Four Down Territory

Presenting a new weekly post in which InsideRunnerSports’ JJ Perez tackles four burning questions facing UTSA. Presented by the law firm of Saucier & Smaistrla PLLC.

Four Down Territory
August 31, 2016

The last time the Roadrunners took the field for a real game at the Alamodome, a program-low 19,504 fans watched UTSA fall to Middle Tennessee 42-7. For those in attendance that day, the atmosphere in the ‘Dome mirrored the overall feel of the program at the time. Back-to-back losing seasons had taken its toll and the hit was felt at the box office. Now, there is change on the horizon. First year head coach Frank Wilson has brought in renewed energy and the Alamodome is in the midst of a large renovation project. Things will also be a little different as far seating capacity goes. For the first time in UTSA football’s short history, the entire Alamodome capacity will not be available as no tickets are expected to be sold in the upper level. That modification changes the facility’s capacity to a reported 36,582. So what attendance should UTSA expect for the opener and 2016 season?

In year’s past, the ‘Runners have done well in openers. Here are the attendance figures from home-openers: 2015 vs K-State 29,424; 2014 vs Arizona 33,472; 2013 vs Oklahoma State 40,977; 2012 vs Texas A&M Commerce 30,416; and 2011 vs Northeastern State 56,743. I don’t think it’s fair to expect UTSA to surpass last season’s home-opening attendance figure of 29,424 vs K-State. The focus should be geared around simply improving from that 19,504 figure from last November. One constant the last three seasons has been that established and well-known FBS schools have opened the home schedule. That’s not the case with FCS Alabama State this season. But fans have shown to be somewhat loyal through the program’s recent trials and tribulations. It is believed that approximately 11,000 season tickets have been sold for 2016. Add students to the mix and what’s needed is a small push from the general public. No one wants to say it but UTSA doesn’t need to “Pack The Dome” right now, they simply need to show improvement. From that point on, the recipe for UTSA’s success at the box office becomes simple. Win. Win and they will come. No marketing campaign or new tradition or anything else can offset the product on the field. The back-to-back losing seasons took its toll in more ways than one. But if UTSA is able to find success in the win/loss column this season, then attendance expectations should rise. And we may see the need to open up that upper level at some point in the near the future. For now, set the over/under for attendance Saturday and the rest of the season at 25,000. That, by the way, will still be among the leaders in Conference USA.

It’s just a few days until kickoff and round and round we go about who will be UTSA’s starting quarterback. Head Coach Frank Wilson hasn’t moved one inch in declaring a starter. He hasn’t even hinted who it could be. In fact at Wednesday practice, he said there was new discussion about the possibility of playing two QBs in the season-opener. The quarterback position at UTSA has been the biggest topic of constant discussion for the better part of three years now. So I guess why should it stop now? Dalton Sturm is the walk-on turned starter from the small South Texas town of Goliad. Jared Johnson is the reigning Southland Conference Offensive player of the year that came to UTSA as a graduate transfer. Both have significant playing experience and both have been healthy throughout fall practices. So why hasn’t Coach Wilson named a starter already? Is there something else going on at the position?

Look, everyone wants to know who it will be. Media (me included) will keep asking the question because of that. But Coach Wilson is under no obligation to make any announcement. Furthermore, there’s a competitive advantage in not announcing who it will be. Making an opposing defense prepare for potentially two signal-callers when only one will play forces them to effectively waste half of their preparation time. It’s an advantage that only a season-opening game provides. This isn’t an unusual strategy either. Just up the road in Austin, Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong has done almost the exact same thing. So I’d say there isn’t too much going on at UTSA’s QB position. It’ll either be Dalton or Jared. If the competition is as close as everyone says it is, then we shouldn’t be able to notice a real difference in on-the-field production between the two anyway.

UTSA should beat Alabama State by double-digits Saturday. No one saying it should be easy. And no one is saying there shouldn’t be any tense moments. But let’s take a step back and look at this game for what it is. A season-opening game with an FCS opponent. This game will end UTSA’s streak of 38 consecutive games vs FBS schools. Alabama State is coming off a marginal 6-5 season with a second-year head coach. Save for a bad showing vs McMurry in 2011, UTSA has been successful vs non-FBS teams. The Roadrunners are 4-1 in season-openers and there’s as much preseason momentum surrounding the team as they could have. Everything is swinging in UTSA’s favor. I haven’t seen any odds makers’ lines on the game but I’d guess it would be set somewhere around three scores. Or more. UTSA by double-digits Saturday.

There’s a ton of excitement surround this new era of football at UTSA. And while there are a lot of variables in play about what will ultimately make the program successful in the long term, it’s important to keep perspective about what equates success in the short-term.

  1. Competing Early. UTSA doesn’t face a gauntlet of unwinnable games. It’s not unreasonable to think the Roadrunners could start off 2-0. In past seasons, UTSA was competitive in games they had no business being in. That trend needs to continue. Add one upset to the mix and all of the sudden this rebuilding season in which much isn’t expected could turn into something else very quickly.
  2. Show Improvement on Offense. With a brand new coaching staff and scheme, UTSA’s offense should look dramatically different this season. But can it produce improved results? It boils down to first downs and touchdowns. UTSA simply needs more each.
  3. Continue The Climb: In its infancy, UTSA climbed the football mountain relatively quickly. Moving from an independent program to the WAC and ultimately CUSA, UTSA hit a crescendo in 2013 by winning seven games vs FBS opponents. But since then, the program has slid down that mountain. In 2016, under the reign of Frank Wilson, they begin to climb back up. It will be a climb that happens game by game. The coaching change has brought an energy to the program that was lacking in recent years. UTSA now has momentum on its side. It’s time to use it and start climbing back up that mountain.

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