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If you're Gonna Play in Texas: UTSA and Houston Square Off

Houston's NRG Stadium
Credit: 2C2K Photography via Flickr

UTSA and Houston square off in one of, if not the most intriguing matchups in the Big 12 for Week 1. With the betting line being basically even at 1.5 as well as featuring one of the most highly regarded Group of 5 teams this year in the Roadrunners, this one is shaping up to be a barnburner. Let's break it down.

Tale of the Tape: UTSA

UTSA made the move to the American Athletic Conference this year after winning the Conference USA championship last year. Quarterback Frank Harris is back for his 7th year with the program and looks to give the Roadrunners their 4th consecutive winning season, starting with a former American Athletic Conference member and now Big 12 member Houston. Houston's defense was less than spectacular last year (giving up 77 points against SMU certainly is an eye-sore) but still serviceable.

Against star quarterback Harris, as well as a strong receiving corps led by De'Corian Clark and Joshua Cephus, this Houston defense will have its hands full once again. Top that with a solid backfield led by Kevorian Barnes, and you have most of the pieces left over from the 12th-ranked offense in the nation last year. UTSA may have trouble containing Houston quarterback and Texas Tech transfer Donovan Smith, but does have a lot of veteran presence on the defensive side of the ball as well. Their secondary features standouts such as Nicktroy Fortune and Rashad Wisdom, two of the best defensive backs in the AAC. They also have a quick, pass coverage-savvy linebacking corps which will make Donovan Smith's job that much harder.

Houston's bread and butter, though, is the defensive front, led by veteran players Brandon Brown and LSU transfer Joe Evans. While smaller compared to some of the behemoth fronts you see in Power 5, this front can still get to the quarterback using its immense speed and finesse. Overall, experience and offensive firepower will be the main advantages UTSA will look to use to defeat the Cougars. They will look to avenge last year's air-tight loss of 35-37 to Houston with a statement win and make them wish they had never left the AAC for stiffer competition.

Tale of the Tape: Houston

Houston's 8-5 record certainly looked a lot better than the play did last year. Sleep-walking through easily winnable games, inconsistent in all facets, drama on the sidelines boiling over to be broadcasted on national television, and overall just a sour last dance in the American that could have been much better had the performance been more like the Houston teams of old.

Now in the Big 12, things have to change and change quickly. Head coach Dana Holgerson knows the expectations of the Big 12 all too well as does newly acquired transfer QB Donovan Smith, both having already been in the conference with West Virginia and Texas Tech respectively, and what happened last year can NOT happen again no matter how good the record was. It all starts with this matchup against UTSA.

This game will be a tone-setter for the Cougars. Win, and you get a solid win over one of the Group of 5's best. Lose, and the season may already be in jeopardy, as it doesn't get any easier. They're already picked to finish towards the bottom of the Big 12 but could change those fortunes with a statement win.

They'll have to rely on their transfers to be successful on offense and mesh well from the get-go, a tall task but doable. Smith does already have Big 12 experience and will have help from returning leading rusher Stacy Sneed, as well as transfer receiver Stephon Johnson and returning receiver Matthew Golden.

Defensively, their front seven will be better from a very un-Houston-like defensive front performance last year, as Chidozie Nwankwo and Sedrick Williams both make their return. Add Oklahoma transfer EDGE David Ugwoebu to the pass-rushing mix, and Houston could fluster Harris to force bad throws. UTSA did get hit with the turnover bug quite a bit last year, and it could certainly happen again if Harris is forced into adversity. If Houston can force Harris' hand and Donovan Smith can air it out against what will be a challenging secondary, this game could certainly go Houston's way.

Final prediction

Houston will need this win to start their tenure off in the Big 12 on the right foot by defeating a Group of 5 opponent. However, UTSA is no ordinary Group of 5 opponent. Experience, key transfers, and a highly productive offense will give Houston trouble throughout, and this will prove to be a much tougher matchup than last year. If Houston can start this game off strong and stay consistent, they have a chance, otherwise give this game to UTSA. They have a ton of firepower that will give fits to an already ailing defense that will not have the cohesion yet to be successful, and offensively Houston just won't have the chemistry there yet either to keep up Week 1 against a team that boasts one of the higher returning production rates in NCAA Division 1. It will still be close, Houston is still a team that competes regularly in football year after year, but UTSA is in for what could be a special year while Houston still has far too many questions needing to be answered before beginning Big 12 play.

UTSA 38- Houston 28



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