In 2014, just three years removed from their debut season, UTSA was looking to make a big splash in the college football world. The Roadrunners were returning a senior-laden team (to say the least) and the most starters in the country (19) from a season in which they nearly won the C-USA West. Midway through September they were touting a very respectable 1-1 record after crushing a consistently good Houston team and losing by a field goal on the road to eventual Pac-12 South champion Arizona. After playing a fairly competitive game against them in 2013, a win against an Oklahoma State team with plenty of question marks seemed anything but out of the question. But instead of a statement victory en route to a conference title run, the Roadrunners absorbed a 30 point loss, starting quarterback Tucker Carter sustained a shoulder injury that would plague him for the rest of the season, and high preseason expectations began to unravel into a disappointing 4-8 campaign.
Fast forward to 2015, subtract 38 seniors, and year five looks about as promising as year one did. In head coach Larry Coker's own words, this year's Roadrunners are "thin and inexperienced". UTSA returns one less starter (five) than there are Police Academy sequels - the least amount in the FBS. In search for some perspective, a relatively inexperienced K-State squad could hold a respectable round-robin tournament of four three-on-three-basketball teams with their returning starters... UTSA doesn't even have enough players for one game.
But all of those openings on the depth chart may have only fueled the fire of the 38 (!) newly-minted Roadrunners who are far from lacking in athleticism and potential.
After Tucker Carter sustained his afformentioned shoulder injury, inconsistency seeped through to the rest of the offense. Second-stringer Blake Bogenschutz showed some promise through the first half of the season until he broke his hand almost immediately in his first collegiate start. From then on out, turnover-prone true freshman Austin Robinson and a maimed Carter split duties with mixed results. Seeing the potential problems of not having depth and reliability at the quarterback position, Larry Coker brought in two true freshmen (Manny Harris and Jaylon Henderson) and coerced the immediately eligible senior transfer from Michigan Russell Bellomy to compete with redshirt freshman Bogenschutz, Robinson, and walk-on sophomore Dalton Sturm. From an uninformed look at that list, one might be tempted to say Bellomy is the most likely candidate to run away with the competition, but a look at his stat line from Michigan (4-23, 46 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT, -0.7 passer rating) proves that he is just as likely to start on opening day as the next guy.
Trying a similar throw-as-many-bodies-as-possible-at-the-problem approach with the skill positions, the UTSA staff brought in three new faces at running back. Junior returnee Jarveon Williams is the most likely starter. He has proven to be competent at both running and catching the ball out of the backfield, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 7.3 yards per target. Height-challenged junior Brian Vaughn (5'6") received very little action of carries, so JUCO transfer Corbin White was most likely brought in to spell Williams. A pair of true freshman could also work their way into the mix.
Receiver is a relative strength-in-numbers going into the season. Senior Aaron Grubb had the second most catches in 2014 on a team that struggled to move the ball through the air (or on the ground for that matter), but didn't do a whole lot after the catch. Sure-handed tight-end David Morgan II brings back the most yards out of any receiver with 255 and hauled in most of everything thrown his way. Out of 25 total targets last year, Morgan hauled in 80% of those and averaged just over a first down per target. Oklahoma transfer Dannon Cavil will look to get in the mix of things, along with JUCO standout and former SMU wide-out JaBryce Taylor. But perhaps most importantly for the Roadrunners, the dynamic Kenny Bias appears to have buried the off-field issues that kept him in the doghouse and on the bench for the better half of a season. According to coaches, the senior has stepped up as a leader in the spring/summer workouts and looks to be featured as a key part of their offense this season. With 13 options, Coker and staff will most likely be able to find a combination of personnel that will work.
The offensive line, on the other hand, may be a bit of a problem. Nate Leonard had started every single game in program history at center, and with both left-side lineman vacating as well, protecting the blind side of the quarterback and running left could prove to be a challenge. Seniors William Cavanaugh and Jordan Gray have spot-started throughout their careers, but three out of five positions will start their first collegiate game come September 3rd against Arizona. With the other, more purple, Wildcats coming to town nine days later, that doesn't allow for much time to gel.
On the defensive side of the trenches, UTSA returns only one of the top six most productive tacklers along what was a very solid defensive line. Jason Neill comes back after leading the team in sacks his junior year and three others who were productive when called upon also return, but the situation at defensive tackle was precarious enough to bring in two JUCO transfers to shore up the middle.
The linebacking corps only saw one major departure, but he was their most productive member and the second leading tackler on the team. Drew Douglas is more than capable of taking the lead, but to maintain the stout run defense from 2014, Coker and staff must find a suitable Garth to Douglas' Wayne, assuming the defensive line can keep the opposing blockers off of them at all.
While the starting secondary wasn't as thoroughly gutted by graduations as the offensive and defensive lines were, a lot of production was lost with the expiration of four players' eligibility. Over half (55%) of the secondary's tackle total, six out of nine interceptions, and 66% of pass breakups all walked out the door (assumingly) in cap and gown this past fall/spring. To help fill those gaps, another veteran corps of four seniors and two juniors - including all-name team candidates Mauricio Sanchez, Michael Egwuagu, and Bennett Okotcha - will need to step up to the plate in order to hold down the back end. However, defensive coordinator Neal Neathery will have to get creative with two sophomores and six freshmen should anyone get injured.
Finally, not to be outdone by other position group seniors, both the kicker and punter also graduated. Sophomore Daniel Portillo has a decent amount of experience handling the kickoff duties, but has not attempted anything but an extra point in his young career.
All in all, UTSA has a lot of holes to fill without many proven options. The ones they do have may end up being viable, but it would take nothing short of a miracle to work out all the kinks and mistakes associated with such high turnover. For a Kansas State team that is more inexperienced than average, facing a non-power-five team that could hardly be more inexperienced will prove to be not much more than a team-building exercise.
Next week, the one and only jeffp will use an algorithm (I'm assuming) and tell you the amount of birded mascots per week Louisana Tech will play next year.