Not often are programs amidst a restructuring poised for such an immediate turnaround. This year's Roadrunners are a different story. From the locker room to the Twitter feed, players and fans alike have the bar set high on a team that finished 3-9 last season.
It's not extremely outlandish to expect this team to finish .500 or better; UTSA returns a gang of last year's playmakers and head coach Frank Wilson has essentially plugged all of the gaps with an impressive list of transfers. That said, the road to a winning record is not going to be easy by any means.
When gauging the Roadrunners schedule, they only catch a mild break during the month of October. They're going to have to show up against tough opponents early in the season to finish in the winning column.
Sept. 10 - at Colorado State
UTSA heads to the Rocky Mountains for their second game and their first road test of the year. Here's the thing; it's not just their first road test, but their first real test altogether.
Coming off the opener against Alabama State - a game that shouldn't pose much of a competition - CSU is the first FBS opponent Wilson's Roadrunners are going to face, and it's going to speak volumes as to where this team really stands for the year.
Last season, when the Rams visited San Antonio, the game came down to the wire and ended in a two-point loss for UTSA. Where CSU has deteriorated, UTSA has improved; that's the upside. The downside is that the Roadrunners are going into the crisp mountain air and most of the first team won't have played four quarters in the week prior. Whether or not they're able to compete will be a clear indicator of how disciplined and conditioned Wilson has this squad at the start of the season.
Sept. 24 - at Old Dominion
The first conference battle and second roadie of the season takes place in Norfolk, Virginia, against the Monarchs.
Same narrative as CSU: last year's contest was decided by three points (UTSA loss), but that contest was in San Antonio. In this case, however, UTSA is coming off of a home game against Arizona State. The Roadrunners should be sitting at either 1-2 or 2-1 entering this game, depending on how they fare against CSU. But Old Dominion is going to be the toughest conference opponent they face outside of Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee.
Essentially, this game can determine how ready UTSA is to compete with the mid and upper tiers of C-USA. ODU is capable of putting points on the board, so it'll come down on the offense's ability to answer back in this one. A win or loss will have a big impact on how the Roadrunners finish overall, depending on their record entering this contest. To go bowling, a win against either CSU or ODU is a must.
Oct. 22 - UTEP
At this mid-point of the year, UTSA's record could be anywhere above, below, or right at .500. UTEP, like UTSA, is expected to turn things around this year.
It was a fortunate occurrence for the Roadrunners to play at the Sun Bowl last season. A tsunami delayed the game three separate times, and UTSA trounced the Miners on their homecoming day. This time around, it's UTSA's homecoming, and the weather shouldn't be an issue inside of the Alamodome.
This game is critical in deciding who runs the Texas gauntlet inside Conference USA, and, more importantly, is critical in deciding how the Roadrunners rank in C-USA West. The home-field advantage plays a big benefit for UTSA, especially considering the increase in attendance due to homecoming festivities. Winning this game speaks more volumes than most would consider.
The first road game and the first real competition for UTSA sets the tone for the Roadrunners' season. A win against CSU virtually guarantees a 2-0 start, and more so, virtually guarantees a .500 finish.
For the Roadrunners to go to Colorado and pull this win out will put C-USA on high alert. It will also illustrate how prepared Frank Wilson has these Roadrunners. The Rocky Mountain air won't be kind.
Honestly, I think UTSA has a better chance of taking CSU than ODU, weighing more into my verdict for this game as the must-win. If they can beat CSU, ODU is going to be on their heels when UTSA comes to town for the conference opener. On top of that, UTSA is going to have serious juice when facing the Monarchs if they're sitting at 2-1.
All in all, Colorado State is the game that will determine whether or not this team will be bowl bound.