JJ's Journal 7.8

InsideRunnerSports.com is launching a new column by reporter JJ Perez.

Happy Monday RunnerNation. Here is JJ's Journal:

CUSA WEST DIVISION

Discussions with UTSA football season predictions always look at the entire season. But of more importance to me is how the ‘Runners will fare in Conference USA play. I dare pose the question: Could 5 Conference USA wins get you into the championship game on December 7? Give me a little room here...

Each team in CUSA plays 8 conference games, 6 vs their division opponents and 2 vs opponents from the opposite division. The winner of the West plays the winner of the east, with the better team hosting the championship game.

Tulsa, a member of the West Division along with UTSA, is the consensus pick for the best record in the entire conference. Not taking anything away from the other members of the division, but Rice, Louisiana Tech and UTSA should be in the upper half of the West.

As far as talent and expectations, I'd put UTSA right in line with La Tech, and potentially Rice. But to really answer the question of "Where does UTSA stand in the West", you have to take a long hard look at each of those schools' conference schedule.

UTSA Conference USA Schedule:

- 09/21 at UTEP
- 10/05 at Marshall
- 10/12 vs Rice
- 10/26 vs UAB
- 11/02 at Tulsa
- 11/09 vs Tulane
- 11/23 at UNT
- 11/30 vs La Tech
Projected conference record: 5-3

Tulsa Conference USA Schedule:

- 10/05 vs Rice
- 10/12 at UTEP
- 10/26 at Tulane
- 11/30 vs UTSA
- 11/09 at ECU
- 11/14 vs Marshall
- 11/23 at La Tech
- 11/30 vs UNT
Projected conference record: 6-2

Rice Conference USA Schedule:

- 09/28 vs Fla Atl
- 10/05 at Tulsa
- 10/12 at UTSA
- 10/26 vs UTEP
- 10/31 at UNT
- 11/16 vs La Tech
- 11/21 at UAB
- 11/30 vs Tulane
Projected conference record: 4-4

La Tech Conference USA Schedule:

- 09/12 vs Tulane
- 10/05 at UTEP
- 10/19 vs UNT
- 10/26 at FIU
- 11/9 vs S Miss
- 11/16 at Rice
- 11/23 vs Tulsa
- 11/30 at UTSA
Projected conference record: 4-4

As compared to UTSA, Tulsa plays a tougher schedule with East Division games vs Marshall and ECU (two schools who should compete for the East title) while UTSA draws Marshall and UAB (a lower-tiered East squad).

Could UTSA win the West Division in CUSA? Looking at these match ups, it isn't that far-fetched. An unexpected win for UTSA and/or and unexpected loss for Tulsa could make the West wide open. After Tulsa, there really is parity in the West while the East may end up cannibalizing each other (in terms of won-loss records). Five wins could be good enough to not only win the West Division but host the championship game.

While every CUSA game will be important, the head to head match ups with Tulsa, Rice, and La Tech will be even more critical for Roadrunners to remain in contention for the CUSA title. Circle your calendars for these games:

- 10/12 vs Rice
- 11/02 at Tulsa
- 11/30 at La Tech

UTSA BASKETBALL

IRS learned last week that the men's basketball team will travel to Texas Tech to take on the Red Raiders in the upcoming season. With a step up in competition, this may be the only big-named team on the non-conference schedule.

If you remember last season, UTSA gained some momentum early on in non-conference play before struggling on a tough 5 game road trip. While we are still uncertain on the specifics of the final schedule, look for UTSA to bring back some familiar non-conference foes. It will be interesting to see how those games will be organized.

The conference games will be on Thursdays and Saturdays, and we'll see a lot of regional weekends (i.e. UAB and Southern Miss may be back to back games). With all 16 teams participating in the CUSA Basketball Tournament in El Paso in the Spring of 2014, the release of the schedule in the coming weeks will be important to how UTSA may fair in the upcoming season. The competition in CUSA is significantly better than the WAC, but it is still a very fine line with some schools.

Dwight Howard

NBA free agent Dwight Howard made his decision to join the Houston Rockets over the weekend. Although the decision was full of Howard's typical drama (the Lakers put on a full court press, Golden State came in late, he made a decision to join the Rockets and then changed his mind and then changed his mind again before finally deciding and changing his twitter avatar to himself in a Rockets jersey), the actual move changes the dynamic of the Western Conference in the NBA.

Knowing that Howard's off the court drama leaves a little to be desired, there is no question his talent and skills make the Rockets a player in the West. The Spurs should be slated as the favorite but Oklahoma City's star power may get more attention. Now the Rockets are in the mix: Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lin, and James Harden could be as good of as any big three in the NBA moving forward. Remember that in the 2013 playoffs, the Rockets battled in 6 tough games vs OKC. Expectations in Houston should be high.

BRAD STEVENS TO THE NBA

It's hard to blame former Butler head basketball coach Brad Stevens for making the jump from the college ranks to pros. Especially when you have an historic Boston Celtic franchise offering a six-year, $22 million contract.

The jump is difficult, so say the least. But the situation in Boston may be the perfect fit. Obviously the Celtics are in re-building mode and free agent moves, draft picks, and the play of Rajon Rondo will determine a lot.

In his six years at Butler, all Stevens did was win an NCAA record 166 games, never won fewer than 22 games, and went to back to back Final Fours in 2010 and 2011.

Stevens' pedigree is certainly there. At the end of the day, no one knows who this deal may turn out. With no head coaching experience, Marc Jackson guided a young Golden State Warriors team deep into the playoffs this past season. Jason Kidd is taking over the Nets with no head coaching experience as is Brian Shaw in Denver.

I'm pulling for Stevens. He's a humble, hard-working head coach who's done it the right way. But that New England area isn't use to not being competitive. He will need to make some significant improvement in the first few seasons to truly re-build that once-storied franchise.

RUNNING WITH THE BULLS

The annual running of the bulls in Spain kicked off on Sunday. No one was gored, but 4 people were injured (apparently they keep stats).

It's uncertain as to when the actual tradition began but basically about a dozen bulls are let loose to run free in the streets while people run with them.

Spanish legend says it began in the early 14th century and stemmed from herders trying to quickly get bulls to the market to sell them. Since then it has morphed into a full-fledged event. The Pamplona Bull Run is the biggest and most popular run. The bulls run through the streets of Pamplona and eventually into a bull ring.

Honestly, I don't get it but I respect the history and tradition. I've known some friends who've done it and they say the adrenaline rush is amazing. Being from country and having spent some time around several different types of livestock (including bulls), I can say with a high amount of certainty that I do not want to be within a stone's throw distance of a bull's horns.

A few photos from the first day of the running of the bulls (courtesy of Getty Images):

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