Texas-San Antonio (0-0) at Houston (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 29, 9 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: TDECU Stadium (40,000) -- Houston, Texas. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: UTSA 0-0, Houston 0-0. Away Record: UTSA 0-0, Houston 0-0. Neutral Record: UTSA 0-0, Houston 0-0. Conference Record: UTSA 0-0, Houston 0-0. Series Record: Houston leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The Houston Cougars tangle with the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners at newly built TDECU Stadium in a season-opening Lone Star State showdown.
Entering their third season at the FBS level, the Roadrunners are aiming to maintain the level of success they have had in the first two. In 2013, they finished at 7-5 following an 8-4 record in their inaugural year at their current level of competition.
Houston has been around a while longer as an FBS program, but is in just its second as a member of the American Athletic Conference. Their first run through the league led to favorable results, with the team in the thick of the conference title chase into November, before stumbling to an 8-5 finish. With the sour taste of a 1-4 record in the last five games still lingering, the Cougars have plenty to be optimistic about in 2014.
In last year's first-ever meeting between these two squads, Houston routed UTSA, 59-28.
UTSA was a solid offensive team last year, churning out 417.8 yards per game. However, the Roadrunners weren't especially potent when it came to scoring, posting 25.8 ppg.
Improving on those numbers will require new starting quarterback Tucker Carter to step up and replace the production of Eric Soza. Carter was the backup last year, but threw only 33 total passes. Meanwhile, Soza completed 62.6 percent of his pass attempts for 2,719 yards. If Carter can come near that production, head coach Larry Coker should be happy.
Coker should also be happy because of the returning talent at the skill positions. David Glasco II is back as the top rusher, although he only had 496 yards and five touchdowns, but that was while splitting carries with Evans Okotcha (386 yards, two TDs) and Soza (369 yards, seven TDs). His workload should increase this year.
The Roadrunners favored a 'spread the wealth' type of passing attack, with 12 different players recording at least 10 receptions. Kam Jones (34 receptions, 345 yards, TD) and Brandon Freeman (24 receptions, 255 yards) were the top targets, and both are back.
On the defensive side of things, the Roadrunners surrendered 376.3 yards and 26.3 points per game. While those numbers weren't horrible, they could certainly be improved upon, especially if they want to be in the C-USA title hunt. With 10 starters back in the fold, the chances are high that will be the case. Safety Triston Wade (94 tackles, two INTs) was the top tackler on the squad a year ago.
John O'Korn comes into the 2014 season a bit differently than the 2013 campaign. Now a sophomore, O'Korn was a freshman backup to David Piland a year ago, but when Piland's career was ended by multiple concussions, O'Korn got a shot at the starting gig. He more than excelled, throwing for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns on 58.1 percent passing.
If O'Korn suffers a sophomore slump, it won't be because of his receivers. Deontay Greenberry (82 receptions, 1,202 yards, 11 TDs) is one of the best at the position in the AAC, and the country for that matter. Daniel Spencer (52 receptions, 768 yards, six TDs) is an excellent second option, and Demarcus Ayers (11 receptions, 130 yards, TD) will see an expanded role beyond his normal return duties.
The Cougars ran with a platoon at running back last season to great success. Both Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson are back after the combining for 1,175 yards and 12 touchdowns on 242 carries.
All in all, Houston performed well offensively last season, posting strong numbers in yards (419.5 ypg) and scoring (33.2 ppg). With O'Korn at the helm, they were also among the top-30 teams in the country in passing (280.5 ypg).
Defense is where coach Tony Levine's squad really needs to make a big step. They may have ranked 20th in the country in scoring defense (21.8 ppg) last season, but that was due to an incredible turnover margin (+25), which was better than any team in the nation. The Cougars were next-to-last in the AAC in total defense (415.8 ypg), and it is unlikely they will be able to come up with another 43 turnovers this season.
Efrem Oliphant (134 tackles, 13 TFL) and Derrick Mathews (116 tackles, 7.0 sacks) lead the unit from their linebacker spots, and Adrian McDonald (100 tackles, six INTS) and Trevon Stewart (109 tackles, four INTs) have proven themselves to be opportunistic at the safety position.
It has been a quick rise for UTSA recently, but it is still far from a national power. Houston has plenty of returning talent on both sides of the ball, and has its sights set on bigger things than a early season tussle with the Roadrunners. Expect the Cougars to get the season going on a high note.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 42, Texas-San Antonio 20
08/29 15:23:26 ET