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Media members voted the University of Texas San Antonio as the favorite to win the Conference USA football championship.

Jeff Traylor is not a media member. He has a better-paying job. He’s in his third season as the UTSA head coach. If he was a media member, though, his vote would have been different.

As it was, 22 people voted in the poll. UTSA and UAB were the lone teams to receive a first-place vote with the Roadrunners receiving 14 of those votes. 

“I think UAB is going to have a lot to do with that,” Traylor said from the Conference USA Media Day on Wednesday in Dallas. “Those guys have been owning this conference forever. We’ve got to go up there to play them. They’ve got a ton of players returning. We are a very good football team, too. But I don’t see how UAB is not the team picked. They’ve got the home field this year [vs. UTSA]. There’s a lot of great teams in our league. It’s very complimentary of our kids and we’re grateful to be picked there. But, if I had to vote, I would have given my vote to Coach (Bryant) Vincent and UAB, honestly.”

No team in CUSA has played better football over the past three seasons combined than UAB. No team played better football in 2021 than UTSA. Like it or not, these past two seasons, particularly, appear to be the start of a tremendous rivalry, especially with each one headed to the American Athletic Conference after this season.

In 2020, Traylor took over a struggling UTSA program and directed them to a 7-5 record. One of the losses came at Legion Field as the Blazers held off UTSA, 21-13. Not that any UAB fans have to be reminded, but UTSA scored on the final Roadrunner play from scrimmage in a 34-31 victory last season in San Antonio.

“Our first year we were 7-5, could have easily been 2-10,” Traylor said. “We could have been 12-0. The games are that close. Last year, we were 12-2, but there were so many of those games that were really just down to one play. You saw the catch against UAB, it was like one inch away. Right? These things are close. These kids understand that.”

UAB interim head coach Bryant Vincent expects nothing different when his team plays UTSA.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Traylor and the UTSA football team,” said Vincent, whose team is scheduled to play host to UTSA on Nov. 5. “You go back to two years; we played them in Birmingham. It was a dogfight. They were tough; they were physical, they were built the right way. You can tell a lot about that team from the moment that ball is kicked off to really the last play of the game. Those guys played us extremely hard from the opening kick to the last play of the game. We knew right then and there that they were going to be a contender. We’re both built a similar way.”

Other tidbits from Wednesday’s C-USA Media Day:

Conference USA commissioner Judy McLeod said the “key word is change,” when talking about the current state of college athletics.

This is the final C-USA season for UAB, UTSA, North Texas, Rice, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic. Those six teams will join the American Athletic Conference next July. Former C-USA members Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss are beginning play this season in the Sun Belt Conference.

Conference USA will add Jacksonville State, Liberty, New Mexico State and Sam Houston next July.

“I think Conference USA has a history of being resilient and reinventing ourselves and finding what works for us,” McLeod said. “We’re excited to do that again. Great enthusiasm from the new group, plenty of schools that would like to join that group. We constantly evaluate that landscape. Obviously, never a dull moment but just trying to embrace all the opportunities out there.”

One big change for this season is the 11 C-USA teams are not split up into divisions. The top two teams in the standings will play in the Conference USA championship game in early December.

“I think, really, it’s an opportunity for us all to see if this is the best model going forward - how it impacts the bowls, how it affects our team that we’d like to put forward for the college football playoff spot,” McLeod said. “For the coaches, just having the opportunity of all bets are off, I don’t have to win the division, because there is none, it puts everyone on equal footing.”

Vincent said that former UAB head coach Bill Clark is healing after spinal fusion surgery a little more than a week ago.

“I talked to Coach Clark last night,” Vincent said. “He’s up; he’s doing about three 20-minute walks with a back brace daily. He’s slowly but gradually building up his strength and on the road to recovery. He’s in good spirits. He’s doing really well and is just taking it one day at a time.”

McLeod also sent well wishes to Clark, who built UAB into the most consistent team in the conference.

“All of us care so deeply about Bill Clark,” McLeod said. “We hear he’s on the mend and doing well. We want to send him our best wishes. But, Coach Vincent has been there with him. He’s been building that program so we’re expecting big things from him.”

Vincent didn’t hesitate when asked if he’d like the interim tag to come off at some point.

“I definitely want the interim tag taken off,” Vincent said. “It is a goal and a dream of mine to be the head coach of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.”

Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren isn’t backing away from the approach he took after his team upset UAB at Protective Stadium last season.

“They were the bully; they were the ones we tried to find a way to beat,” Bloomgren said. “We went to their place as a big underdog and knocked them off. I'm super excited to bring them back to our stadium and beat that bully again."

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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