Frank Wilson is building something special out on 1604. The Roadrunners qualified for a bowl game his first two seasons, he's recruiting at a high level, and they beat their first Power 5 school last year.
Growth doesn't come without struggle and 2018 might be a regression for UTSA with all the starters the Roadrunners are replacing. To avoid a pitfall, UTSA has work to do this spring.
Rebuild the Offense
Safe to say UTSA's offense will look radically different from its 2017 version. UTSA must replace quarterback Dalton Sturm, leading receivers Josh Stewart, Kerry Thomas Jr., and Brady Jones, tight end Shaq Williams, plus four of five offensive starters from last year's fall camp. The biggest change comes at coordinator where Frank Scelfo gives way to Al Borges.
Borges is an experienced operator with stops at UCLA, Michigan, Auburn, San Diego State, Indiana, and Boise. He brings a varied approach to offensive football, one that simplifies decision making for the quarterback. That's good news because UTSA will employ a new starter for the first time since late 2015. Provided the Roadrunners can settle on a starter after spring, we'll have a better idea of the direction Borges wants to take the offense. We suspect that Wilson won't name a starter until fall camp, but the spring game will be worth a watch to see how each quarterback fits.
The loss of Stewart, Thomas Jr., Jones and Williams hurts. Greg Campbell Jr. and Marquez McNair return, and their presence will ease the transition. UTSA has a solid group of young receivers who've yet to contribute. Their status for the fall will depend on how they take to UTSA's new offense this spring.
We talked about issues up front recently, and that unit will dictate how well UTSA transitions. Jalen Rhodes, when healthy, is a nice back to rely on. Hyped recruit B.J. Daniels enters seasons two in San Antonio, expect him to have a more prominent role as well.
Two New Coordinators
We already mentioned Borges, but UTSA also promotes Jason Rollins to defensive coordinator after Pete Golding's departure to Alabama. Rollins gives the Roadrunners continuity which is essential for a defense that will carry the load as the offense finds its way.
Rollins will need to replace Austin Jupe and Devron Davis at corner and all-everything Marcus Davenport at a position we can only describe as the destroyer of worlds, but the rest of the defense returns some blue-chip talent.
Does Rollins have Golding's instincts as a play caller? We'll find out this fall; this spring is about installation and evaluation. UTSA returns a basketball starting five of power forward shaped defensive ends in Eric Banks, who exploded onto the scene last year as a sophomore, Baylen Baker, Solomon Wise, DeQuarius Henry, and Jarrod Carter-McLin. They also return perhaps their best all-around lineman Kevin Strong Jr. at defensive tackle, though depth inside is an issue.
Rollins will need to put his stamp on the UTSA defense but continue to build on the mindset that led the Roadrunners to elite levels last season in total defense and rush defense. New position coach David Turner should help inside after coming over from Texas A&M. If UTSA can fill a couple of critical holes, this unit will once again be a bear to move the ball on.
Projections into Reality
Frank Wilson's recruiting efforts are legendary. When you stand out for your recruiting prowess at a factory like LSU, you are a different breed. With three classes under his belt, it's safe to say that this team is 1) fully his and 2) possesses more raw talent than any UTSA team in school history.
This spring that youth must be served. Players like Samuel Barnes, Tariq Woolen, Morris Joseph, Frank Harris, B.J. Daniels, Spencer Bufford-Watts, and Bryce Rivers to make this team their own.
It's one thing to recruit highly regarded players; it's quite another to further those players along and make them into contributors. For the most part, the best players on Wilson's first two teams have been Coker recruits. This spring Wilson's recruits either bridge the gap or UTSA is in trouble in 2018.
Meet Josiah Tauaefa
You won't find a more instinctual linebacker in CUSA than rising junior Josiah Tauaefa. With ultra-efficient La'Kel Bass graduating, Tauaefa is the leader of the defense. He'd probably like a do-over for last year's injury-plagued season. UTSA had enough in the tank defensively to play at an elite level without him, but that might not be the case in 2018.
By the time Tauaefa leaves UTSA he might be the most iconic football player in Roadrunner history. He's that good on the field and charismatic off it. Ignore the hair if you can, Tauaefa has substance. He made the Freshman All-American team and CUSA Freshman Player of the Year in 2016. His 2017 play didn't indicate any sophomore slump, but injuries kept him from wreaking the kind of havoc that UTSA fans have become accustomed to from the Lake Dallas product.
North Texas fans grimace when we mention his name because somehow, in spite going to high school roughly 9.2 miles from Apogee Stadium, he headed south on I-35.
A lot of schools that passed on Tauaefa are regretting that decision.