UTSA Pre-season Media Roundtable 2021

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We had the pleasure of bringing some of UTSA’s outstanding media members together for a collaborative round table before the Roadrunners kick off the season. Thanks to everyone who participated and gave us an idea on the temperature in the room as UTSA prepares for their 2021 season.

1. Expectations for UTSA are higher than they’ve ever been heading into 2021.What would determine a “successful” season for the Roadrunners?

Ryder Martin (The Paisano) – Given the results of last season and the trajectory of the program, a successful season for the ‘Runners this year would be determined by if the ‘Runners could meet or exceed last year’s runner-up finish in Conference-USA West and if the program is able to win their first bowl game in their history.

Jared Kalmus (Alamodome Audible) – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are college football programs. Given UTSA’s relatively low level of historical achievement, I think it’s unfair to expect conference championships and bowl wins from a program until they prove that they can consistently compete at that level. To that point, I think another 7 or 8 win season and a bowl trip would be a great success for UTSA. Making consecutive bowl trips is a good first step to building a consistent winner.

Javi Cardenas (BirdsUp.com) – Jeff Traylor will probably be a victim of his own early success this season. I think anything less than a trip to the Conference USA Championship Game should be seen as relative failure after last season.

Now if a team like UAB goes undefeated and tears through C-USA I can see a scenario where a 2nd place finish in the West could be seen as a consolation prize. That level of expectations might be harsh for a second year head coach but there is a reason Traylor was allowed to bring back all the “Super Seniors” he did. And believe me it was not to finish second in C-USA West.

Stephen Whitaker (BirdsUp.com) – There is a lot of hype surrounding the Roadrunners this season. This is probably the most anticipated season since the inaugural season of 2011. This is also the first time that UTSA has so many players getting love on preseason watchlists. There is a lot to be happy about for the Roadrunner fanbase. If UTSA can get eight wins or more that would have to be considered a successful season.

JJ Perez (InsiderRunnerSports.com) – UTSA has been here before, a few times. A good season that gets everyone’s hopes up followed by disappointment, big disappointment. Is this time around different? I think so. The Roadrunners field their deepest team probably ever. But does that mean they can exceed what they did in 2020? I’ve seen many predict UTSA’s win total at 7, 8, or even 9 games. I’m not too sure about that. A successful campaign in my eyes is 6+ wins, getting into a bowl game, and winning that bowl game. That may not be what expectations are, but six wins and a bowl win feels reasonable.

Adrian Bermudez (Alamodome Audible) – Okay, so let me first start by saying that I am sick of the “doom and gloom” inertia surrounding this program when it comes to expectations. If it hasn’t been blatantly transparent by now (which it has been), this team is worlds different from Roadrunner teams with expectations attached in seasons past. Last season we saw a football team that schematically complimented the players’ talents, on both sides of the ball, for the first time in upwards of five years. We’ve got more roster development, seniority across the depth chart, and levels of depth that we quite literally have never even come close to in seasons past, as well. All that said, a successful UTSA season will be realized with a bowl game win.

Greg Luca – (San Antonio Express News) – Because UTSA made such a massive leap in Jeff Traylor’s first season, I imagine many fans will want to see a similar jump in his second year, setting aspirations as high as a 10-win season or a Conference USA title. To my view, a repeat seven-win performance would mark a successful year, giving UTSA consecutive winning seasons against a true FBS schedule for the first time in program history. That stability would be evidence that Traylor’s first season was not just a product of winning close games, or riding the adrenaline from his fresh culture talk, or getting the better of the chaos of a year played through COVID-19. The Roadrunners can split the difference and make everyone happy if they hit any benchmark they missed last season, like eight wins, a C-USA West title, or a bowl victory.

2. Give us a prediction on one depth chart upset or surprise for UTSA on both sides of the ball

Ryder – On the offensive side of the ball one potential surprise to look out for is Tykee Ogle-Kellogg could find his way past one of Zakhari Franklin, Joshua Cephus or Sheldon Jones into one of those starting receiver roles. On the defensive side of the ball, expect a healthy Tariq Woolen, to heavily pressure either Ken Robison or Corey Mayfield Jr. for one of the outside cornerback positions.

Jared – Oscar Cardenas is on the field for the first snap against Illinois. Caden Holt beats out the Kansas transfers to make the depth chart at inside linebacker.

Javi – Do not know if it can be seen as a surprise since he is a former Freshman All-American, but I think defensive tackle Lamonte McDougle will start week one versus Illinois. From the small sample size we have had to see he looks like one of the most athletic defensive lineman on this team. That kind of explosiveness at the tackle spot will allow others to flourish, hopefully.

Stephen – On offense I think UTSA’s wealth at wide receiver is going to lead to a surprise player bursting out onto the scene. Who that receiver might be is anyone’s guess but I’ll pick Julon Williams as the surprise on offense. On defense, give me Lamonte McDougle as the surprise breakout star this season.

JJ – Predicting a depth chart surprise is a little challenging because so many of the returners and contributors return. But let me I’ll throw out two on offense and defense… I don’t think we’ve seen the last of QB Lowell Narcisse. Frank Harris and Josh Adkins are the clear cut top 2 QBs. As Narcisse returns from a devastating injury, I’m not too sure no one expects anything out of him. I wouldn’t rule out his return in some form this season. My second offensive prediction comes at slot wide receiver. That’s probably the most intriguing/unknown position on the entire roster. Give me the trio of Tre’Von Bradley, JT Clark, and Julon Williams fighting it out for playing time at that position. On the defensive side, I think we’ll see two guys step up along the line. I think Asyrus Simon and Trumane Bell will be in the mix. That will say something about how much each player has improved as the defensive line is the deepest of any unit on the team.

3. UTSA opened their much-anticipated RACE facility this fall. How do you see this massive improvement in facilities helping the Roadrunners not only this fall but also into the future?

Ryder – This facility is going to make a huge difference in the product UTSA is going to put on the field going forward. Expect a stronger, faster team, more prepared and perhaps most importantly, one that can stay healthy and avoid some of the injury plagued years of the past. The RACE building is going to massively help a program that is riding a wave of momentum heading into year two of the Traylor era. With this facility and its improvements, the ‘Runners have the tools necessary to match their ambitions going forward. In addition to this, possessing a power five athletics facility will prove to be a huge boon in recruiting and help improve UTSA’s standing in regards to potential conference realignment in the coming years.

Stephen – The RACE building is probably the biggest thing to happen to UTSA football since the day that the school and city agreed on a lease for the Alamodome. UTSA’s practice facilities were once some of the worst. With the opening of the RACE building the Roadrunners now have one of the finest practice facilities in the country. In the past coaches would not show recruits the facilities. That problem is now a thing of the past thanks to the RACE building.

JJ – The sheer magnitude of the RACE facility has forever changed UTSA Athletics. Forget for a moment about recruiting and perception and all of that and think about actual tangible improvement. We all know strength of conditioning is the lifeblood of a program. Combined that with sports medicine and you talking about two areas that need to be operating like a well-oiled machine in order for any program to have success. The strength and conditioning and sports medicine areas within RACE are so much of an improvement, it can’t but help improve on-the-field results. I’m talking size, amenities and equipment, and proximity. It’s so much of an upgrade in such important areas. From a grand scheme of things perspective, it’s a shining beacon of light for the entire department. Literally sitting on a hill high above campus, this facility is something UTSA can be proud of. It automatically catapults the Roadrunners to the top of the facilities arms race in Conference USA. And by the sounds of things, this isn’t the end of future facility upgrades.

Greg – The biggest benefit is probably to recruiting. Instead of avoiding facilities during visits, coaches can highlight the RACE as one of the program’s main selling points. But I don’t think the benefit to the current players should be underrated. The facility streamlines day-to-day operations, and the overall quality of life could always create a “feel good, play good” type of impact. The athletic training advancements are also huge, with new options like hydrotherapy potentially minimizing nagging injuries or helping players return sooner than they would have in previous years.

4. Which UTSA position group do you have the most concern for this fall?

Ryder – The position group that concerns me the most are the quarterbacks. While they’re a talented group their health continues to be my main concern. Harris, Adkins and Narcisse have all demonstrated an ability to command the offense and put points on the board, but all three spent time on the bench last season with injuries, with Narcisse in particular still working his way back from a major injury heading into this season. UTSA has seen four starting quarterbacks log significant game action in each of the last three seasons. If that trend holds, it’d be the promising but untested freshman Eddie Lee Marburger being asked to take command of the offense at some point this year.

Jared – The depth at linebacker and offensive tackle is still troublesome in my opinion. Moving Demetris Allen to backup tackle should help the depth on the line, but Allen isn’t a natural fit at tackle in my opinion. Noah Mitchell’s transfer to start fall camp was eyebrow raising for sure, and I haven’t heard much (good or bad) about the two transfer linebackers from Kansas. With Demarco Guidry out for the year, and Jacorey Hyder transitioning to the offense, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for UTSA to be playing walk-ons at inside linebacker again this year.

Javi – Linebacker should still be somewhat of a concern. They have already had a transfer and a season ending injury this fall camp. A few more departures or injuries and they might be back to razor thin depth like they were last season.

Although the depth concerns are there, the two starters might be some of the better players on this team. They just need to make sure the guys behind can step in and take a couple snaps when they need a rest.

JJ – On the fly I’d say Linebacker. But UTSA’s coaching staff addressed some of those depth concerns in the offseason. So I think that group will end up being okay. When I think about things a little more I go to the offensive line. That’s strange to think of that group as having a concern because this o-line is the deepest and most experienced group UTSA has maybe ever had. But when you look back at last season, offensive line play was so critical. And we all know that with that position, it’s not if but when you get injured. UTSA’s starting five o-linemen are pretty salty. But after that, there are some questions. O-line is the hardest position to recruit. To UTSA’s credit, they added five freshmen this last recruiting cycle. But the hope is UTSA doesn’t need any of those guys to play much this season. UTSA won last season despite having to shuffle the o-line around almost every game. But the Roadrunners were at their very best last season when that unit had continuity. That’s no coincidence. If UTSA’s o-line stay healthy, the Roadrunners will be successful. If it doesn’t, there will be an unknown, which in my mind is a concern.

Greg – Any answer here is a bit of a stretch with all of the same starters back, so I’m looking more at depth. The offense is deep with options across the board, but any defensive position other than safety starts to feel a bit shaky if one or two injuries are thrown into the mix. Just like last season, middle linebacker depth is the biggest red flag, especially with Noah Mitchell jumping in the transfer portal before his first season. Jamal Ligon and Trevor Harmanson are strong anchors at the position, but anyone behind them would have a lot to prove in a full-time role.

5. Who are some incoming high school recruits and transfers that you anticipate having a role on this year’s team?

Ryder – The number of incoming high school recruits and transfers I anticipate having a role on this year’s team are few and far between. This is mostly just a side effect of returning such an experienced team for this season. On the offensive side of the ball, De’Anthony Lewis, the freshman running back out of Judson could see game time as the third running back to spell Sincere McCormick and Brenden Brady. On the defensive side of the ball, I expect transfers Denzel Feaster and Clifford Chattman to have a role this season. Feaster will factor into the linebacker rotation to keep the position group’s legs fresh, something they didn’t have the luxury of last year as they were beset by injuries. As for Chattman, currently listed at safety after playing corner at Texas A&M, the ‘Runners could utilize him all over the field, but he could most crucially serve as a life line at safety if fellow safety Rashad Wisdom does not reduce his amount of targeting penalties this season, a problem that cropped up numerous times the year prior.

Javi – Clifford Chattman and Lamonte McDoulge will be the two I think will have the biggest and most immediate impact this fall. These two look like P5 players and by all accounts they will be able to step in right away and either start or provide excellent depth at their respective positions.

Stephen –  I think two of the freshmen to keep an eye on for this season will be the two former Converse Judson O-linemen. Kamron Scott and Robert Rigsby could both make an impact on this season. It’s possible both are called on to open holes for a fellow former Rocket to burst through.

JJ – The tandem of Lamonte McDougle and Ronald Triplette have looked good in the center of the d-line this fall. Those guys will definitely be contributors this season. Tre’Von Bradley has all the potential to earn time in some WR role. I like Jimmori Robinson’s skillset but I’m not too sure how soon he’ll get into the mix. One surprise name I’ll throughout there is DA, aka true freshman RB De’Anthony Lewis. The running back room is loaded this season, but he may be too good of an athlete to leave on the bench.

Adrian – I think Deanthony Lewis out of Converse could make a considerable mark in relieving Sincere McCormick. Sincere was just a complete workhorse for us last season and was probably responsible for too much on offense. We can’t wear him down again like that for a second straight year, so let’s hope we can see him catch some rest via Lewis and maybe eventually turn into a Javeon Williams-Jalen Rhodes type of duo a la 2016.

6. Do you anticipate the NCAA’s new Name, Image, and Likeness rules to have a real impact on UTSA’s recruiting abilities, either positive or negative?

Javi – I think the new NIL rules will only be a positive for UTSA. We have already seen what players like Frank Harris, Rashad Wisdom and Sincere McCormick have been able to do with their likeness. The opportunities living and playing in the 7th largest city in the U.S. will far outpace anything in smaller G5 towns one would think.

JJ – I’m still on the fence on how all these NIL partnerships are going to play out. Obviously it’s a positive that players are able to capitalize on name, image, and likeness. But I think we’re all still learning how this all works and how it will all play out. I think initially we’re seeing it impact Power 5 programs more on the recruiting trail than non-P5. So will it have a ‘real’ impact on recruiting at UTSA? In the short term I don’t think so. Will a recruit really pick UTSA over UAB or Southern Miss because they could potentially get an NIL partnership? I don’t see it, yet. But at the same time I can’t think of any negative aspect to. As the rules, policies, and ROI become more clear, I think we’ll see more business jump into some significant partnerships in the long term, which could have a more positive impact for UTSA down the road.

Adrian – UTSA stands to gain tremendously from NIL. San Antonio is flourishing with small businesses and they all seem to have considerable marketing budgets, at least when I’m watching cable television that’s how it seems. UTSA is the only gig in town for businesses to sponsor local football players, so I think it’s inevitable that the demand will form naturally as this team wins games. Imagine taking a recruit from UTSA Main Campus to the Alamodome, and on the way y’all pass a billboard with a UTSA player on it while also hearing another UTSA player on a radio commercial. A lot of value in that, especially for local talent. Guys that grew up balling around central Texas can continue their local celebrity status and monetize it.

Greg – Talking to Frank Harris, Sincere McCormick and Rashad Wisdom about their NIL opportunities this fall, all three of them said the volume of a school’s NIL deals wouldn’t have been a factor in their recruiting process. Generally, their point was that a player has to be the right fit for a program and a culture to be able to succeed on the field, which then sets up NIL opportunities as the last step. So, in that sense, NIL volume is the least important piece of the process. Still, I have to imagine high school players are generally keeping an eye on what’s going on at each program. Certainly San Antonio has a higher volume of businesses and potential NIL deals than most other C-USA markets, especially since the companies don’t exactly have to be Fortune 500 to offer something worthwhile. The people and businesses providing NIL deals have gravitated toward the players from the San Antonio area, who are most likely to be recognizable and have a local following. Provided a local high school player is even aware of that trend, maybe NIL helps keep the area’s best players at UTSA.

7. Your prediction for UTSA’s win-loss record at the end of the year

Ryder – UTSA will finish the season at 11-3, 10-2 in the regular season, a loss in the C-USA Championship and a victory in their bowl game.

Jared – 8-4 in the regular season with a win over BYU in the Independence Bowl to cap off the best season in program history.

Javi – I will go with an 8-4 (6-2) record with losses to Illinois, Memphis, La. Tech and UAB.

Stephen – I’ve been hovering around a few different numbers for the win total. In the end I flipped a coin. Give me a 9-4 season with the Roadrunners beating Houston in the Frisco Bowl.

JJ – UTSA isn’t going to surprise anyone this season. In fact, I think the Roadrunners will have a huge target on their backs in 2021. Here’s my prediction: 6-6 regular season. 1-0 postseason. 7-6 overall.

Adrian – It has to be a minimum expectation of 8 regular season wins. There’s just no way it can be less than that, with the roster talent, depth, and seniority coupled with the brand of football we saw schematically last season and a state of the art practice and meeting facility. No way, no how. And I’m not even talking about how this is UTSA’s most favorable schedule since entering C-USA to date! 8-4 is the minimum expectation, but you can sign me up for 9-3 and a bowl win to make it 10. Give all that damn cheese.

Greg – My napkin-math projection is about 7.5 for the regular season, so toss in a 50-50 bowl game for a nice, clean 8-5. UTSA benefits from one of the easiest schedules in the country, but I still expect another season with a lot of games in the balance late.

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