UTSA football at a glance

Head coach: Frank Wilson, third season, 12-12 at UTSA

2017 records: 6-5 overall, 3-5 Conference USA (fifth in West Division)

Returning lettermen: 36

Returning starters: (O/D/ST): 12 (4/6/2)

Season opener: at Arizona State, Sept. 1, 9:30 p.m.

Home opener: vs. Baylor, Sept. 8, 6 p.m., Alamodome

SAN ANTONIO – It’s not quite mid-August but the anticipation for a new football season already has started to build for the UTSA Roadrunners, who are in their second week of fall camp.

“It’s crazy because when you’re in camp, you don’t think about what day it is,” senior defensive lineman Kevin Strong Jr. said Saturday. “You’re going through camp. When they told me today we’ve only got three weeks until we go to Tempe [Arizona], I was like, 'Man, that’s crazy.'

“You get jitters because three weeks ain’t nothing. Time flies. It’s right around the corner. We’re going to be in front of 50,000 ready to go. I’m ready for it, man.”

The Roadrunners open their eighth season in school history at Arizona State on Sept. 1. The teams have met once before, with the Sun Devils rallying for a 32-28 victory in 2016 at the Alamodome.

UTSA is in the unenviable position of opening the season with a new quarterback on the road against a Power 5 team. The Roadrunners also must replace defensive end Marcus Davenport, who was selected by the New Orleans Saints with the 14th overall pick in the NFL draft.

Steady quarterback Dalton Sturm, who made the team as a walk-on, went on to start 31 straight games before completing his college career last season. Sturm signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent.

Four players – senior D.J. Gillins, junior Cordale Grundy, sophomore Bryce Rivers and freshman Jordan Weeks – are competing to start at quarterback for the Roadrunners. The race is still too close to call, head coach Frank Wilson and offensive coordinator Al Borges said Saturday.

“I thought, all in all, all four had some good moments,” Wilson said, referring to how the quarterbacks looked in a scrimmage Saturday morning. “Certainly a lot of work still to be done there. The quarterback competition is one that’s very heated right now. We have four scholarship quarterbacks that are all competing very well. It’ll be interesting once this film is graded.

“I thought they were very efficient. D.J. played well, Cordale played very well. You look at a young Jo Jo Weeks, who continues to throw touchdowns and doesn’t throw it to the other team, and Bryce Rivers, who in this program is the most veteran in that regard, also continues to plow ahead. I don’t know if we have anybody that has separated themselves after preseason game No. 1.”

FBC UTSA defensive players Kevin Strongt Jr. and Carl Austin III celebrate during game vs. Marshall_1511074253063.jpg
UTSA defensive lineman Kevin Strong Jr. (54) earned second-team all-conference honors last year after finishing with 27 tackles, including seven for loss, and three sacks. Photo by Antonio Morano (Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT) / Special to KENS5.com
(Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to Kens5.com)

Rivers, a Stevens High School graduate, came off the bench to play in three games last season.

Although they lost a heartbreaker to ASU two years ago, the Roadrunners were heartened by how close they came to pulling off the upset.

UTSA led ASU 28-25 before running back Kalen Ballage scored on a 2-yard run with 3:15 left to thwart the Roadrunners' bid to beat a Power 5 conference team for the first time in school history. UTSA finally got its historic victory against a Power 5 team last year, beating Baylor 17-10 in Waco.

“Especially with the younger guys, that helps us realize that we’re not just some small D-I program that can’t do much, especially against Power 5 teams,” junior linebacker Josiah Tauaefa said. “I think that Arizona State game, the Baylor game last year, even though they didn’t have a very good season, I think that win and playing Arizona State close like that helps people realize we can play with anybody, as long as we do what we’re coached to do and play hard 100 percent of the game. I’m hoping that it will spark some motivation to realize that.”

Strong and Tauaefa were among a group of UTSA players made available for interviews Saturday at the team’s annual media day on campus. Wilson, Borges, defensive coordinator Jason Rollins, and special teams coordinator Gary Hyman also spoke with reporters.

The Roadrunners went 6-5 overall and 3-5 in Conference USA last year, finishing fifth in the West Division. UTSA went to a bowl in its first season under Wilson in 2016 but was snubbed last year despite meeting the required minimum of six victories. The Roadrunners were 5-2 with four games left in the regular season but went 1-3 in November and didn’t get their sixth victory until their next-to-last game.

UTSA returns 36 lettermen, including four offensive starters, six defensive starters, and both kickers from that team. Strong and Tauaefa are back to lead a defensive unit that finished the season eighth in the country in scoring defense (17.0).

But new defensive coordinator Jason Rollins faces the daunting task of replacing Davenport, last season’s Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year.

Wilson promoted Rollins, associate head coach and linebackers coach the past two years, to defensive coordinator after Pete Golding left the Roadrunners in mid-December to join Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama.