SAN ANTONIO — It’s not quite mid-May and the NBA conference finals have yet to tip off, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead to football season.
After all, we are in Texas, where football at every level is deeply ingrained in the state’s culture.
The news last week that UTSA has entered into an agreement with the University of Texas to play five football games against the Longhorns starting in 2022 was a reminder that the anticipation for the college season will start to ramp up once May gives way to June.
While playing UT for the first time will be exciting for the Roadrunners, the game they’re focused on now is their season opener against UIW on Aug. 31 at the Alamodome.
“You can put me on the books for a season opener that everybody’s waiting for,” UTSA coach Frank Wilson said after the Roadrunners’ spring game last month. “Our attention will turn to a worthy opponent in Incarnate Word, and we’ll start that preparation in short order here, so we can prepare to give the city of San Antonio what it’s looking for, a quality game. “
To be sure, UTSA must beat the Cardinals in their first meeting. UTSA put itself in a no-win situation the minute it agreed to play UIW, which competes in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). As an FBS school, albeit a newcomer at college football’s highest level, UTSA has little to gain and much to lose in the matchup with the Cardinals.
UIW finished 6-5 overall, 6-2 in the Southland Conference and made the FCS playoffs last year in its first season under head coach Eric Morris, formerly offensive coordinator at Texas Tech.
Now a little more on the five-game series against the Longhorns.
Under terms of the contract with UT, the Roadrunners will play the Longhorns every other year after the 2022 season. Unfortunately for San Antonio fans, all five games will be played at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin. But that should come as no surprise to anybody familiar with college football.
Schools such as Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Alabama, Clemson, USC, etc., which compete in so-called Power 5 conferences, always are going to have the upper hand when it comes to negotiating terms for games against schools from the bottom half of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
It would have been nice to see UTSA play UT before a sold-out crowd at the Alamodome, but schedules are set so far ahead of time that it was virtually impossible to work a Roadrunners’ home game in the series in this go-around. Maybe it will work out down the road.
Given UT’s decisive advantage in manpower, talent and tradition, it should go without saying that the Longhorns should make short work of the Roadrunners in all five games of the series. UTSA, which didn’t start playing football until 2011, will be the proverbial cupcake on UT’s schedule each of those five seasons.
While the Roadrunners are sure to take their lumps against the Longhorns, they’ll make a guaranteed amount of cash, more than $1 million, in each of the five games. And that, in a nutshell, is why schools from the less prestigious conferences – UTSA competes in Conference USA – play the big boys. As always, it’s all about the moola, the dinero.
The money UTSA makes from that one game each year will be a windfall for the school’s entire athletic program. UT gets an easy victory, but what happens if the Longhorns are locked in a tight race for a berth in the College Football Playoff? Strength of schedule is always important, and beating up on what is still generally a start-up program is not going to move the needle in the right direction for UT.
We’ll surely talk about that more in the summer of 2022. For now, let’s take a look at where UTSA stands heading into its ninth season this year.
Saddled with injuries, quarterback problems and a lack of playmakers on offense, the Roadrunners stumbled to a 3-9 season after winning six games each of the previous two years and going to their first bowl in 2016.
UTSA finished 2-6 in C-USA play last season, ending the year with six consecutive losses. The Roadrunners’ offense struggled mightily, finishing last among 130 FBS teams in total offense with an average of 247.1 yards per game. UTSA was held to a field goal in two of its six league losses and was shut out once.
The Roadrunners ranked 129th in scoring, averaging just 14.2 points per game. They were 128th in rushing offense and 119th in passing offense.
Wilson fired offensive coordinator Al Borges after the season and replaced him with Jeff Kastl, who coached the receivers the past three seasons. Kastl will be the Roadrunners’ third offensive coordinator in three seasons.
UTSA’s fortunes could start to trend upward if quarterback Frank Harris, who has missed the last two seasons with knee injuries, returns to form as a dual threat.
A 2017 Clemens graduate, Harris was on track to be UTSA’s starting quarterback last season before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during spring training. The injury came almost 18 months after Harris tore his left ACL in the eighth game of his senior high school season.
Harris, who redshirted as a freshman in 2017, participated in spring training this year and played well in the spring game. He expressed confidence that the offense will make marked improvement this season.
“We’re going to have a chip on our shoulder,” Harris said. “We’re going to find a way to get it done.”