UTSA will travel all over the Lone Star State this year. With nine games in Texas, the schedule carries whispers of an old Southwestern Conference lineup.
More importantly, it affords the university a chance to assert itself as a preferred destination among the schools they directly compete with for recruits. If the Roadrunners can rack up a winning record in the state and fans show their strength in numbers, things could go very well for this program.
There’s a certain few games that the Roadrunner Faithful have drawn an asterisk next to and highlighted on their schedule:
vs. Houston Cougars
This may be the best game on the schedule for UTSA. Much further beyond the fact that this is the season opener, the matchup is the most important in gauging the season’s expectations for the Birds. People will be sure to pay close attention to the Roadrunners if they can knock off the current Group of 5 powerhouse.
It will also be a big test for new Cougars head coach Major Applewhite as it’s common for teams to show increased vulnerability in a new coach’s debut. UTSA may catch this team at the perfect time.
For schools that have only met twice in the past, there’s a certain bit of animosity these programs share for one another. There’s a few things that account for that: 1) In both of the previous matchups, the away team has dominated the home team in decisive final scores. 2) In 2014, UTSA embarrassed Houston in TDECU Stadium’s grand opening, 27-7. 3) Fans travel in the masses, making for a packed crowd and a hostile game environment. 4) There’s something to be said about the historic rivalry among the cities of Houston and San Antonio.
This game is also critical in influencing the season’s home attendance numbers for UTSA. These teams average 36,600 in their meetings so far, and the 2014 game brought in upwards of 40,000. This game could potentially surpass even that, and if UTSA wins, the Alamodome will be a very tough place to play football through 2017.
at Baylor Bears
The Roadrunners’ first trip to Waco, Texas will mark the first time UTSA plays an in-state Big 12 school. This does hold some significance even though the conference isn’t as powerful as it once was. The Roadrunners get another opportunity to compete with the state’s biggest programs after seeing Texas A&M last season.
The recovering Bears are UTSA’s only Power 5 opponent. Baylor’s new head coach, Matt Rhule, is in his first year with the Bears after making the jump from Temple, and the team has suffered a lot of transfers and decommits in the fallout of the program's recent scandal. The Roadrunners have a chance to kick the Bears while they're down and capture their long-awaited goal of a Power 5 win. Typically, the Cinderella upsets come at the beginning of the season as well.
Roadrunner fans have showed strong travel numbers in College Station last year, so I expect a big presence in the stands. Like the game against Houston, this game may strike national television and give UTSA prime exposure.
at Texas State Bobcats
A young UTSA program is hardly in the beginning of the long process of establishing rivalries, but this matchup fits the criteria in every sport. This game means more to any UTSA or Texas State fan than any other game on their respective schedules. The “I-35 Rivarly” as it’s been dubbed, features two universities separated by only 54 miles of freeway asphalt.
It’s simple: the two don’t like each other. Students at each school typically have a number of childhood friends and family members that attend the other, making this game the most important pertaining to bragging rights and smack-talking. The only previous meeting was in 2012, when UTSA pulled out a 38-31 victory in the season finale at the Alamodome. To this day it is still often referenced in Twitter feuds among the two fanbases.
I think this game is better at the end of the schedule, but it’s still almost a guarantee that the winning team will rush the field. Actually, when UTSA beat Texas State that first time around, the administration let fans take to the Alamodome field without any sort of implication; they moreso embraced it. It’s also certain that players and fans alike will get extra-curricular with one another. This will be the funnest game for fans to attend as the atmosphere will be like no other.
This matchup marks the first of an eight-game series with the Bobcats, first for 2017-2018 and then through 2020-2025. The only thing that was keeping this rivalry from taking off was that these teams had only met on the gridiron once before. This game will be the start of something truly beautiful.
at North Texas
One thing we learned from last season is that UTSA and UNT are on the come up. Conference USA will sooner than later have to come through the state of Texas with Seth Littrell and Frank Wilson at the helms of these programs. If both programs continue trending upwards then the annual installment of this series could determine the division champion.
With both programs showing parallels over the last two years, this game is a fun indicator of which team is covering ground quicker. In 2015 both teams were godawful, so much so that they axed their head coaches and brought in up-and-coming young assistants to take over. Then last season, both first-year coaches managed incredible turnarounds, leading their teams to a bowl game. Both teams now have high expectations as the problem children in C-USA.
Since UTSA knocked UNT out of the conference title game in 2013, these two teams have not gotten along with each other. Fanbases have established a strong dislike in recent years and many players competed against one another in high school, often times deciding on one university directly over the other.
at LA Tech
My way-too-early prediction: this here season finale WILL decide the West division of C-USA.
Head coach Skip Holtz and the Bulldogs are still the team to beat, rightfully so, but if UTSA continues their positive trend through 2017 then this could set up what is the first of many titanic clashes to decide the division’s number one seed.
UTSA will be the natural underdog unless a seismic shift occurs during the regular season, but the odds are even more against the Roadrunners because they’ll be traveling to Ruston for the second year in a row. Regardless, it appears the league office has picked UTSA as the second in command for the West, taking the place of Southern Mississippi.
Whether or not it’s too soon to make that assumption remains to be seen, but UTSA has a chance to put the G5 on high alert with what may be the greatest schedule for a Texas program of all time.