealing a home win during the final seconds in 2017 with a phenomenal offensive drive that changed the trajectory of UTSA’s program under head coach Frank Wilson. Before the 2020 season, North Texas held a 4-3 series edge. That changed last year when UTSA’s Sincere McCormick ran straight through the Mean Green’s defense, breaking multiple school records as well as McCormick’s own single-game record en route to a 49-17 blowout. North Texas will not want to repeat that loss and will be looking to retake command of the series. UTSA will also be looking to take command of the series and end the season on a high note to improve its bowl stock. UTSA should be able to replicate its offense from 2020 and leave Denton with a win.

Prediction: Win

Final record: 8-4

Conclusion

If the team can stay healthy, play to their strengths, and keep the motivation high by taking full advantage of the schedule, then UTSA should have no problem meeting its expectations this year. A solid 8-4 record would tie UTSA’s best season in program history and put the Roadrunners in a good position for a West Division title and Conference USA championship. It would also reassure fans of the Jeff Traylor hire and confirm that the 2020 season was not an anomaly. And it would help solidify UTSA as a strong competitor in Conference USA going forward.