If you were to start up a college football program from scratch and had the opportunity to bring in a head coach who has a BCS Championship ring as a head coach, you would do it. Right? Of course you would, and that is exactly what the University of Texas-San Antonio did when they started up their football program just within the last four years.
The best part for the new program? Larry Coker was the first to apply for the job.
For Coker, getting a chance to coach again was something he was on the prowl for. After three disappointing seasons with Miami in the beginning of their ACC era following Miami's last national championship in the 2003 season, Coker was fired. Not content to stay inactive, Coker sought out a head-coaching job at Rice in 2007, but was passed over in favor of David Bailiff. Once word got out that football was starting up at UTSA, Coker made sure to get his name to the right people at the school. He was hired within a month of applying for the job, despite the fact the school would not take a football field for a game for another two years.
Coker wanted this job. He needed this job.
More importantly, UTSA needed Coker.
Starting a program from scratch is not easy, and making the jump to the FBS ahead of your own schedule due to circumstances beyond your control makes it even tougher. To get through all of that you need to have a head coach who understands how a big-time program runs, and more importantly how to build a winner. Coker brings that kind of knowledge to San Antonio, where the fans are ready to support a winning program.
Last fall the Road Runners made their college football debut against a schedule full of FCS opponents, including talented programs like Sam Houston State, Georgia State and McNeese State. UTSA kept many of those games close despite being underdogs, showing signs of life for the program right from the start.
The challenges facing the Road Runners in 2012 will add to the character of the team. A new offensive coordinator is already on the team, after Travis Bush was hired by Houston, being replaced by tight ends coach Kevin Brown. The offense should once again be somewhat balanced and straightforward. Coker does not have a roster full to the brim with NFL talent like he did at Miami, but quarterback Eric Soza did have an adequate season in 2011 as a sophomore. In fact, as you might suspect, many of the key players returning in 2012 are relatively young, and that is a good thing. Last season's leading receivers, Kam Jones, Brandon Freeman and Kenny Harrison all return (combined for seven touchdown receptions). Leading rusher Evans Okotcha is also back after rushing for 326 yards and four touchdowns.
On defense the Road Runners put up some decent stats and kept games in a manageable position in 2011. That trend should continue given the strength of the 2012 schedule, with a speedy 4-2-5 defense designed to slow down the spread offense and a young defensive core getting ready to take the next step forward in 2012. Defensive end Marlon Smith recorded eight sacks last fall and linebacker Brandon Reeves had 8.5 tackles for loss.
Some of these numbers may not sound impressive, and that is because they are not. If anything, the 2012 season is going to be more about building and getting stronger than anything else.
2012 UTSA Schedule (via FBSchedules.com)
- August 30 - @ South Alabama
- September 8 - TEXAS A&M - COMMERCE
- September 15 - @ Georgia State
- September 22 - NW OKLAHOMA STATE
- September 29 - @ New Mexico State*
- October 6 - Open Date
- October 13 - @ Rice
- October 20 - SAN JOSE STATE*
- October 27 - UTAH STATE*
- November 3 - @ Louisiana Tech*
- November 10 - MCNEESE STATE
- November 17 - @ Idaho*
- November 24 - TEXAS STATE*
* Denotes WAC game
The schedule facing the Road Runners in 2012 is far from the most competitive among FBS schedules, with four games coming against FCS opponents and two others coming against programs in a similar situation as UTSA, making the transition to FBS football (South Alabama and Texas State). Add to that a WAC schedule that includes Louisiana Tech as the toughest game on paper and you can see that UTSA is still in the transition phase of becoming an FBS program in 2012. Playing home game sin the Alamodome is a nice luxury to have and could in time develop in to a solid home field advantage, but that could take a while to build up to.
UTSA will see a much tougher schedule in 2013, with home games scheduled against Oklahoma State and Houston and road trips to Arizona and Virginia.
The expectations for UTSA should be at a bare minimum in 2012. The team is coming off a schedule that consisted entirely of FCS competition last fall and this schedule could be considered just a slight step up. But the more important task for the program is to continue to build the program. Remember, this football program is entering just its second season in existence. The move up to FBS was rapid and accelerated with conference realignment taking a toll on the WAC and needing to find new members quickly.
While you would expect an FBS program to handle their FCS opponents without much trouble, this is not exactly your typical FBS program. Five or six wins for the Road Runners might be considered a success when the season is over. Anything less than that might be alarming.
Kevin McGuire is a national college football writer for Examiner.com and the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Submit your mailbag questions via Tumblr. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.