Tennessee football returns to Neyland Stadium after their Week three SEC opener in Gainesville to take on the UTSA Roadrunners in Week four.
UTSA will be Tennessee’s second non-P5 opponent of the season, but the Roadrunners are drastically different from Austin Peay.
The Roadrunners are reigning back-to-back Conference USA champions, but they won’t have the chance to three-peat.
Because believe it or not, realignment has occurred among Group of Five conferences, too. UTSA is now a member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC), which is now far and away the superior G5 conference.
UTSA will have a tougher road to a conference title this season, as Tulane stands in their way, but the Roadrunners are still expected to be at least a top three team in the AAC.
So, this is no ordinary G5 team. If UTSA beats Houston in Week one, which is a real possibility, the Roadrunners will likely be Top-20 team come Week four.
Now, let’s take a deeper look at the 2023 UTSA Roadrunners.
What happened in 2022
UTSA won the Conference USA in 2022 in head coach Jeff Traylor’s third year. Traylor is one of the biggest rising stars among head coaches in college football, he’s 30-10 after three years at UTSA.
The Roadrunners finished the season 11-3 with a close bowl loss to Troy. UTSA’s only two regular season losses came to Houston in an overtime thriller in Week one and Texas in Week three, 41-20.
UTSA’s prolific offense was once again led by quarterback Frank Harris, who is one of the best players in school history.
Harris had his best season to date in 2022, throwing for a whopping 4,059 yards along with 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The upcoming fifth-year senior also set a season-high in rushing yards and with 600 and had nine scores on the ground.
UTSA’s shaky defense got them into shootouts against conference opponents UAB, Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, and UTEP, but the Roadrunners 36.8 points per game offense always gave UTSA the edge, as they went undefeated in conference play.
2023 Offense Outlook
UTSA brings back nine starters on offense, including Harris at quarterback. There is a coordinator change, but new OC Justin Burke is not expected to make any changes to their offensive philosophy.
The Roadrunners suffered a big loss this offseason when star wide receiver Zakhari Franklin transferred to Ole Miss, but UTSA still has plenty of offensive weapons. Joshua Cephus and De’Corian Clark return to lead the wide receiver room, and tight end Oscar Cardenas is back after a All-Conference USA honorable mention season a year ago.
UTSA’s offensive line will be a strong suit this season as will running back Kevorian Barnes.
The Roadrunners are going to put points on the board. Pure and simple. UTSA’s worst game offensively last season was the bowl loss to Troy. How did Troy hold UTSA to 12 points? By forcing five turnovers.
Tennessee will have to apply pressure to Harris and force him to make mistakes if they want to avoid a shootout in Neyland.
2023 Defense Outlook
UTSA’s defense figures to be better in 2023 than it was last season.
The Roadrunners held teams to 26 points per game last season, but they return seven starters and have a lot of talent at every level.
Jamal Ligon leads the way at linebacker, Brandon Brown is the name to circle up front, OLB Trey Moore returns after an eight-sack season, and the secondary, while there are no stars, is deep.
UTSA’s defense has the chance to be one of the best in the AAC. But that’s the AAC. They won’t face an offense like Tennessee’s before or after Week four.
If Joe Milton III and Tennessee’s receivers are on the same page, the Vols should still have success against the UTSA defense. Don’t expect a 50-burger, but the Vols should still be able to move the ball well.
Fans in Neyland will be quite nervous when both teams have gone touchdown-for-touchdown in the first half and it’s a three-point game at the break.
But in the second half, Tennessee will find a way to pull away from the Roadrunners.
I’ll be watching Tennessee’s pass rush closely. If the Vols can have success getting after Harris with just four, this game won’t be as close as I’m projecting.
But I see the Roadrunners hanging around for three quarters before Tennessee scores a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns to win by double digits.
Tennessee 45, UTSA 31