The battle-tested ‘Runners

Luke Lawhorn, Sports Editor

A standard Division I college football program plays 12 regular season games a year, with eight or nine being in conference games. UTSA football has now played four out-of-conference games in head coach Jeff Traylor’s tenure, and every year the team has improved. In 2020, Traylor’s first season, the Roadrunners went 2-2 in the four conference games, and last season went 4-0. UTSA is now 2-2 again, however, they are much better than their record indicates.  

In the 2020 season, the teams the ‘Runners faced were Texas State (2-10), Stephen F. Austin (SFA) (6-4), Brigham Young University (BYU) (11-1) and Army (9-3). UTSA lost to both BYU and Army by a total of 19-points, and neither of those teams were ranked at the time the ‘Runners played them. Texas State and SFA were bad teams, yet the scores were closer than they should have been. Last season, the Roadrunners beat all of their out-of-conference opponents, however, the four teams had a combined record of 15-32. Only one of those four teams — Memphis — was eligible for a bowl game with just six wins. Lamar University and UNLV had two wins each, and Illinois had five. The point is, UTSA was not battle-tested enough, and when the time came to play an equal opponent in a bowl game like Louisiana or San Diego State, they lost.  

This third season under Traylor is different. Of the four out-of-conference teams the ‘Runners played, only one is an FCS school, and just like top-tier college football programs, they handled their inferior opponent like they should have. The other three opponents came against No. 24 Houston, who UTSA battled to the bitter-end in three overtimes, and looked like the better football team for most of that game. Then, UTSA went on the road to West Point to play Army — a very historic and respectable program — where UTSA won in another overtime game. UTSA then went to Austin and in a hostile environment they hung tight with the No. 21 Texas Longhorns and for moments looked like they would pull the upset. Both Houston and Texas have recruited better than UTSA, meaning they have higher-rated athletes. However, Traylor and the rest of the coaching staff have not let that interfere with making their opponents work for their wins.  

With UTSA being tested in the regular season, not only will they be better suited for their own conference opponents, but for their long-sought out bowl victory. The ‘Runners had no real competition last season until they faced the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), meanwhile San Diego State played and beat power-5 schools, including the Utah Utes, who went on to win the Pac-12 conference. San Diego State used that experience from earlier in the season to defeat UTSA, who had not yet reached that level. This season, the ‘Runners have had the toughest schedule in Conference USA, and when UTSA finds themselves in a close game with equal-caliber players, they will be ready.