NCAAF: No. 24 Houston faces opening-game test at rising UTSA

No. 24 Houston seeks a dynamic, and winning, start to its most anticipated season in years when it squares off against UTSA, another rising program, on Saturday in San Antonio.

The lone FBS contest on opening weekend featuring two 12-plus-win teams from last season has massive stakes for an September date.

The Cougars begin the season in the Associated Press’ Top 25 rankings for the 12th time in program history and first since 2016. Houston went 12-2 in 2021, played for the American Athletic Conference championship and beat blueblood Auburn 17-13 in the Birmingham Bowl.

The Cougars were tabbed the AAC’s top team in the conference preseason media poll, narrowly ahead of defending champion Cincinnati for that honor.

Houston senior quarterback Clayton Tune and junior wide receiver Nathaniel Dell are among two returning quarterback-wide receiver duos nationally after posting 3,546 passing yards and 1,329 receiving yards, respectively, in 2021.

“Last year gave us a lot of confidence in what we can do and how we can play and win as a team, and I think that energy’s even higher this year,” Tune said. “We’re just scratching the surface. The one goal me and everybody on this team should have is to win a conference championship — get back there and win.”

UTSA also went 12-2 last season and climbed to No. 22 in the polls while going undefeated over its first 11 games. The Roadrunners won the Conference USA championship game and then lost to No. 24 San Diego State in the Frisco Bowl.

The Roadrunners were picked first to finish first in the C-USA preseason poll, ahead of UAB and last season’s runner-up, Western Kentucky. UTSA went 7-0 at the Alamodome last year to extend its school-record home winning streak to 10 and is determined to take another step forward in 2022.

UTSA returns record-setting quarterback Frank Harris (3,743 total yards, 27 touchdown passes, six TD runs) and safety Rashad Wisdom, the team’s leading tackler the past two seasons. The two were named conference preseason offensive and defensive player of the year, respectively.

Harris is hoping for an even better season after undergoing LASIK eye surgery.

“I can finally see,” Harris said, according to the San Antonio Express-News. “It was a no-brainer for me. A life-changing experience. Now, I don’t wear contacts or glasses. It was a great decision. …

“I can see further and I can see clearer. I never have to worry about wiping my eyes if sweat comes or my contacts getting blurry. It’s something that was pretty good that I think is going to benefit me.”

UTSA has stepped up its schedule this season, which will be its last in C-USA before moving to the AAC. After playing Houston at home, the Roadrunners travel to Army and to Texas.

“We have a good team, but this is undoubtedly our toughest schedule since I’ve gotten here,” UTSA coach Jeff Traylor said. “It’s an exciting schedule if you’re a fan. You got to look at it as a great opportunity.”

Houston and UTSA have split their two-game, all-time series, with the Roadrunners winning on the road in the most recent matchup in 2014.

–Field Level Media

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