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UTSA Football: Sleeping Giant?


UTSA Roadrunners running back Rocko Griffin scores a touchdown against Tulane.
© Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports

Are the UTSA Roadrunners a sleeping giant in the world of college football? According to Merriam-Webster, a "sleeping giant" is defined as "one that has great but unrealized or newly emerging power." In the 12 years the Roadrunners have been playing at the Division I level, here is a list of their accomplishments:


  • Overall winning record of 80-69 spanning across three conferences: the Western Athletic Conference, Conference USA, and their current conference, the American Athletic Conference.

  • 39-14 record over the past four seasons under current coach Jeff Traylor.

  • Two conference championships.

  • Five bowl appearances.

  • Ranked four times in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.



In addition to these impressive achievements in their short history, what other factors could enable the Runners to realize their great power? Let's dive into four key areas that could propel the Roadrunners to new heights and truly "Wake the Giant."


 

Texas high school football


Texas is known across the country for its love and passion for high school football, glamorized in shows like "Friday Night Lights." If you visit many towns in Texas on a Friday night during the football season, you will find only a few local businesses open as the town is at the stadium cheering on the home team. With this type of fanatical support, many high schools receive funding for facilities that rival those of many colleges.



What do such commitment and facilities yield? Big-time talent, and a lot of it! According to 247Sports, the state of Texas has produced five 5-star recruits, 52 4-star recruits, and 190 3-star recruits for the 2024 recruiting cycle alone.


One of the biggest challenges many programs across the country face is the lack of local talent to sustain their rosters, forcing them to persuade recruits to leave their hometowns, home states, and families. For example, a review of West Virginia's 2023 roster reveals it includes only 18 players from the state of West Virginia, compared to Florida State's 2023 roster, which had 64 players from the state of Florida. How many players from the state of Texas were on UTSA's 2023 roster? 88!


UTSA will face stiff competition both within and outside the state for this talent, but most schools will not be able to offer recruits the opportunity to play closer to family. Many recruiters know that winning over the parents is crucial, as they often prefer their sons to stay as close to home as possible. According to the 247Sports recruiting rankings, UTSA has secured only two 4-star commits over the past four recruiting classes.


Wake the Giant: If UTSA can start adding two to three 4-star recruits in each class, supplemented by a strong number of 3-star recruits, they will make significant strides in terms of on-field talent and performance.


 

UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor


In his four seasons with the Roadrunners, head coach Jeff Traylor has amassed a 39-14 record, including a 9-4 record in 2023, their first season in the American Athletic Conference. Additionally, UTSA secured its first-ever bowl win over Marshall in the Scooter's Coffee Frisco Bowl. While Traylor was considered for multiple Power Five openings in the offseason, he returns for the 2024 season and is regarded as one of the top Group of Five coaches in college football.



During his 15-year tenure coaching Gilmer (TX) high school football, he had an overall record of 175-26 and was a four-time Texas High School Coach of the Year. This allowed Traylor to build an impressive network of connections with high school coaches across the state, many of whom trust him to develop and care for their players at UTSA.



Wake the Giant: If Traylor can more effectively utilize his connections in Texas's fertile recruiting landscape, UTSA should consistently secure top 40 recruiting classes each year.


 

City of San Antonio


UTSA is conveniently located in the seventh-largest city in the United States, San Antonio, Texas, with a population of nearly 1.5 million people. Known as "Military City USA" due to its large concentration of active and former military citizens, the city boasts a proud Hispanic heritage and a laid-back atmosphere that appeals to families with numerous entertainment options such as SeaWorld and Fiesta Texas. Several companies, including H-E-B, USAA, and Frost, have their corporate headquarters in the city.



The Roadrunners play their home games at The Alamodome, an indoor stadium that can hold over 70,000 fans for a football game. The stadium is well-known across the country for hosting major events such as the NCAA Men's College Basketball Final Four, which is set to return in 2025 for the fifth time. The ability of UTSA to control weather elements for its football games provides advantages to both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The offensive staff can implement game plans unaffected by weather, and the defensive staff can rely on increased crowd noise to aid their pass rush.


Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In a state as passionate about football as Texas, there is a tremendous opportunity for UTSA to build on the 28,876 fans they averaged per game during the 2023 season. The Roadrunners offer an exciting brand of football in an air-conditioned stadium at a reasonable cost for a family to attend. In terms of other high-level sports options in the city to compete with, the San Antonio Spurs are the only team of the four major professional leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL) to play its home games in the city.


Wake the Giant: Target an average of 40,000 fans per game through continued winning football, an improved game day experience, increased community engagement, and better student involvement.


 

expanded college football playoff


With the college playoff expanding from its current four-team format to 12 teams in 2024, the opportunities for UTSA to make it into the playoff have increased significantly. The 12-team playoff will feature five automatic bids for the top five conference champions and seven at-large bids.


2023 College Football National Championship trophy
© Kimberly P. Mitchell / USA TODAY NETWORK

How can UTSA take advantage of this new format? By becoming the highest-ranked conference champion across the American Athletic Conference (AAC), Conference USA, Mid-American Conference (MAC), Mountain West, and Sun Belt.


For example, if the 12-team format had been in place last season, Liberty would have edged out Oklahoma for the 12th and final seed by being the fifth highest-ranked conference champion and securing the final automatic bid. The reward for the Flames would have been a challenging road game against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium.



Wake the Giant: Go at least 12-1, win the AAC championship game, and make the college football playoff!




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