UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor gets his team pumped up before the game against Western Kentucky at the 2021 Conference USA Championship football game at the Alamodome on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.
UTSA quarterback Frank Harris (00) splits Western Kentucky defenders Demetrius Cain (28) and A.J. Brathwaite, Jr. (02) on his way to a touchdown in the first quarter during the 2021 Conference USA Championship football game at the Alamodome on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.
The UTSA Roadrunners take the field for the game against Western Kentucky during the 2021 Conference USA Championship football game at the Alamodome on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.
UTSA’s placement in the Frisco Bowl was the result of an agreement between Conference USA and ESPN that provides ESPN Events the first selection from the league’s teams during the bowl invitation process.
While UTSA was widely projected to the Independence or New Orleans bowls, both of which are considered higher-profile games offering a greater spotlight, neither falls under the ESPN Events umbrella.
When the time came Sunday for C-USA and its bowl partners to finalize this year’s matchups, ESPN Events made UTSA the top selection from the league, an ESPN spokesperson said Monday.
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A spokesperson from C-USA confirmed that ESPN Events holds the top pick from the league under the current bowl tie-in process.
As a result, UTSA (12-1) will face No. 24 San Diego State (11-2) in the Frisco Bowl at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco.
Conference USA’s bowl cycle assures league programs seven bowl appearances per year from 2020-25, spread through up to 16 different bowls. For 2021, C-USA is guaranteed a spot in the New Orleans Bowl, the Independence Bowl and the ESPN Events-run Bahamas Bowl.
The remaining C-USA selections could come from either the LendingTree Bowl or a group of 11 games owned and operated by ESPN Events, including the Frisco Bowl. ESPN Events is hosting 18 bowl games overall this season.
The page on Conference USA’s website explaining the league’s 2021 bowl lineup and partnerships states the process includes “no set selection order among C-USA’s bowl partners.”
The spokespersons for ESPN and Conference USA described the bowl selection process as a collaborative effort weighing a variety of factors, including the quality of the matchups and the schools’ proximity to the bowl sites. Conference USA’s spokesperson said input from UTSA was also considered.
While C-USA’s spokesperson said many of the league’s bowl partners were interested in UTSA, ESPN Events held selection priority.
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“The Roadrunners had a great year and continue to be an outstanding story in college sports,” ESPN Events vice president Clint Overby said in a statement. “We are excited and honored that they accepted the invitation to come to Frisco to play another strong program in San Diego State.”
An Independence Bowl spokesperson said the event sent selection committee representatives to “about four” UTSA games this year, adding that the bowl was “interested” in the Roadrunners. The spokesperson deferred questions about the selection process to Conference USA.
While UTSA was slotted into a Tuesday night Frisco Bowl matchup in a stadium that seats 17,200 with a broadcast on ESPN, the Independence Bowl selected C-USA West Division runner-up Alabama-Birmingham to face No. 13 BYU. The 2:30 p.m. game on Saturday, Dec. 18, from the 50,000-seat Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La., will receive a national network broadcast on ABC.
In 2019 — the last time the game was played — the Independence Bowl was viewed by 2.37 million, per Sports Media Watch. The Frisco Bowl that same year was watched by 1.25 million.
The New Orleans Bowl will pit Marshall, the second-place team from C-USA’s East Division, against No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette, at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, with an ESPN broadcast from the 75,000-capacity Caesars Superdome.
While bowl distributions are shared among the Conference USA membership, the league’s spokesperson said the schools profit from their own ticket sales.
Speaking to the media Sunday after UTSA’s bowl destination was announced, athletic director Lisa Campos said the conference and bowl game representatives control the decisions on the matchups.
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“The bowls are contracted with the conferences, so, of course, they get our input, but at the end of the day, the conference staff is working with the bowls,” Campos said. “It’s a wait-and-see game, and we’ve been in constant communication.”
UTSA added to the best season in program history by notching its first Conference USA championship with a 49-41 win against Western Kentucky on Friday in the Alamodome, adding to a record win total by moving to 12-1.
Despite the significant leap forward, UTSA was selected Sunday to the same bowl it landed following a 7-4 regular season in 2020, when the program was slated to face SMU in the Frisco Bowl.
After the Mustangs were forced to withdraw due to COVID-19 protocols, UTSA instead met Louisiana-Lafayette in the First Responder Bowl, losing 31-24.
The only other bowl appearance in UTSA’s program history was a 23-20 loss to New Mexico in the 2016 New Mexico Bowl.
Greg Luca is the UTSA beat reporter and general assignment reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. In addition to UTSA, his coverage includes the University of Incarnate Word, the San Antonio Missions, the San Antonio Rampage and other San Antonio area colleges. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Florida and a native of Connecticut. He was the sports editor of the McAllen Monitor from 2014-18.
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