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UTSA, UAB look for another C-USA title in final season

UTSA quarterback Frank Harris will have a different sidekick as he tries to help the Roadrunners defend their Conference USA championship.

Sincere McCormick set school records with 1,479 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns as UTSA won its first league title on his home field at the Alamodome. This year the offensive focus will be on the mobile Harris, who threw for 3,177 yards and ran for 566 more.

Being without McCormick, who sat out the Frisco Bowl Last December to focus on the NFL draft, you have not hampered the outlook of Harris one bit.

“You can’t really think about it like that, just got to go out there and have fun,” said Harris, who is 20-8 as a starter.

McCormick’s likely replacement is Arkansas transfer Trelon Smith, a 600-yard rusher who came to the Roadrunners in June after initially committing to TCU in January.

UTSA is the runaway favorite to advance to the league title game.

“It’s a blessing but that really doesn’t mean too much,” Harris said. “We’ve got to go out there this year and prepare the same way, whether that’s individual accolades or team accolades. We’ve got to go out there and prepare, have a chip on our shoulder and go out there and compete each and every week like we’ve been doing.”

UTSA and UAB are among six teams that will have the chance to win the championship trophy in their final season before moving to the American Athletic Conference next year.

NEW COACHES

Bryant Vincent is transitioning into his new role as UAB’s interim coach. The Bulls’ offensive coordinator took over after coach Bill Clark announced in late June that he was stepping down due to chronic back problems.

“It is, to me, an opportunity of a lifetime,” Vincent said. “I definitely want the interim tag taken off.”

UAB returns running backs DeWayne McBride (1,371 yards) and Jermaine Brown Jr. (631) along with wide receiver Trea Shropshire, whose average of 27.9 yards per catch led the nation. Dylan Hopkins, who is 7-3 as a starter, underwent offseason shoulder surgery and has competed in a crowded quarterback room, including Baylor transfer Jacob Zeno.

Vincent’s offense set 21 school records in 2018. He’s helped the Blazers to two league titles and a pair of bowl wins.

At Florida International, defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre takes over for Butch Davis, and ex-Texas Tech and TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie replaces Skip Holtz at Louisiana Tech.

REVOLVING DOOR

The league has 11 football members this season after Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss bolted for the Sun Belt Conference in March. UAB, UTSA, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas and Rice will leave for the AAC next year, when Conference USA welcomes new members Liberty, New Mexico State, Sam Houston State and Jacksonville State. The C-USA holdovers will be FIU, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, UTEP and Western Kentucky.

The only current members that have not appeared in the league title game are Charlotte, FIU and UTEP.

“There was no hesitation in coming to Louisiana Tech and jumping into this conference,” Cumbie said. “I’m really excited about the future of the conference. We’re glad to be in it.”

HILLTOPPER RESET

West Florida transfer Austin Reed takes for departed record-setting quarterback Bailey Zappe at Western Kentucky. In 2019, Reed threw for 4,089 yards and 40 touchdowns, ran for six more scores and led the Argos to the Division II national championship. The Hilltoppers also lost their two best receivers: Jerreth Sterns (150 catches, 1,902 yards, 17 TDs) followed Zappe into the NFL draft while 1,400-yard performer Mitchell Tinsley transferred to Penn State.

IN MEMORY

Florida International starts the season with a heavy collective heart. The Panthers’ Sept. 1 opener against Championship Subdivision member Bryant comes two weeks after the death of FIU linebacker Luke Knox.

At UTEP, quarterback Gavin Hardison switched jerseys from No. 12 to No. 2 this season to honor tight end Luke Laufenberg, who died of cancer in 2019. Wide receiver Justin Garrett wore Laufenberg’s number for two seasons until graduating earlier this year.

EARLY START

The season kicks off Saturday with two conference games: Charlotte at Florida Atlantic while North Texas is at UTEP. Western Kentucky hosts Austin Peay of the FCS in a nonconference matchup.

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