#22 UTSA Roadrunners (11-2 Conference USA) vs #23 Troy Trojans (10-2 Sun Belt Conference)
Kickoff time: 3:00 pm EST
Location: Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL
TV: ESPN: Beth Mowins (PxP)/Kirk Morrison (Analyst)/Stormy Buonantony (Sideline), ESPN can also be found on SlingTV
Radio: Bowl Season Radio (Sirius XM): Jamie Seh (PxP)/Landy Burdine (Analyst)/Despina Barton (Sideline)
Odds (provided by DraftKings): According to DraftKings, Coastal Carolina are a 12-point favorite with the over/under set at 63.5 points.*
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Since taking over at UTSA, Roadrunners head coach Jeff Traylor has done a remarkable job transforming the program from a Conference USA afterthought to Group of Five heavyweight.
After a four-season stretch that saw UTSA go 19-29 under former head coach Frank Wilson, Traylor has a 30-9 record in three years with the Cure Bowl marking the team’s third consecutive bowl berth.
“This is a fantastic destination and the opponent we have a lot of respect for,” said Traylor about the Cure Bowl berth. “It’s a great opportunity to show a lot of people how good of football we play at UTSA against a great opponent in Troy.”
Roadrunners’ quarterback Frank Harris has played a major factor in the program’s rise and back-to-back C-USA titles.
The sixth-year QB threw for 3,865 yards with 31 touchdowns on 71% completions while adding 588 yards and nine scores on the ground — en route to being named C-USA’s Most Valuable Player in 2022.
“It’s been an amazing experience so far being here (in Orlando), I’ve never been before so I’m excited to get to the theme parks,” said Harris.
Despite all of the program’s success, a bowl game victory has eluded the Roadrunners, something Harris is cognizant of as UTSA leaves Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference at season’s end.
“There’s a lot of things left out there for us, starting with we’ve never won a bowl game,” said Harris. “We’ve never finished in the top-25 and we’ve never beaten a top-25 team, so we’re going to go out there and play with a chip on our shoulder and (Troy) is going to be a great test for us.”
The Roadrunners’ high-powered offense sees Harris look for wideouts Zakhari Franklin and Joshua Cephus. The pair combined for 173 receptions for 2,085 yards and 20 touchdowns on the season.
Despite injuries at the running back position, UTSA has found several contributors on the ground. Conference USA Freshman of the Year Kevorian Barnes led the team with 713 yards and six touchdowns and should be the lead back in Friday’s contest.
Defensively, it’s been a sum of all parts unit for Traylor — that’s yielded excellent results. Three Roadrunners landed on the C-USA All-Conference First Team, defensive lineman Brandon Brown and defensive backs Corey Mayfield Jr. and Clifford Chatman. The latter two combined for 26 pass breakups and will play a major factor against the Troy passing attack, which has had occasional outbursts this year.
For Jon Sumrall, it’s fitting that his first season as the head coach at Troy ends in the Magic Kingdom, as Disney couldn’t have written a better script for the Trojans in 2022. Following Chip Lindsey’s 15-19 three-year run as head coach, Sumrall has guided the program to 10 straight wins after a 1-2 start to the season.
Lindsey, a finalist for the head coaching job four years ago before Lindsey was selected, spoke about the team’s bowl berth during media availability on Tuesday.
“It’s been a tremendous honor for our players and our program to be here in Orlando,” said Sumrall. “I have a lot of respect for Texas San-Antonio and this is a matchup of two of the premier Group of Five college football programs without question.”
The former linebacker and then defensive coordinator at Kentucky, Sumrall’s rejuvenation of the Troy program has been spearheaded by a defense that ranked first in the SBC and eighth in the nation in fewest points per game allowed this season (17.5).
“When I got the job roughly a year ago, my biggest recruiting job wasn’t to add new players, it was to get Austin Stidham and Carlton Martial to return,” said Sumrall. “I knew once I got those two guys to come back, it was going to help us establish the standards and core values in the program and give us a chance to be better more quickly than people anticipated.”
As improbable of a season as the Trojans have had, even more unbelievable has been the season and career of the aforementioned Martial.
Standing at 5-9 and listed at 215 pounds, Martial is the FBS all-time leading tackler with a career 564 tackles in five seasons with the program and has been a large part of the team’s defensive efforts.
Martial will be tasked with accounting for Roadrunners’ quarterback Frank Harris in terms of keeping him contained in the pocket.
Offensively, three-year starter Gunnar Watson has been a steady hand as a signal-caller. The 6-3, 210-pound junior threw for 2,705 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. The Trojans offense is at it’s best when the rushing attack helps set up manageable opportunities for Watson.
Running backs DK Billingsley and Kimani Vidal combined for over 1,700 yards on the ground and 17 touchdowns. When Watson looks to pass, his main target has been wideout Tez Johnson, who lead the team in all major receiving categories.