Can the Roadrunners coast to repeat as C-USA champs?

Luke Lawhorn, Sports Editor

Following Saturday’s win against North Texas (4-4, 3-1 C-USA), UTSA (6-2, 4-0) is now the only unbeaten team in Conference USA. Of course, this means the Roadrunners control their own destiny and as long as they remain unbeaten, they will host a second-straight conference championship game at the Alamodome this year on Dec. 2. But will that be an easy task?

It is already documented that UTSA had its hardest out-of-conference schedule in program history this year. Hosting the No. 24 Houston Cougars, then traveling to West Point to play the historic Army team, then going to Austin and playing the No. 20 Texas Longhorns in front of a crowd of 102,000 is not an easy task. The ‘Runners were already battle-tested, being a veteran team and now 16-6 in one-possession games in the fourth quarter while under coach Jeff Traylor. But now what stands in the way?

The Roadrunners have four more regular season games, with two being at home. The ‘Runners are currently injured left and right and are even moving players to different positions due to the crippled depth chart. At no-better timing, UTSA is now on its bye week, which will give everyone some much-needed rest. This will also give them more time to focus on their next opponent, who happens to be at UAB. The Blazers (4-3, 2-2) were picked to finish second in the C-USA preseason picks; however, they have not been as good as advertised. UAB won the conference championship in 2018 and 2020, so the experience is there. The ‘Runners will then play LA-Tech, at Rice and UTEP. Is there a reason to worry?

As seen in their record, the Blazers are a .500 team which lands them fifth in the conference standings. What is important to know is that UAB is home for their game and also has the best defense in C-USA, allowing 323.9 yards per game and 17.7 points per game on average — both number one in the conference. For context, UTSA is in the middle of the conference, allowing 416.6 yards per game and 29.4 points per game. The ‘Runners have played a higher level of competition, while UAB has not even played a Power-5 school. UAB also lost to Western Kentucky earlier this season, who is not only currently second in C-USA but also a team UTSA has already beaten. 

The third team is North Texas, which UTSA already took care of. In fourth place is Rice (4-3, 2-1), who the ‘Runners play on Nov. 19. The game will be played at the Alamodome, giving UTSA the home-field advantage. The Owls lost earlier this season 66-14 against the USC Trojans, and though they are a talented team, so are the Longhorns, and UTSA has never been embarrassed by them or any team under coach Traylor. Rice also lost to Houston 34-27, who beat the ‘Runners by 2-points in the season opener. Rice is also the last one-loss C-USA team UTSA has not played yet, so it is important to note that if UTSA were to lose to Rice, they would still sit second in the conference, and would be back to first if Rice lost again.

UTSA can lose a game and still host the championship game, let alone play in it as the visiting team. Besides UAB and Rice who do have respectability, the Roadrunners play against Louisiana Tech (2-5, 1-2) and UTEP. Both of these games will be at home, and both of these teams are below in every offensive stat that matters — scoring, totals, rushing and passing. The defenses are all pretty even — however, not only would the Roadrunners win now, but with a healthier team, it will not be close. UTEP (4-4, 2-2) lost 31-13 against North Texas, which UTSA beat, and lost 45-13 to Oklahoma, who for context lost to Texas 49-0. What are the realistic scenarios?

UTSA is favored in all their remaining games, so if fate will have it, the most realistic thing will be for the Roadrunners to host the championship once again. Even if UTSA lost a game, they would still be first in going to the championship game, if not in San Antonio. That would also require Rice, UAB or UTEP to win out, which is unlikely. Is it a conference championship or bust?

If the ‘Runners do not win the conference championship, the season may still not be a bust. Coach Traylor has been undeniably successful in his short tenure at UTSA, having lost just 10 games, four in the last two seasons. However, he has not won a bowl game. UTSA has already become bowl eligible, meeting the requirement of winning six games. Winning a bowl game against the out-of-conference opponent will be the first in program history, giving some all-time history to the season. If the ‘Runners win eight or nine games minimum, they will get a respectable opponent. If UTSA were to lose the conference championship and bowl game, it would be a failure. What is the first step?

At the bare minimum, UTSA needs to maintain their health to get some of their key players back. The bye week the ‘Runners are currently on will help, as they can sit at home and gameplan. The Roadrunners’ final four-game stint will start against UAB at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 in Birmingham, Ala.