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One of our most well-received pieces of content last year was the media roundtable we hosted heading into the 2021 season. It was a lot of fun to get so many of the program’s beat writers, podcasters, and bloggers together to share their predictions for the year.
With most of us being off by a solid four wins, we’re back to attempt to redeem ourselves with more accurate season win totals, as well as some other observations and predictions for what promises to be another extremely interesting season for the Roadrunners.
Thanks again to all of our media participants this season for humoring us with this roundtable, as well as providing such stellar coverage of the program.
The Roadrunners shocked the nation last season by winning 12 games. What game, play, or moment sticks out to you as the turning point for when you knew last season was going to be a special one for UTSA?
Javi Cardenas (BirdsUp.com) – For me it was the Memphis game. Their ability to come back from a large deficit against a team like Memphis really showed how resilient this team was. It showed throughout the season winning close game after close game against very good opponents. That game, the game winning drive and the subsequent game winning field goal was the turning point for me looking back.
JJ Perez (InsideRunnerSports.com) – It boils down to two moments for me. Hunter Duplessis game-winning kick at Memphis and Clarence Hick’s game-winning interception at Western Kentucky. UTSA was dead in the water for most of that Memphis game before rallying. And what most people don’t realize about Hunter’s game-winning kick was that it probably should have been blocked. If you go back and look at the video you will see a significant breakdown on the line of scrimmage. Against WKU, that game was so wild. Whoever had the ball last was going to win. And it felt like the Hilltoppers were going to hold off the Roadrunners. WKU looked like they were going to have it first and goal but a penalty backed them up. The next play, Hicks made one of the craziest athletic plays I’ve ever seen anyone make. If either of those plays go the other way, UTSA never gets ranked and the season doesn’t turn out as special as it did.
Stephen Whitaker (BirdsUp.com) – There were a lot of memorable moments for me in the 2021 season but the one that sticks out to me as the moment I knew it would be a special season is the fourth game of the season at Memphis. The Roadrunners went down 21-0 and then came back to beat the Tigers 31-28. It would be memorable to me even if I hadn’t correctly predicted the final score and that it would be won on a last second kick from Hunter Duplessis.
Adrian Bermudez (Alamodome Audible) – It all started in out of conference play. I was blown away with how impressively we beat Illinois; it was extremely special and we were in total control that entire contest. At no point did we trail and the offense was three yards shy of 500 total – on the road. Hell, we put up 37 points. A lot of us naturally forget about that game because of Hunter Duplessis’ walkoff field goal against Memphis after UTSA had trailed 21 points, and yes that was one of the greatest wins in program history, but I was awestruck when we came out and dominated Illinois in the first game of the year. It was apparent the team was “wow” levels of good.
Greg Luca (San Antonio Express News) – Right out of the gate, winning at Illinois felt huge. Not just because it was a road win against a Big Ten team, but because UTSA seemed like the superior team throughout. But we had no idea if Illinois might just be in for a rough season, and the next few weeks for the Roadrunners left plenty of room for nitpicks, so what sealed it for me was Clarence Hicks’ interception on the goal line to beat Western Kentucky. That 6-0 start would’ve been historic no matter how the rest of the season played out. Bowl eligibility was already in the bag after being an annual question, and the path to a Conference USA title was pretty easy to envision.
Jared Kalmus (Alamodome Audible) – Without a doubt it’s UTSA’s come-from-behind win over Memphis in an extremely warm Liberty Bowl. The Roadrunners looked absolutely lifeless in the first half, but they leaned on their culture and depth to claw their way back into the game. While Hunter Duplessis’ clutch game-winning field goal will obviously be remembered for years to come, Sincere McCormick’s first down run to set up the field goal attempt has really stood out to me over the past few months. That huge run serves as such a great reminder of McCormick’s reliability and strength down the stretch of a ball game.
UTSA starts out their season with one of the toughest three game stretches in program history. How do you see the Roadrunners faring against Houston, Army, and Texas?
Javi – I think if you get out that stretch of games 1-2 you take that as a win. I do think UTSA will be able to take one of those games and head into Texas Southern with a win under their belt.
Stephen – All three games will be close and I think UTSA has a chance to be 3-0 as easily as they could be 0-3. To beat Houston they will need to keep the Alamodome crowd in it as long as possible. To beat Army they will need to take an early lead and hold it. To beat Texas they need to hang with the Longhorns as long as possible and let the seeds of doubt grow into a doubt cedar among the Austinites. I’ll say the Roadrunners start 2-1 and let it be a mystery as to which game of the three they lose.
Adrian – To come out winless would be a major disappointment. No reason why UTSA shouldn’t one of these three games, though it’s a bit more challenging with the second two being consecutive road trips. Offensively, there’s more than enough firepower to be competitive against every opponent. Frank Harris and his list of receivers can put each of these defenses up against the ropes. So I’m confident the scoring capability of this offense will get us a win in this stretch.
JJ – Mark me down in the 0-3 category. It’s just too tough and unfair of a schedule. Usually you would want to play two of these types of games per season. But it is what it is. I do feel like the games will be relatively close. Fingers crossed that UTSA makes out of that three-game stretch healthy. That may be an impossible task though.
What roster concern do you think is flying under the radar heading into week one?
Greg – Two stand out. UTSA has big shoes to fill at left tackle with Spencer Burford, and I don’t consider it a promising sign that new names like Venly Tatafu and Ben Rios were entering the competition in the second half of fall camp. At least that’s not Frank Harris’ blind side. Outside linebacker is another question mark. Dadrian Taylor is an outstanding player, but plugging in a 185-pound nickel for a starting spot that last year was held by Clarence Hicks, a 225-pounder and the program’s single-season sacks leader, seems to be asking a lot. Given how unproven Trey Moore and Jimmori Robinson are at the other outside linebacker spot, pass rush is a big question. Especially if UTSA isn’t significantly tweaking the defense to create pressure, which it doesn’t sound like they are.
Javi – Depth at safety. Houston will throw the ball, will the guys behind Wisdom and Chattman be able to play at the same level if they have to step off the field for whatever reason?
Stephen – I’ll go out on a limb I doubt a lot of people are on and say the kicker position might be a position of concern. This is not a slight on the return of Jared Sackett after three years wandering the wilderness of Arkansas and Tampa. It’s just to say the Roadrunners had one of the most consistent kickers in the country the last two years in Hunter Duplessis. There were a few games, like the one against Memphis, that came down to the leg of Duplessis. Who is that leg this year?
JJ – The obvious one is back up tight end. But the under the radar one is backup offensive lineman. There are four freshmen listed in the two deep along the o-line. You would hope that none of those players have to play. UTSA has a strong group of starters and guys that have experience. But behind those guys are a bunch of young guys. That’s exciting for the future development of the group. But the last thing you want to do is have to roll out either a true or redshirt freshman against one of the best defenses in the country.
Pick a breakout candidate on each side of the ball.
Javi – On defense — Brandon Brown On offense — Oscar Cardenas
Jared – I think Dan Dishman is really going to stretch the field vertically for UTSA at the tight end position. You can tell that UTSA’s staff wanted to work the seams more than they did last year. Dishman has the speed and hands to make that a reality this season. Defensively I like Donyai Taylor to break through as a major playmaker at the Sam position.
Adrian – Dan Dishman for the offensive pick. He’s been developing his tight end role here for two years now and Jeff Traylor won’t stop mentioning his name during interviews. It’s hard to consider a C-USA All Freshman Team selection a “breakout” candidate, but keep in mind he disappeared for five games last season after getting injured. I don’t think casual UTSA fan knows Dan quite yet, but they’ll know him this year. On defense, I think they obvious answer is Trey Moore. The redshirt freshman is the definitive starter at outside linebacker with no “or” underneath his name on the depth chart. I think he’ll prove to be quite a potent talent for UTSA.
Greg – UTSA is pretty loaded at corner, but I think Dywan Griffin will play a lot of snaps and maximize his chances. His time as a receiver shows in how often he seems to get his hands on the ball during practice. Offense is tougher just because it feels like we’ve seen all of the key pieces already. Trelon Smith is not a particularly bold choice, but I believe he’ll play the majority of the snaps this season and be featured heavily. But I also envision Tye Edwards taking a role in red zone and short yardage.
What do you see as the largest hurdle facing the football program as they make the jump to the American Athletic Conference?
Javi – Can the NIL infrastructure at UTSA compete with the upper echelon of the AAC (SMU, Memphis, Tulane).
Stephen – I would say the biggest hurdle for the football program is its youthfulness. It will be going into an AAC full of schools that have a football infrastructure that goes back decades. UTSA will be coming into the AAC having played only 12 seasons of football. That being said, for as young as UTSA is, they are in a good position to close the gap on the older programs.
Adrian – Making the jump will be a semi-seamless transition, but the consistency of staying upper echelon is where the challenge lies. How does the team remain consistent as it grows? UTSA will need to avoid becoming a victim of their own success. Many programs briefly enjoy an era of winning, but not many consistently sustain it. Coaches and personnel will advance their careers and leave to better opportunities, as will players. And with their departure, the winning culture can also leave. At some point, Jeff Traylor is going to take another coaching job (he almost did last year). It’s up to the Athletics Department to manage that cycle and replace him with an even better hire, and then do it again and again.
JJ – Infrastructure development. This is not necessarily just facilities, although I would include the cover of the practice field in that discussion, but continuing to develop what they have in terms of budget, spending, staff allocation, player nutrition and development. Jeff Traylor’s 10-year contract extension included some improvements to those areas. But the keyword is some. When it comes to spending money at UTSA, it’s always a difficult topic because at UTSA there simply isn’t a lot of what some would consider discretionary revenue. There should be no reason that UTSA has one less graduate assistant than other teams in C-USA. The Roadrunners need more and not less recruiting staff. And UTSA still does not have what I would consider a training table that is on par with a program like Rice. There have been considerable improvements from when Jeff Traylor arrived on campus to now. So it’s just about continuing to push the envelope with all of that and making things better across the board.
UTSA 2022 Season Preview Podcast
Get ready for the 2022 season by checking out our season preview podcast where we discuss each game on UTSA’s schedule this fall.
How would you evaluate the first year of Name, Image, and Likeness activity at UTSA?
Stephen – I would say on the whole it has been a good thing for UTSA. NIL has allowed UTSA players to get closer to the people and business of San Antonio and vice versa. The more UTSA football can become ingrained into the fabric of the city the better it will be in the long run.
Greg – It doesn’t seem like any of the Roadrunners are cashing in to an extreme extent, but it appears they’ve tapped into enough creative avenues to keep everybody happy. The lack of notable offseason transfers leaving the program might be the most important metric, and with Runners Rising in place and 210 Inspired on the way, things seem to be trending up.
Jared – Relative to their peers I think UTSA has done a great job. The UTSA community was quick to the punch in signing student-athletes to marketing deals, and UTSA was one of the first G5 programs to launch an NIL collective. But if the Roadrunners want to continue their upward trajectory they’ll need to be able to point to some five digit deals to ensure recruits don’t immediately write off UTSA for NIL purposes.
JJ – If we’re handing out grades I’d say B+. From the G5 perspective it seems like UTSA is outpacing their peers. Various businesses got in on the process early. Now UTSA is about to have two collectives. Runners Rising, the first UTSA collective, as done a good job of embracing and promoting student athletes across various sports at the school. The newest collective nearing launch, 210 Inspired, seems like it’s going to be a game changer. There is some significant financial support behind that group. And then there are various individual businesses all over San Antonio doing NIL deals. It seems like UTSA is doing well. But then you see what SMU is doing and you realize how big of an uphill battle that is. UTSA has already lost head-to-head battles to SMU with several recruits. No one is going to say it’s because of NIL but I will say it’s because of NIL. UTSA has got to find away to keep growing in the NIL space, especially when they move to the AAC.
Your prediction for UTSA’s win-loss record at the end of the year
Javi – 9-3
Stephen – Last year I picked them to go 8-4. I think they can win nearly every game but I’ll say they go 9-3 in the regular season this year. I do think they win the conference again and get the first bowl win in program history, which would mean a final record of 11-3. Everyone would be happy with that record.
Jared – I have the Roadrunners going 9-3 in the regular season and looking pretty good doing it. UTSA should have a solid talent gap over most of their conference opponents, and the team has only had two terrible performances through Jeff Traylors’ 26 games at UTSA. But this schedule is nowhere near as kind as 2021, and the margin for error is much more slim for UTSA this year, especially in the out of conference slate.
Greg – 9-3. Most likely a 1-2 start and then one slip in conference, though the league does seem pretty weak this year. I thought about going even higher, but it’s hard to imagine the Roadrunners will continue winning every close game the way they have been.
Adrian – 10-2, undefeated in C-USA
JJ – My prediction for the regular season only is 7-5. That breaks down to 1-3 in nonconference games, 2-1 vs the Texas C-USA teams, and 4-1 against the rest of the conference (losing to UAB). It’s rare for a two conference loss team to make the league title game but if they do, I certainly wouldn’t wager against them.
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