After a record-setting season that included its first conference championship, the University of Texas at San Antonio seeks its first bowl victory in the football program’s 11-year history. The Roadrunners, ranked No. 24 in the final regular season Associated Press poll, will face San Diego State, 24th in the College Football Playoff rankings, in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl on Tuesday night. UTSA fans will be present in force, with the school’s allotment of bowl tickets claimed. Additional tickets were available as of Sunday. But the Roadrunners will be missing their standout running back, Sincere McCormick, who traveled with the team but won’t play because he is entering the NFL draft.
UTSA Roadrunners (12-1) vs. San Diego State Aztecs (11-2):
Location: Toyota Stadium, Frisco
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m.
How to watch: ESPN
The UTSA Roadrunners got their first conference title in their 10-year history to cap off a historic season with a 49-41 win over Western Kentucky, an opponent UTSA beat earlier in the season.
San Diego State came up short in the Mountain West Conference championship game, losing to Utah State 46-13 in a game in which the Aztecs had two turnovers.
What they’re saying:
UTSA Head Coach Jeff Traylor: San Diego State’s “defense is just so dang good. …. We’ll have a hard time running the football. … When you win that many close games, you don’t turn the ball over very much and you scored in the critical areas, and that’s what they do. … We say they haven’t played an offense as good as us and they’re gonna say we haven’t played a defense as good as theirs, so we’ll find out.”
San Diego State Head Coach Brady Hoke: “I really like how their team plays. They’re really balanced offensively and they’ve got good players. … This is a team that’s older, a veteran group. Their quarterback has been able to make things happen with his feet. He’s a dual-threat guy. As he runs, if it’s not there from the passing game, he’s dangerous, and we’ve got to do a great job collapsing the pocket.”
UTSA is 0-2 in bowl games, including a 31-24 loss to Louisiana last year in the First Responder Bowl. The Roadrunners are the nation’s 12th-highest scoring team, averaging 37.8 points per game. Of UTSA’s 60 touchdowns this season, five were scored by the defense, a mark that has the Roadrunners tied for fourth-best in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Roadrunners have held opponents to 111.5 rushing yards per game.
San Diego State has the nation’s No. 2 rushing defense, holding opponents to 77.5 yards per game, and 14th-best defense overall, allowing less than 320 yards per game. But without UTSA’s McCormick playing, the Aztecs’ ground defense may not be tested as much. San Diego State averages 26.5 points per game while holding teams to 19.5. The Aztecs’ 11 victories have tied a school record. They are 5-5 in bowl games since 2010.
Players to watch:
McCormick, the two-time Conference USA offensive player of the year, announced last week that he would skip the bowl game and will enter the NFL draft, giving up his final two years of college eligibility. McCormick ended his collegiate career with 3,929 rushing yards and posted 204 yards in his final game as a Roadrunner. UTSA will need quarterback Frank Harris, the team’s No. 2 rusher, to lead them in McCormick’s absence. Harris has completed 241 of 362 passes this season for 2,906 yards, 25 touchdowns, and just five interceptions. In McCormick’s absence, UTSA will look to running backs Brenden Brady, B.J. Daniels and Kaedric Cobbs. More important will be the Roadrunners’ trio of receivers: all-conference selection Zakhari Franklin, De’Corian Clark and Joshua Cephus. Linebacker Clarence Hicks, whose 10 sacks this season set a school record, and safety Rashad Wisdom, both all-conference honorees, lead the defense.
The Aztecs’ highest-profile player is punter Matt Araiza, a first-team AP All-America and winner of the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter. He averages more than 51 yards per punt, best in the nation, and has put 36 punts inside the 20-yard line this season. He has the ability to pin the Roadrunners deep in their own territory on every punt. Running back Greg Bell leads the ground game for the Aztecs with 990 yards and eight touchdowns. The Aztecs have used both Jordon Brookshire and Lucas Johnson at quarterback. Their top receiver is Jesse Matthews with 46 catches and 467 yards for seven touchdowns.