College football is among the greatest treats we have here in the United States of America. We can tune in to just about any channel and find a game ranging from the National Broadcast of the SEC on CBS or the local, smaller program. Every football fan has a college football team they follow. Perhaps they jumped on a bandwagon, their parents were fans, or they just went to the school, the reasons to root for a team range all over.
Most fans rep their team from the FBS level. Plenty of fans root for FCS programs. Below that, the fandom of programs peeters off to current students, alumni, and townies. There are plenty of great programs that fly under the radar. In Ohio, every college football fan should know about Mount Union, a D-III powerhouse, but don’t.
At the D-II level, there is a team that is lighting up the scoreboard and is on its way to winning the Lone Star Conference for the first time in program history. That team is none other than the University of Texas of the Permian Basin Falcons.
The Best College Football Team You Probably Don’t Know
Who is UTPB?
If you had never heard of Texas-Permian Basin prior to this article, nobody could blame you. The school itself has been around since 1973 as a satellite campus within the University of Texas system. From the jump, UTPB did not have a football program. That all changed in 2013 when the program began the process of starting up. After securing the necessary funding, the UTPB Falcons fielded its first team in 2016.
For the first three years of existence, UTPB went 2-9. In 2019, they improved to 4-7. Then, as some programs faltered in 2020, UTPB succeeded. The Falcons played just five games but they won every single one. Then, the following two years resulted in a pair of 5-6 seasons. The head coach, Justin Carrigan stepped down after leading the program for its first seven seasons.
Prior to this year, UTPB hired East Central head coach Kris McCullough to lead the program. McCullough had been an assistant coach in a number of stops before heading the East Central program in 2022 where his team finished 9-3, the school’s best record in 30 years. Seems fitting that this is the coach that is working to bring UTPB its first-ever LSC title in 2023.
Oh, and he’s 28 years old. Easily the youngest head coach in all of college football.
When talking about the UTPB Falcons this year, you have to talk about the trio leading the offense.
The leader is quarterback Kenny Hrncir. The Graduate transfer came to Odessa after manning the offense of East Central University, another D-II program in Oklahoma. He was a three-plus-year starter for ECU (plus because of the 2020 debacle). In that time, Hrncir threw for 6,889 yards and 43 touchdowns. On the ground, he added 1,347 yards and 19 touchdowns which includes 630 yards and eight scores as a true freshman in 2019.
Our @LoneStarConf Offensive Player of The Week ⛓️
— #16 UTPB Football (@UTPBFootball) October 30, 2023
He transferred to UTPB this past offseason and just picked up where he left off. In 10 games in 2023, Hrncir has thrown for 2,546 yards (10th-most in the nation) and 28 touchdowns (seventh-best). On the ground, he’s added 536 yards and five touchdowns. Hrncir has been a massive part of the Falcons’ success and is even coming off of a five-touchdown affair against Western New Mexico, the second five-plus touchdown game of the year and his career.
The leading rusher on this triple-pronged attack is Kory Harris and his 125 rushing attempts. After redshirting in 2021, Harris stepped up last year and ran the ball 97 times for 406 yards and a pair of scores. This year, he leads the way with those 125 attempts and 727 yards. He’s scored seven times thus far. On the year, Harris has logged three 100+ yard performances.
Finally, the third back, and certainly not the least of the three, is the most efficient, Nemier Herod. With 101 carries and 646 yards, Herod leads the way with 6.3 yards per carry which is also 17th in the nation. On top of that, Herod has a team-leading 11 touchdowns and has three multi-score games this year.
Nemier Herod doesn't take showers.
73 yards and a TOUCHDOWN.
12:07 4th pic.twitter.com/yrHhosuI9f
— Josh Wahls (@joshwahls) November 4, 2023
Despite having a top-10 quarterback, this offense also has a top-10 rushing attack at the D-II level.
On the receiving end of things, there are four names to note but no single Falcon has gone above and beyond the others. Ben Patterson (27 receptions, 492 yards, six touchdowns), Deon Cook (20, 464, four), Laquan Wells (36, 432, five), and Jeremiah Cooley (21, 390 six) have accounted for the majority of the productivity out wide.
The best part of this offense, however, is its scorepower. UTPB, through ten games, is fifth in the nation with 46.4 points per game. The Falcons have dominated to a 9-1 record and 7-0 LSC mark but they’ve put up ridiculous point totals.
In their wins over Texas College, Southwest Baptist, West Texas A&M, Eastern New Mexico, and Western New Mexico, UTPB scored 96, 86, 41, 52, and 56 points, respectively. Football teams rarely score north of 50 points let alone 96 and 86!
— #16 UTPB Football (@UTPBFootball) September 3, 2023
That scoring is going to have to come in handy this week. Central Washington is no joke. On the year, they are 7-2 but those two losses came against Weber State (FCS) and Montana Tech (NAIA). Not bad for a D-II program. That offense will have a test against a CWU team that has allowed just 17.3 points per game in LSC play to this point.
Where the offense can put up numbers, the defense is just as good at getting stops. On the year, the UTPB defense has allowed just 18.3 points per game. On the year, they’ve only allowed 20 touchdowns and just 4.2 yards per play.
They’re an opportunistic bunch as well. Thus far, they’ve held opponents to just 33% third-down conversion and a grand total of 252.2 yards per game.
By far, the leader of this Falcons defense is senior linebacker, Hayden Kelly. With his 94 tackles, Kelly leads the team and is sitting at 11th in the nation. With all of those tackles, 12.5 were for loss and added 1.5 sacks, four quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and an interception.
On the back end, redshirt sophomore defensive back Kamren Amao leads the way with five pass breakups and a pair of interceptions.
Against Central Washington, UTPB shouldn’t have as much of an issue. CWU averages 28.3 points per game in LSC play. Without the outlier of 55 points against Western New Mexico (a team UTPB just beat 56-3), that average drops to 23.8.
Support Your Local School!
Root for whoever you want. That point cannot be stressed enough. However, the smaller programs like UTPB deserve your support!
For example, in Ohio (where this author is from), there are 39 college football programs. Only two are Power 5 while six are FBS Group of 5. At the FCS level, there are two while D-II has eight programs. Finally D-III, home of those Mount Union Purple Raiders, there are 21 teams! The NAIA currently does not have any Ohio-based teams but Defiance College will be making the jump from D-III to NAIA in 2024.
Chances are, no matter where you are or where you are from, there is some under-appreciated college football program. Coming from a college town with a small D-III school, it’s incredibly easy to just support the program.
UTPB is just another example of a small program worth paying attention to. Check in Saturday as the Falcons go for their first-ever LSC title!