Remember the Alamodome, and UTSA Football

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A college football program that existed only in concept just five years ago stole the show on NFL opening night.

Viewers who tuned out from the Seattle Seahawks-Green Bay Packers snoozer and into the 26-23 barnburner on Fox Sports 1 likely got their first taste of UTSA football. Rest assured, with the positive trajectory the Roadrunners have in such a short amount of time, it won’t be the last time they’re in the spotlight.

UTSA fell short of upsetting visiting, 26-23. But the Roadrunners gave the Wildcats all they could handle through an impressive defensive effort that made Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez sweat it out to the very end.

The orange-clad ‘Runners swarmed to the ball and pressured Arizona freshman quarterback Anu Solomon all night, holding the explosive Wildcats offense to mark only three teams bested a season ago: Washington, Washington State and Pac-12 South champion Arizona State.

Houston head coach Tony Levine knows all too well how tenacious that UTSA defense is. His Cougars had the opening of their new home, TDECU Stadium, spoiled by that same Roadrunner defense in Week 1, 27-7.

Grounding Houston was as much an achievement for UTSA as slowing Arizona, given UH averaged more than 33 points per game in 2013 and returned most of its starters.

As impressive as UTSA’s play is its fan support. When talk of the hapless Oakland Raiders franchise considering a move to San Antonio surfaced this summer, I juxtaposed its following with that of the Roadrunners.

Rodriguez remarked after the game that the Alamodome crowd was loud and tested the resolve of his quarterback:

Who needs bad NFL? San Antonio is fast establishing itself as a college football town, and things are only looking up for the Roadrunners.

The meteoric rise of UTSA football from concept to contender is both a story of building and rebuilding.

Head coach Larry Coker is the program’s architect. In cultivating the culture of UTSA from scratch, Coker rebuilt his own identity, as Ehud Knoll so astutely observed:

For some who tuned into Thursday’s national broadcast, their lasting memory of Coker was that of a head coach who backed his way into a championship with one of the greatest assemblies of talent ever while at Miami.

His great Hurricane teams are often remembered now with the asterisk that predecessor Butch Davis recruited much of the talent responsible for appearances in the 2002 and 2003 BCS Championship Games. Never mind Coker and his staff unlocked the players’ potential.

After appearances in three consecutive BCS bowls, Miami’s failure to replicate the success prompted an unceremonious dismissal. The Butch Davis recruiting asterisk loomed large.

Coker is successfully rewriting the rewrite with UTSA.

Rodriguez remarked on Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches call that Coker was building UTSA “the right way.”

“The right way” means establishing an identity, which Coker has done for UTSA football.

Tough, hard-nosed defenses defined UTSA head coach Larry Coker’s best teams at Miami. While no one will confuse the 2014 UTSA Roadrunners with the 2001 Miami Hurricanes–arguably the greatest team in college football history–they are a hard-hitting and relentless bunch.

On the Fox Sports 1 broadcast, Tim Brando and Joel Klatt celebrated UTSA football for its workmanlike attitude. And indeed, the combination of a traditional, huddle offense and smash-mouth defense is as workmanlike as it gets in today’s landscape.

But to attribute the Roadrunners’ play simply to tenacity or grittiness is to greatly undersell the sheer talent Coker and his staff assembled.

Building a program “the right way” means building for long-term success and not investing in just one winning season. To that end, the UTSA football staff deserves tremendous kudos for how successfully they’ve mined Texas for recruiting gems.

Of UTSA’s stars through the first two, impressive outings of 2014, there are veterans who’ve grown with the program: wide receiver Kam Jones, safety Nic Johnson, defensive tackle Ashaad Mabry and running back David Glasco II; there are promising young talents like running back Jarveon Williams.

Blend them with talented transfers such as Robert Singletary, Jens Jeters and Tucker Carter, and Coker’s found the right mix for success.

Perhaps most impressive: whereas a program such as Miami can sell its reputation to prospects, Coker and his assistants have assembled a collection of talented players on a concept of greatness.

The buy-in to the concept is obviously there and manifesting on the field.

This is UTSA’s first season of bowl eligibility. Make no mistake, we will see this team in the postseason, if not the Conference-USA Championship Game. The Roadrunners could potentially pose the greatest threat to C-USA East favorite Marshall’s dream season.

Just three years ago, the Roadrunners were primarily playing Div. II schools. Now, they’re competing with power conference opponents and pursuing a C-USA championship.

Though the Roadrunners fell short against Arizona, they made a statement. Future opponents better remember the Alamodome, and UTSA football. The latter is primed to hang around the college football scene for awhile.