We’re still a full two weeks away from TCU-Michigan in the College Football Playoff. On Saturday, SMU, Rice, and North Texas will play in minor bowl games (sorry, Frisco). But right now, San Antonio is the center of the college football universe, with the University of the Incarnate Word and the University of Texas at San Antonio providing an all–Alamo City doubleheader.
Tonight in Fargo, North Dakota, UIW takes on Football Championship Series (FCS) powerhouse North Dakota State in the national semifinals. And before that, in Orlando, UTSA faces Troy in the Duluth Trading Cure Bowl, pitting the number 22 Conference USA champion Roadrunners against the number 23 Sun Belt champion Trojans. Both San Antonio schools are adolescents on the college football scene—UTSA has only existed as a program since 2012, while Incarnate Word’s first season was 2009. And both teams have spectacular quarterbacks who are among the oldest college football players in the country. Born in the nineties, even!
UTSA’s Frank Harris, 23, recently announced he’d be returning for a seventh season. Hailed by ESPN as “the greatest player in UTSA history,” Harris, who played high school ball in nearby Schertz, holds 34 school records and led the Roadrunners to a 10–2 campaign this year while throwing for 3,865 yards and 31 touchdowns (plus another 588 yards and nine TDs on the ground). Harris is one of four finalists (along with TCU’s Max Duggan, UT’s Bijan Robinson, and Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn) for this season’s Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, given to the best offensive player in FBS.
Harris finished work on his bachelor’s degree in sociology last May, and now he’s pursuing a master’s in public administration when he’s not schooling the young’uns in opposing teams’ secondaries. “We got to take extra care of him,” joked UTSA safety Rashad Wisdom at the press conference for Friday’s bowl game. “He’s a bit older. He needs a lot of care.”
And Harris is still younger than Incarnate Word’s Lindsey Scott Jr., who turned 24 in June and is already in his seventh season. Scott played for four other schools at three different levels (FBS, junior college, and FCS) before tying a bow on his career as a graduate transfer at UIW. The likely winner of the Walter Payton Award (FCS’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy), Scott has accounted for 4,404 yards and 59 touchdowns through the air, along with 632 yards and 9 touchdowns as a runner this season (somewhat surprisingly, he hasn’t caught one). Scott also became just the third player in FCS history to pass for seven touchdowns in one half of a game (against Lamar). Then he did it again (against Houston Christian, formerly Houston Baptist).
Scott received his bachelor’s in computer science from Nicholls State, in Louisiana, last year, and he is now in UIW’s MBA program with a 4.0 GPA. Back in February 2016, when Scott committed to LSU out of high school in Zachary, Louisiana, Les Miles was still the Tigers’ coach, current Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers was a sixth-grader, and Ted Cruz was the Republican party presidential front-runner. Harris committed to UTSA four months later.
Their long careers are due to a combination of redshirts (both planned and injury-related), the COVID-shortened 2020 season (which didn’t count against any player’s eligibility), and the rapidly changing NCAA landscape when it comes to transfer rules and name, image, and likeness (NIL) compensation. Scott took advantage of both the NCAA transfer portal, which has allowed players to change schools more freely, and the graduate transfer rule, moving from LSU to East Mississippi Community College to Missouri to Nicholls State and eventually to UIW. In conjunction with the unveiling of a new UTSA NIL collective called City Fans 210, Harris announced his plan to return to UTSA next season at the office of a San Antonio marketing agency that has promised him a six-figure compensation package. At the press conference following the Roadrunners’ win in the Conference USA championship game, head coach Jeff Traylor all but demanded that fans, alumni, and business leaders in San Antonio step up to ensure that Harris would stay.
At this week’s press conference in Orlando, Harris conceded that he didn’t expect NFL teams to roll out the red carpet for him in this year’s draft. If he can make NIL money while finishing up his master’s and playing football for a school and a city he loves, that’s a win for everybody. Next year he’ll also get to experience a whole new set of rival teams and goals, as UTSA is headed for the American Athletic Conference, which is losing Houston to the Big 12 (the Roadrunners will join Rice and North Texas, as well as holdover SMU, in the new-look AAC). But first, Friday’s bowl matchup with Troy, which has UTSA seeking its first-ever Top 25 finish, first-ever bowl win, and first-ever win against a ranked opponent.
The stakes are higher for Incarnate Word. The private Catholic school of less than five thousand undergraduates has kept pace with—and is now outperforming—bigger schools like Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, and, in last week’s FCS quarterfinal, Big Sky Conference champion Sacramento State. UIW entered the FCS tournament as the number five team in the country and number seven in the bracket. Following a bye week given to the top eight seeds, the Cardinals’ FCS-best scoring offense eked out a win over Furman, a tough defensive unit, 41–38 in San Antonio, then faced number two–ranked Sac State in California, where Scott got the scoring started like this:
A game that was 31–24 midway through the third quarter wound up being won by UIW 66–63. It was the highest-scoring playoff game in FCS history, and even that doesn’t tell you how bonkers it all was. SB Nation’s Joseph Acosta called it “arguably the best game at any level of football that was televised.” Scott had a mere four touchdowns through the air, but he and UIW running back Marcus Cooper also rushed for two touchdowns each.
UIW couldn’t hold leads of 45–34 and 59–48, despite the latter score coming on a 55-yard “scoop-and-score” fumble recovery by Cardinals defensive star Kelechi Anyalebechi. Sacramento State recovered two surprise onside kicks in the second half and scored a touchdown after each of them. But with the Hornets leading 63–59, Scott and the offense still had almost two minutes to work with, and that’s all that UIW head coach G.J. Kinne could ask for.
“I just wanted there to be enough time on the clock for Lindsey and the offense to go to work,” Kinne told me this week. “It was kind of like when you’re watching the Super Bowl, or one of those big playoff games, and Tom Brady gets the ball back with a minute left. You know what’s about to happen. You’re just waiting to make sure it unfolds the way you think.”
Kinne, who played for UTSA coach Jeff Traylor at Gilmer High School and also coached with him at SMU and Arkansas, is a 34-year-old rookie head coach who took over at UIW after Eric Morris left to be the offensive coordinator at Washington State at the end of last season. Morris also took quarterback Cameron Ward with him, which is how the Cardinals freed up a spot for Scott. It’s all gone so well that Kinne has already been announced as the new head coach at Texas State—once UIW’s season is over, that is.
Kinne and offensive coordinator Mack Leftwich were able to provide Scott with everything he needed in his final year of eligibility—a chance to develop his passing ability under two proven former college quarterbacks (Kinne played for Tulsa, Leftwich for UTEP), the possibility of winning a championship, and maybe a shot at the NFL, where, given the success of Jalen Hurts and Kyler Murray, there just might be a place for a dynamic five-foot-eleven signal caller. “This year, he’s proven that he could throw the ball with anyone in the country and has real arm talent,” says Kinne. “He’s got leadership qualities. He’s got the intangibles. I think somebody’s gonna fall in love with him. It just takes one team.”
Friday night in Fargo, Scott also has a chance to become the NCAA’s all-time single-season touchdown leader at any level (he needs three to tie the record of 62). When Kinne called Scott to congratulate him on being named an FCS first-team all-American, he also didn’t hold back his feelings about just how good this season was: “I told him, you know, it’s one of those situations where right now you can’t really see it, but you’ll look back on this thing someday and realize, ‘I might have been the best college football quarterback of all time.’ He really is a special talent.”
Kinne also hopes Scott might follow him into coaching someday. Between the FCS playoffs, a possible NFL future, and an MBA to fall back on, there’s really only one thing Scott can’t do—come back to play college football for an eighth season.