(Part 4 of a 13-part Conference USA football preview series)
In only its fourth season of football, the Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners have realistic hopes of playing for a conference championship and securing a bowl invitation.
Eligible to compete in a bowl for the first time in school history, UTSA boasts 21 returning starters (9 offense, 10 defense, 2 special teams) and the largest senior class (37) among NCAA football teams.
San Antonio has embraced the upstart program as the Roadrunners average attendance of 29,214 ranked second in C-USA.
Bouncing back from a shaky start, the Roadrunners (7-5, 6-2) closed out the 2013 season — their first in C-USA — with five straight victories.
The loss of three-year starter Eric Soza leaves a void at quarterback. Senior Tucker Carter, who threw 33 passes in five games last season, has a slight edge over redshirt freshman Austin Robinson going into preseason camp.
UTSA returns all four of its top wide receivers in seniors Kam Jones (34 receptions, 345 yards, 1 TD), Brandon Freeman (24-255), Kenny Harrison (23-201) and Marcellus Mack (22-169), plus senior tight end Cole Hubble (20-274-2).
Senior center Nate Leonard, the only player to start all 34 games in UTSA history, spearheads an offensive line which returns intact. Senior left guard Scott Innskeep was a second-team All-Conference selection last season. Also back are senior left tackle Cody Harris, junior right guard William Cavanaugh and senior right tackle Josh Walker.
Senior free safety Triston Wade, last year's leading tackler, is among 10 returning defensive starters. A second-team All-Conference pick, Wade logged 94 tackles with a pair of picks last year. Other prominent veterans include senior strong safety Nic Johnston (70 tackles), junior linebacker Drew Douglas (69 tackles), senior rover Brian King (61 tackles) and junior cornerback Okotcha Bennett (29 tackles, 1 interception, 10 pass breakups).