Nov 24, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; UTSA Roadrunners quarterback Frank Harris (0) throws a pass during the first half against the Tulane Green Wave at Yulman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports

A Frisco Bowl win would carry extra meaning for Marshall, UTSA

Marshall had to survive a five-game losing streak in order to clinch bowl eligibility, but the Thundering Herd aren’t through the adversity just yet.

The program will turn to redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Pennington when Marshall takes on UTSA in the Frisco Bowl on Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.

Marshall (6-6) ended its skid by winning two of its last three games, including a 35-21 triumph over Arkansas State in the regular-season finale, to reach the important six-win plateau.

Starting quarterback Cam Fancher finished his season with 2,162 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and four rushing scores before entering the transfer portal. Marshall coach Charles Huff told a local TV station that Fancher’s decision didn’t surprise him since “there isn’t a lot of money for NIL (at Marshall) and the fans hate him. The kid has been miserable.”

Huff received blowback for the comments, including from Fancher’s mother.

“I was asked a question by a reporter and I inserted my opinion over facts about a situation, which ultimately created a little bit of a sandstorm,” Huff said. “It was truly based on my opinion of a small minority of fans, and I actually generalized the entire fan base. That was wrong. I take full responsibility for that.”

Fans may have been rankled by the coach’s faux pas, but now they will get to root for the son of a program legend. Pennington’s father is Chad Pennington, who parlayed a decorated career at Marshall into a long NFL career.

However, Cole Pennington had a 0-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three games filling in for Fancher this season.

“Bowl games are special in themselves,” Pennington said. “They’re just a great way to extend your time with the guys that you built a culture with and a chemistry with the whole season.”

Marshall’s weapons of note are running back Rasheen Ali (1,043 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Jayden Harrison, who has two kick return touchdowns and an FBS-high 31.9 yards per return.

UTSA (8-4) is heading to its fourth straight bowl game under coach Jeff Traylor, but the Roadrunners have yet to win one in the program’s brief FBS history.

The bowl appearance streak includes a trip to the 2021 Frisco Bowl, where No. 24 San Diego State beat UTSA 38-24.

“It’s important for us,” Traylor said. “There’s only a few things left in this program that we haven’t done, and this is one of those things we haven’t done, so for us it takes on a level of importance that’s probably more than most programs.”

UTSA made the move to the American Athletic Conference this season and found immediate success, winning seven straight conference games before a 29-16 loss to Tulane in the regular-season finale.

The Roadrunners offense relies on a pair of first-team All-AAC players, quarterback Frank Harris (2,506 passing yards, 323 rushing yards, 22 combined touchdowns, eight interceptions) and wide receiver Joshua Cephus (82 receptions, 1,049 yards, nine TDs).

“It’s my last (game), you know?” Cephus said. “I’ve been here all my time in college. I can’t miss an opportunity to go out and play with my teammates again. I’ll never have a chance to play college football again, so I’m trying to go out with a bang.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 24, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Tulane Green Wave wide receiver Chris Brazzell II (17) runs around UTSA Roadrunners defensive back Ken Robinson (21) for a touchdown during the first half at Yulman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports

No. 23 Tulane beats UTSA to return to AAC title game

Makhi Hughes rushed for a season-high 166 yards and a touchdown and No. 23 Tulane claimed a spot in the American Athletic Conference championship game with a 29-16 victory over UTSA on Friday in New Orleans.

Hughes had his seventh 100-yard game of the season and Michael Pratt threw two touchdown passes to Chris Brazzell II for the Green Wave (11-1, 8-0 AAC), who won their 10th consecutive game.

Tulane, which scored 17 points off five UTSA turnovers, will host the AAC title game Dec. 2 with SMU being the most likely opponent.

Frank Harris completed 25 of 38 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown for the Roadrunners (8-4, 7-1).

Tulane led 23-10 after a scoreless third quarter before Pratt and Brazzell teamed on a 3-yard score with 5:18 remaining.

Harris threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Oscar Cardenas to complete the scoring with 1:33 left.

On the second play of the game, Bailey Despanie intercepted a tipped pass from Harris, setting the Green Wave up at the Roadrunners’ 10-yard line. Three plays later, Pratt threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Brazzell.

UTSA got the ball when Pratt fumbled while being sacked by Jamal Ligon, and Donyai Taylor recovered and returned to the Tulane 30. Three plays later, Rocko Griffin ran 23 yards for a touchdown and the score was tied at the end of the first quarter.

On the second play of the second quarter, Chase Allen kicked a 40-yard field goal to give the Roadrunners a 10-7 lead.

The Green Wave tied the score on the ensuing possession when Valentino Ambrosio kicked a 47-yard field goal.

Hughes’ 58-yard run helped set up Ambrosio’s 26-yard field goal that gave Tulane a 13-10 lead.

The Green Wave got the ball back when Eric Hicks Jr. recovered a fumble by Kevorian Barnes at the UTSA 48. That led to Hughes’ 2-yard touchdown run and a 20-10 lead.

Tahir Annoor’s interception of Cardenas at the Roadrunners’ 43 led to Ambrosio’s 23-yard field goal, giving Tulane a 23-10 halftime lead.

–Field Level Media

Tulane Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt (7) warms up before their game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes at Yulman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Dobbins-USA TODAY Sports

Prolific passers carry Tulane, UTSA into pivotal AAC showdown

Tulane’s quarterback just became the school’s all-time leading passer, and UTSA’s quarterback is coming off his own historic performance.

The star quarterbacks take center stage when the Green Wave (10-1, 7-0) and the Roadrunners (8-3, 7-0) meet Friday afternoon in New Orleans for a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

“Nobody will think we can win, and we’ll be the underdog on the road,” UTSA coach Jeff Traylor said. “Looking forward to that.”

Tulane is the defending conference champion, but the Roadrunners have been surging as quarterback Frank Harris has gotten healthier.

Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt has had injury issues of his own, including a gimpy knee. But that didn’t slow him down much in a 24-8 road victory against Florida Atlantic last Saturday.

Pratt completed 21 of 28 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the game with 9,239 career passing yards, breaking Patrick Ramsey’s school record. Pratt, who surpassed Ramsey’s career touchdown record earlier in the season, got the latest record despite the absence of injured starting wide receivers Jha’Quan Jackson and Lawrence Keys III.

“He’s the greatest quarterback in Tulane history,” head coach Willie Fritz said. “He really is. We’ve had great quarterbacks here. I’m not trying to diminish that. But when you put in his statistics plus the wins that he’s got, he’s done a tremendous job.”

Pratt is 20-2 as a starter over the last seasons. The Green Wave have continued to win and stay in contention for a New Year’s 6 berth for a second consecutive season.

Tulane has won 10 games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. The Green Wave’s 22 victories since the start of the 2022 season are the third most in the country behind only Georgia (26) and Michigan (24).

But recently the wins haven’t come easily. Tulane had four straight wins in one-score games (by a total of 14 points) before last week’s 16-point margin.

“For us, after the last few weeks,” Fritz quipped, “that’s kind of a blowout.”

The Roadrunners had a legitimate blowout when they defeated visiting South Florida 49-21 on Nov. 17. They set a school record with 643 yards of total offense.

Harris passed for 523 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns. Traylor said he and his staff have been “calling the games to take care of” Harris, who suffered a turf toe injury early in the season.

But, Traylor added, he turned Harris loose last week so he could “go out in style” on Senior Night and to see what he could expect from the quarterback against the Green Wave.

“He looked like the old Frank Harris to me,” Traylor said.

Harris missed two games as UTSA started the season 1-3, but after he returned and has gotten healthier the Roadrunners have won by an average of 18.9 points during their win streak.

“Healthy teams don’t win championships,” Traylor said. “Tough ones do.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 23, 2023; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers running back Dylan Sampson (6) runs the ball against the UTSA Roadrunners during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

No. 23 Tennessee dominates against UTSA

On the game’s first snap, Tennessee’s Joe Milton III bolted 81 yards untouched to the checkered end zone and the No. 23 Volunteers were on their way to a 45-14 romp over visiting UTSA Saturday in Knoxville.

Coming off a loss at Florida last week, the Volunteers (3-1) dominated the first half, rolling to a 31-0 lead.

Milton, a target of criticism after the Florida defeat, rebounded with 18 completions in 31 attempts for 209 yards and two touchdowns.

Tennessee thrived on the ground despite an injury to Jaylen Wright, who entered as the second-leading rusher in the SEC but sat out the second half after carrying for 16 yards on four rushes.

Dylan Sampson carried the load in reserve, rushing 11 times for a career-high 139 yards and two touchdowns. Jabari Small added 61 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

Injury-riddled UTSA (1-3) was without its Heisman preseason candidate, quarterback Frank Harris (turf toe). The Roadrunners had the ball in Volunteers’ territory only once in the first half and the drive ended at the Tennessee 19 on a fourth-down incompletion.

Owen McCown came off the bench and sparked the Roadrunners, completing his first 10 passes to fuel touchdown drives on UTSA’s first two possessions of the second half. McCown finished with 18 completions in 20 attempts for 170 yards and one interception.

McCown, a Colorado transfer and the son of former NFL quarterback Josh McCown, got UTSA on the board with a 3-yard scoring pass to Joshua Cephus. Then he fired a 43-yard touchdown pass to Tykee Ogle-Kellogg to cut Tennessee’s lead to 31-14.

But Tennessee resumed control in the fourth quarter, getting touchdown runs from Sampson and Small.

The Volunteers scored on their first two possessions of the game. After Milton raced 81 yards on a read-option play, Sampson followed with a 10-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 lead.

On Tennessee’s first two possessions of the second quarter, Milton finished quick-strike drives with touchdown passes of 18 yards on a crossing route to Kaleb Webb and 48 yards to Ramel Keyton.

But after hitting on 14 of his first 16 passes, Milton suddenly went cold, completing just one of his next 12 attempts.

–Field Level Media

Sep 2, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars quarterback Donovan Smith (1) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the UTSA Roadrunners at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston wins low-scoring battle with UTSA

Donovan Smith threw for two scores, the Houston defense stymied UTSA’s high-powered offense, and the Cougars won their first game as a Big 12 member by toppling the in-state Roadrunners 17-14 Saturday in Houston.

In the season opener for both teams, Smith, a junior, completed 22 of 34 for 233 yards without a turnover. He outdueled UTSA’s seventh-year southpaw quarterback Frank Harris.

Samuel Brown caught six passes for 106 yards. Joseph Manjack IV snared six for 67 yards and a touchdown.

Sporting light blue jerseys similar to the ones made famous by the hometown Houston Oilers, the Cougars intercepted Harris three times in the third quarter while leading 10-7.

In their first game as a member of the American Athletic Conference, the Roadrunners (0-1) saw Harris go 18 of 36 for 209 yards with a touchdown pass and rush for 45 yards.

Kevorian Barnes rushed for 103 yards on 16 carries and one score. Joshua Cephus recorded a career-high 123 yards on nine receptions with a touchdown.

Both teams averaged over 36 points per game in 2022, but with such explosive expectations in the matchup, the contest was dictated mostly by defense and special teams.

Houston set itself up on its third series after Malik Fleming’s 48-yard punt return to the UTSA 22 midway through the first quarter.

Three plays later, Smith struck Manjack over the middle from 8 yards for a 7-0 lead at 6:54.

But UTSA’s offense cranked up on its third possession, traveling 80 yards in eight plays before Barnes bulled in on a 4-yard run at 3:26 for a 7-all tie.

After missing from 51 yards earlier, Houston’s Jack Martin redeemed himself with a 31-yard field goal to end the half after the drive was aided by a late hit on the previous play.

Treylin Payne thwarted the second half’s first drive with a diving interception of Harris at the Houston 17. Fleming added two more picks of Harris, with the second setting up Matthew Golden’s 6-yard touchdown catch at 3:54 to make it 17-7.

Cephus’ 20-yard TD grab with 5:42 remaining capped a 94-yard drive to make it 17-14, but the Cougars ran out the clock.

–Field Level Media

Dec 16, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; UTSA Roadrunners quarterback Frank Harris (0) throws the ball against the Troy Trojans in the third quarter at Exploria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

AAC departee, arrival clash as Houston opposes UTSA

The Houston Cougars will make history Saturday night when they begin play as a Big 12 member by hosting the UTSA Roadrunners in a nonconference game.

After turning in an 8-5 season in its final campaign in the American Athletic Conference, capped by a win in the Independence Bowl, Houston will see the stakes get higher as they join the Big 12 alongside UCF, Cincinnati and BYU.

The Big 12 added the four schools as Texas and Oklahoma prepare to leave and join the Southeastern Conference next season.

Houston starting quarterback Donovan Smith transferred from Texas Tech, where he made eight starts and appeared in 21 games for the Red Raiders.

He started and beat Houston last season, leading Texas Tech to a 33-30 victory in double overtime. Smith threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns while getting intercepted three times, and he ran for a touchdown.

A 6-foot-5, 241-pound junior from Las Vegas, Smith has held off a challenge from Lucas Coley since camp opened as the duo vied to replace dynamic starter Clayton Tune.

“Donovan has had an incredible June, an incredible July, and a really, really good 2 1/2 weeks of camp,” coach Dana Holgorsen said last month. “He’s the clear-cut starter. Our team’s felt it. … This is Donovan’s team.”

The Cougars will don Houston Oilers-themed uniforms in Saturday’s opener.

After an 11-3 campaign that finished with a Cure Bowl loss a year ago, UTSA will attempt to produce its third straight double-digit-win season.

Like Houston, the Roadrunners also are entering a new league, shifting from Conference USA to the AAC.

Entering his seventh year with the program, quarterback Frank Harris knows the offense inside and out, especially after starting the past three seasons.

The Cougars beat the Roadrunners in San Antonio to open 2022, getting a two-point run by Tune for the game-winning score in a 37-35, triple-overtime win.

Harris said his offense needs to run the ball better than last year against Houston, when it rushed for just 104 yards on 28 carries — with 63 coming from Harris.

“(Houston) is great up front,” Harris said. “We couldn’t run the ball at all last season, so coach (Jeff Traylor) is challenging us to hold our end of the triangle and run the football.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 2, 2022; San Antonio, Texas, USA;  UTSA Roadrunners wide receiver Zakhari Franklin (4) catches a touchdown in the second half against the North Texas Mean Green at the Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: UTSA record-setting WR Zakhari Franklin enters portal

UTSA star receiver Zakhari Franklin has entered the transfer portal, according to multiple reports Friday.

Franklin is the school’s career record-holder in receptions (262), receiving yardage (3,348) and receiving touchdowns (37).

This past season, Franklin set single-season school marks of 94 catches for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns. That surpassed the program-best marks he set in 2021 of 1,027 yards and 12 scores. He had 81 catches that season, now third best.

Franklin averaged 12.8 yards per catch in 46 games with the Roadrunners. He was a first-team All-Conference USA selection in 2022.

–Field Level Media

Dec 16, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; UTSA Roadrunners quarterback Frank Harris (0) is tackled by Troy Trojans linebacker KJ Robertson (7) during the second quarter at Exploria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Defense rallies No. 24 Troy past No. 25 UTSA to win Cure Bowl

KJ Robertson made a game-changing interception and Gunnar Watson threw the go-ahead touchdown pass as No. 24 Troy rallied for an 18-12 victory over No. 25 UTSA in the Cure Bowl on Friday at Orlando, Fla.

Robertson’s interception was one of six takeaways by the Trojans (12-2), who ran their winning streak to 11, third-best nationally behind Georgia (15) and Michigan (13). Kimani Vidal rushed for 73 yards and a score and RaJae’ Johnson caught a touchdown pass as Troy won its fifth straight bowl game despite gaining just 169 yards.

Frank Harris passed for 198 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for UTSA (11-3), which had a 10-game winning streak halted. Kevorian Barnes rushed for 132 yards and Zakhari Franklin caught a touchdown pass for the Roadrunners.

UTSA fell to 0-4 all-time in bowl appearances.

Troy linebacker Carlton Martial made 14 tackles to increase his all-time FBS record count to 577. Richard Jibunor had an interception, sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery while Watson passed for 113 yards and was intercepted twice.

The Roadrunners led by five and reached the Troy 9-yard line in the third quarter before Robertson intercepted Harris at the 2 and raced 61 yards. A 15-yard personal-foul penalty was tacked on to move the ball to the UTSA 22 with 5:11 left.

Five plays later, the Trojans took their first lead when Watson connected with Johnson on a 12-yard touchdown pass. Watson then tossed a two-point conversion pass to Clayton Ollendieck to give Troy a 15-12 lead with 2:43 left in the quarter.

Brooks Buce added a 27-yard field goal to give the Trojans an 18-12 edge with 9:18 remaining in the game.

On the next drive, a 53-yard scamper by Barnes gave UTSA the ball at the Troy 5. Barnes ran 2 yards on first down and Harris threw three incompletions — one was dropped in the end zone by Chris Carpenter — as the Roadrunners came up empty with 7:01 to play.

UTSA later got one first down before eventually giving the ball up on downs with 1:32 to go, and the Trojans ran out the clock.

UTSA led 12-7 at halftime after holding Troy to 66 yards in the first half.

The Roadrunners’ first two points came courtesy of the Trojans. On a third-down play from the Troy 7, center Jake Andrews hiked a shotgun snap past Watson while he wasn’t looking, and it rolled out of the end zone for a safety with 3:58 left in the first quarter.

UTSA increased the lead to 9-0 when Harris hit Franklin on a 2-yard scoring pass with 12:30 remaining in the half. Jared Sackett tacked on a 42-yard field goal with 6:21 left.

The Trojans struck with 50 seconds remaining when Vidal rushed 2 yards for a score.

–Field Level Media

Dec 2, 2022; San Antonio, Texas, USA;  UTSA Roadrunners quarterback Frank Harris (0) runs the ball in the first half against the North Texas Mean Green at the Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Cure Bowl: Bettors behind Troy over UTSA

More than 90 percent of bettors are taking the over, and 77 percent of the money wagered on the Cure Bowl at BetRivers is behind the Troy Trojans.

UTSA is a consensus three-point favorite and WynnBet and BetRivers set the point total at 56.5. It opened at 54.5 at FanDuel and has been lifted by majority bets being placed on the bigger total.

Almost 80 percent of the money on the game at BetMGM is on the Trojans.

If there’s a prop to consider, peek at UTSA quarterback Frank Harris’ passing yardage. Troy’s defense is its calling card, but Harris put up more than 550 yards and three TDs against Houston, the top team on the Roadrunners’ schedule this season. He added more than 100 yards rushing and a TD.

That game was a 37-35 loss, but note the over is 3-0 in non-conference games for UTSA.

Most books opened Harris’ passing yardage total prop at 273.5 and FanDuel set at 280 on Thursday night.

The early game helps kick off bowl season Friday and the attractive matchup of the No. 25 Roadrunners and No. 24 Troy at Orlando, Fla., pairs programs with 10-game winning streaks, tied for third nationally behind Georgia (15) and Michigan (13).

The Roadrunners (11-2) control games with their offense while the Trojans (11-2) are sturdy on defense.

Harris was named Conference USA Player of the Year in 2022. He passed for 3,865 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He thought about his future and decided returning to the school in San Antonio was his best option. He’s hoping to provide the program’s first bowl win this week.

He’s the prime reason why UTSA ranks 12th nationally in scoring offense (38.7 points per game) and ninth in total offense (486.1 yards per game) entering the program’s fourth-ever bowl contest.

The Trojans will look to slow the Roadrunners with a defense that ranks eighth in scoring defense (17.5) and is tied for 19th in total defense (325.3). Troy has 39 sacks as it seeks to notch its fifth consecutive bowl win.

The defense features linebacker Carlton Martial, who has 121 tackles and was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and also earned first-team all-conference honors for the fourth time. The 5-foot-9, 210-pound Martial holds the FBS all-time record of 563 tackles and also has 10 1/2 sacks, eight forced fumbles and six interceptions in his career.

Offensively, Gunnar Watson has passed for 2,705 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Kimani Vidal is the leading rusher with 1,059 yards and nine scores.

The Trojans’ losses were to Ole Miss (28-10 on Sept. 3) and Appalachian State (32-28 on Sept. 17).

“We’re going to Orlando with the intention of winning a football game, but we’re also going to make sure that our players have a great time and are rewarded for a championship season,” Troy coach Jon Sumrall said.

UTSA’s losses were to Houston (37-35 in triple overtime on Sept. 3) and Texas (41-20) on Sept. 17).

–Field Level Media

Dec 2, 2022; San Antonio, Texas, USA;  UTSA Roadrunners quarterback Frank Harris (0) runs the ball in the second half against the North Texas Mean Green at the Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

No. 25 UTSA, No. 24 Troy tangle in Orlando

UTSA quarterback Frank Harris will return for a seventh season at the school, but his immediate focus is on achieving a program first.

The No. 25 Roadrunners will face No. 24 Troy on Friday in the Cure Bowl at Orlando, Fla., in a matchup of programs with 10-game winning streaks, tied for third nationally behind Georgia (15) and Michigan (13).

The Roadrunners (11-2) control games with their offense while the Trojans (11-2) are sturdy on defense.

Harris was named Conference USA Player of the Year this season by passing for 3,865 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He thought about his future and decided returning to the school in San Antonio was his best option. He’s hoping to provide the program’s first bowl win this week.

“I’m not going to lie. At first I had no desire to come back,” Harris said. “I’ve been here for a very long time, but I thought about it and prayed about it. It was best for me to play one more season and see how it plays out.”

Harris has passed for 9,158 yards, 73 touchdowns and 21 interceptions during his career. He also has 1,808 yards and 24 scores on the ground.

He’s the prime reason why UTSA ranks 12th nationally in scoring offense (38.7 points per game) and ninth in total offense (486.1 yards per game) entering the program’s fourth-ever bowl contest.

The Trojans will look to slow the Roadrunners with a defense that ranks eighth in scoring defense (17.5) and is tied for 19th in total defense (325.3). Troy has 39 sacks as it seeks to notch its fifth consecutive bowl win.

The defense features linebacker Carlton Martial, who has 121 tackles and was named Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and also earned first-team all-conference honors for the fourth time. The 5-foot-9, 210-pound Martial holds the FBS all-time record of 563 tackles and also has 10 1/2 sacks, eight forced fumbles and six interceptions in his career.

Offensively, Gunnar Watson has passed for 2,705 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Kimani Vidal is the leading rusher with 1,059 yards and nine scores.

The Trojans’ losses were to Ole Miss (28-10 score) and Appalachian State (32-28).

“We’re going to Orlando with the intention of winning a football game, but we’re also going to make sure that our players have a great time and are rewarded for a championship season,” said Troy coach Jon Sumrall.

UTSA’s losses were to Houston (37-35 in triple overtime) and Texas (41-20).

–Field Level Media