Can we just guess who American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco was rooting for when Houston beat University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) in an epic 37-35 three-OT thriller in San Antonio on Saturday?
Houston, along with UCF and Cincinnati, is departing the AAC for the greener pastures (and greener currency) of the Big 12 beginning next season. UTSA is among six schools from Conference USA that will be heading to the AAC. The others are UAB, FAU, Charlotte, North Texas, and Rice.
It’s not a reach to suggest that UTSA is the best of the soon-to-be-new half dozen. The Roadrunners are the defending Conference USA champs after going 12-2 last year.
UAB is considered another up-and-comer, but the others may have their work cut out, so the six-for-three swap is still lopsided in favor of the Big 12.
Yet, as previously pointed out, Houston wasn’t a dominant team each and every year in the AAC. Just look to 2019 when the Cougars were 4-8 or 2020 when they went 3-5 for evidence. Still, it’s a program that brought a lot to the AAC.
What is a step in the right direction is that UTSA is an emerging G5 school, and the AAC needs all the positive vibes it can get.
Too bad that sixth-year redshirt senior quarterback Frank Harris won’t come to the AAC with UTSA. The 6-foot, 205-pound Harris is from Sheretz, Texas. He is one of the more successful southpaws produced in The Lone Star State since Clayton Kershaw. Against Houston, Harris completed 28 of 43 passes for 337 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He also rushed for 63 yards (7.9 avg.) and this electrifying 38-yard touchdown.
Could Harris have thrown this ball any better to De’Corian Clark on this 15-yard scoring pass that gave the Roadrunners a 21-7 lead?
Man, is he fun to watch.
So if the Roadrunners are able to win Conference USA again and gain a bump in recruiting in such a fertile football state as Texas, then this is a program that should develop into an annual contender in the AAC.
And while UTSA justifiably earned praise for its opening game effort, we do have to point out a small matter – Houston actually was the winner.
So as well as UTSA did, Houston had to overcome plenty of adversity. Being down two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter and coming back to force three overtimes and win, is no small feat. A comeback win like this is one reason why Houston has been picked by so many to win the AAC. Of course, not having to play Cincinnati and UCF benefits the Cougars’ title chances as well.
Still, Houston showed in this game that it can go toe to toe with a good team, and UTSA obviously fits that description.
While Harris was a highlight filmmaker, his counterpart Clayton Tune was also making a pretty impressive resume tape.
Tune’s leaping 13-yard run for a score in the third overtime broke the 35-35 tie. Under the bizarre college football OT rules, for a third overtime, the score is worth two points. UTSA was then unable to match the score as its final pass floated out of bounds.
Finally, Houston could exhale.
Tune completed 22 of 32 passes for 206 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. He rushed for 51 yards (3.4 avg.) and the one score.
This very well could be Houston’s toughest test of the regular season, a testament to the Cougars’ resiliency and their less-than-demanding schedule. So both teams deserve plenty of credit and AAC fans should feel good about UTSA’s impending arrival, even if it doesn’t include a guest seat for Harris.
Before thinking of next season, both UTSA and Houston have a lot to accomplish this year. Both will have to upgrade their defensive performance, but these programs could enjoy one final swan song in their current environment.
The AAC will miss Houston, but UTSA may take away some of the sting. Now the monumental challenge is finding two other teams that can do the same with the departure of Cincinnati and UCF.