Here is everything you need to know ahead of the matchup between the Houston Cougars and the UTSA Roadrunners.
Saturday, September 2; 6:00 p.m. CT; TDECU Stadium; Houston, Texas
Radio: KPRC AM 950
2022 Records: Houston 8-5 (5-3 AAC); UTSA 11-3 (8-0 C-USA)
Rankings: Houston NR; UTSA RV (AP)
Series History: Houston leads series, 2-1
Last Meeting: Houston 37, UTSA 35 (2022)
Fun Fact: The matchup between these two last season provided one of the most entertaining contests of 2022. In a 3OT thriller, Houston escaped the Alamodome with a 37-35 victory after QB Clayton Tune lept into the endzone for a two-point conversion to break the tie.
QB Donovan Smith
Clayton Tune is gone, and with him goes 47 starts, 11,994 passing yards, and 104 passing touchdowns. Replacing that kind of experience will not be easy for the Cougars, but Texas Tech transfer Donovan Smith is the man who will be responsible for doing so. Last year, Smith completed 66.1% of his passes for a team-high 1,505 yards and 12 TD with eight INTs, adding 116 yards and seven scores on the ground. While expecting him to immediately offset the loss of Tune, Smith is plenty dynamic enough to keep the UH offense going.
DE David Ugwoegbu
Last season at Oklahoma, David Ugwoegbu played linebacker and was second on the team with 110 tackles, while adding 2.0 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss. However, he chose to transfer to Houston after the season and will make the transition to defensive end, which many would say is a more natural fit for the 6-4, 250-pound defender. If he can make the transition seamless, Ugwoegbu will bolster an already dynamic defensive line centered around Chidozie Nwankwo.
QB Frank Harris
Without a doubt, Frank Harris will be the best player on the field in this ball game. Entering what will be his seventh season of college football, and fifth year as a starter for UTSA (three starts in 2019), Harris is a true dual-threat that regularly makes teams pay with his legs. Over the last three seasons, Harris has 24 rushing scores to go with 71 touchdowns through the air. In 2022, Harris was selected as the C-USA Most Valuable Player after completing 69.6% of his passes for 4,059 yards and 32 TDs (9 INTs), while adding 600 yards and nine scores as a runner.
NG Brandon Brown
Interior defensive linemen rarely get the credit they deserve, and Roadrunners’ nose guard Brandon Brown is a perfect example of that. A casual fan would look at his stats from 2022 and move on: 21 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. However, a deeper look would tell you that he was a first-team all-conference selection last year as a sophomore and has added good weight this offseason. If Houston can’t run the ball between the tackles successfully, there’s a good chance that Brown is the reason why.
Life after Clayton Tune and Tank Dell might be tough for a while, but how quickly can the Cougars overcome their loss? Losing two players of their caliber would be hard in any season, let alone when your team is making the jump from the AAC to the Big 12. However, that’s just the way it is in H-Town right now, and they won’t have an easy game in Week 1 to figure things out. This Roadrunner team is plenty good enough to come into Houston and start the year 1-0. Will Houston rise to the occasion and make the necessary replacements to get a win, or will they struggle with plenty of new faces in key positions?
The storyline on the field will be Frank Harris at quarterback, but the one I’ll be following is head coach, Jeff Traylor. Entering his fourth season as the UTSA head coach, Traylor has a 30-10 record and has gone 23-5 with the Roadrunners over the past two seasons. As one of the hottest up-and-coming names in the business, Traylor might be headed to a much bigger program in 2024 if he can lead UTSA to a third-straight 10-win season. Will that begin with a perceived upset over Houston, or will his team have to work uphill to get there like it did in 2022?
PREDICTION: UTSA 31, HOUSTON 28
With eight offensive and eight defensive starters returning from an 11-win team in 2022, I expect UTSA to be one of the best Group of Five schools in the nation in 2023. To back up that prediction, I’m taking the Roadrunners to win on the road in Week 1 against a Big 12 opponent. What Jeff Traylor has coming back is consistent and experienced. In comparison, Dana Holgorsen has a lot more question marks on his roster and a lot of new pieces that will be playing with a UH helmet on for the first time. With this being a Week 1 contest, I’m riding with the more experienced team and a veteran quarterback.