There was good reason to be optimistic about UTSA’s 2021 season. Head coach Jeff Traylor was entering his second year with momentum and the schedule was relatively favorable. The general view among writers and fans was that UTSA would likely win between 7 and 9 games and contend for the C-USA title. I predicted an 8-4 record and believed UTSA was capable off a notching a few program “firsts” if the team played to its potential.
But not even the most diehard UTSA fan would have predicted the overwhelming success that was the 2021 season. In addition to winning the C-USA west division, the Roadrunners notched a 12-2 record, was ranked in the AP Top 25 for multiple weeks, produced two massive comeback wins, and delivered their first-ever conference championship in program history. And after conference realignment once again started to roll UTSA found itself on the receiving end of an invitation to the American Athletic Conference.
Talk about exceeding expectations.
Now, UTSA will have to contend with success and learn how to deliver a consistent and quality program for a new season. Thankfully the team returns a considerable amount of senior talent, including quarterback Frank Harris. Although this year’s schedule will be more difficult, there is little reason to think that UTSA will fall short of any opportunity to defend their league title.
San Antonio finally has the competitive football that fans have been begging for.
No. 24 Houston. The Roadrunners welcome the Houston Cougars to the Alamodome to start the season. These teams last met in 2014 and despite a sizeable crowd and excitement for Houston’s new stadium, UTSA pulled off a strong road upset winning the matchup 27-7. In fact, the home team has not won in this series and both teams come into this matchup with high expectations for their season. Houston is the favorite—they are ranked for a reason—and returns a ton of talent from last year. Odds are the Cougars will win given their talent and skill. But talent aside, UTSA has a knack for winning their opening games. The team is 9-2 since 2011, has not lost an opening game when playing at home, and of the two losses only one was a blow out. Simply put, the Roadrunners show up to the first game. And while Houston is talented, so too is UTSA. This should be a good game regardless, but even though the odds favor Houston there is a very good chance that UTSA beats those odds given their history.
@ Army. The Roadrunners travel to West Point, New York to face Army for the third matchup of this series. Although Army was the road team in the previous two games, the Golden Knights are 2-0 and still play the same style of physical football. On paper UTSA will likely be the favorite, especially if the Roadrunners win against Houston. Moreover, last year showed that UTSA can win on the road, which was often a struggle for the program. Even so, Army will not be an easy out and their run-heavy offense will likely test the Roadrunners’ defense harder than Houston in terms of endurance. Despite the expectations, UTSA probably loses this matchup given the unfavorable road conditions.
@ Texas. If ever there was a year for UTSA to pull off the upset, it is this one. The Roadrunners boast the most talent they have ever had, have a star quarterback playing at the top of his game, and have an exceptional amount of momentum on their side. Conversely, the Longhorns have consistently fallen short on expectations and while the team is recruiting well Texas has not been the juggernaut that it was in the early 2000’s. But with an impending move to the SEC the Longhorns are poised to return to prominence, especially considering the recruiting wins they have already experienced.
So, if UTSA is going to beat Texas, it will have to be this year. The Roadrunners proved last year that they could beat a power 5 opponent on the road. But Texas is not Illinois, and the Longhorns are still a strong program even when they are simply mediocre. Texas may not be back, but it is still good enough to outlast UTSA with talent alone.
Texas Southern. The final out-of-conference game will be against the Texas Southern Tigers. Last year the Tigers went 3-8 with an FCS schedule and have not drastically improved their roster. After two grueling road games the Roadrunners will be looking to notch a win before opening conference play. With a home crowd in support, UTSA should have no problem winning this game and should hopefully be able to rest key players to prepare for the rest of the season.
@ Middle Tennessee. UTSA opens their conference season with the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders for the second time in as many years. Last year UTSA easily controlled the tempo and pace of the game, winning by a comfortable 27-13 score. In fact, UTSA’s defense was able to shut out Middle Tennessee for the first three quarters and only gave up points in the final 4 minutes of the game. Although the Roadrunners will be on the road, they have won in Murfreesboro before and should be able to win again with their returning talent. Plus, UTSA will be coming off the game against Texas Southern while Middle Tennessee will have just finished playing Miami, a strong power five program. The Roadrunners should be rested enough to handle business.
Western Kentucky. A rematch of the C-USA championship and again UTSA Roadrunners will get the benefit of playing at home. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers were UTSA’s toughest opponent last year, at least schematically (UNT notwithstanding). Even so, the Roadrunners won both matchups, both on the road and at home. And while UTSA returns its quarterback the Hilltoppers will not be so fortunate. Western Kentucky will be without the services of quarterback Bailey Zappe, who was an absolute killer on offense. UTSA will again have the talent while Western Kentucky, even though they return a good number of players, will be short on what made them such a matchup nightmare for the Roadrunners. UTSA should be able to win this matchup second time in the Alamodome.
@ FIU. Halfway into UTSA’s season the Roadrunners will travel to Florida to face the FIU Panthers. Fifth year Head Coach Butch Davis is looking to pull FIU out from the bottom of the conference but still needs help to do so. Last year the Panthers went 1-11 overall and 0-8 in league play and the team has not recruited nearly as well as needed to drastically improve that record. Every conference game matters, and UTSA should not sleep on any opponent, but this matchup should go UTSA’s way if the Roadrunners play within their capabilities. Given how successful coach Traylor has been in preparing the team for every game this should not be difficult to accomplish.
North Texas. Oh boy. Who doesn’t love a rivalry game? The Mean Green were UTSA’s only loss last year during the season—not including the bowl game—and the loss was not even close. UTSA was ranked No. 22 but that did not stop North Texas from dominating the game from start to finish. The final score was 23-45 but it was 13-31 at halftime and 45-13 by the time the fourth quarter started. It seems that whenever these two teams play all semblance of record goes out the window; on at least three occasions the “worst team” has won and won handily. There is very little to predict when it comes to this rivalry, which is what makes rivalries so fun. UTSA will be looking to avenge last year’s blemish while North Texas will be looking to reassert its dominance over the series. This time the Roadrunners are at home, which can make all the difference. But don’t run to place any bets solely on that fact alone as anything could happen.
Prediction: Win / Loss
@ UAB. There were many notable wins that UTSA notched last year: (1) controlling the entire game against Illinois, (2) the comeback win against Memphis, and (3) the shootout win against Western Kentucky. All of these wins were on the road too. But perhaps no win was as more dramatic or as consequential than UTSA’s last-second home win over the UAB Blazers to secure the western conference title. UAB was, and remains, an exceptionally strong opponent and will once again be in contention for the western title and C-USA championship. A gut check review of this matchup likely favors UAB because they are at home and will be looking for revenge. But here the schedule really hurts UAB and helps UTSA. UAB will be coming off two road games against Western Kentucky and FAU which will likely not be easy games. Meanwhile, UTSA will be coming off a bye week and a rivalry game that, if UTSA lost, will only motivate the Roadrunners more to stay in title contention. Plus, UTSA showed last year that it was capable of winning hard games on the road (see the three games mentioned above). This game will be just a difficult as last year, but the Roadrunners have the schedule and recent history on their side to overcome any homefield advantage the Blazers will have.
La Tech. I wrote last year that La Tech was UTSA’s Sword of Damocles, with a commanding 7-2 series lead and a tendency to play the Roadrunners tough no matter the environment. Whatever reservations I had about the game last year evaporated quickly as UTSA stormed into Ruston and claimed a convincing 45-16 win. The series is now 7-3 in favor of the Bulldogs, but UTSA is now in control of the series, having won the last two games in convincing fashion. The Roadrunners get this matchup at home and should still be fresh enough after the UAB game to take care of business. La Tech can certainly steal this win, but coach Traylor has done nothing to dampen my thoughts about UTSA having blunted that once mighty sword.
@ Rice. Another staple on UTSA’s schedule. The Rice Owls have shown they are capable of winning big games, beating UAB last year in Birmingham and shutting out Marshall the year before. But UTSA is in full control of this series and seems to have Rice’s number at this point. The Roadrunners have won the last six matchups and crushed the Owls last year, winning the game 45-0. There is little reason to think that this year’s matchup will result in a massive reversal of fortune for Rice. The game may be closer, but the Roadrunners have the talent and the experience to win this matchup.
UTEP. UTSA ends their season against the UTEP Miners, a team that showed a lot of promise last year in route to a 7-6 record and a bowl appearance. When these teams met in the Sun Bowl last year the energy and excitement was palpable. But the momentum from that season seems to have dulled. The Miners lost their opening game against North Texas 13-31 in front of a large home crowd, and they were shut out entirely in the second half. UTSA should be in contention for the conference title game and a loss to UTEP would surely upset any chance of a repeat title. The Roadrunners should be able to win with the hope of returning to the conference championship game.
Final record: 10-2 or 9-3
I admit I took the easy way out in giving two predictions. The UNT game is that difficult to predict and will likely be the difference in UTSA repeating as a conference champion. Both records may seem like a step back from last year but given the schedule it should still be seen as a tremendous victory. Aside from the Texas game there is not a team on this schedule that UTSA should not have a solid chance of beating. UTSA and Coach Traylor showed repeatedly last year that the team is more than lucky. I will not bet against that this year, especially with the returning talent. Regardless of the outcome, if UTSA can post back-to-back strong winning seasons, it will go a long way to building the fanbase and preparing the Roadrunners for a jump to the AAC.