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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 121: Texas State

He’s a wanderer. Brian Kelly’s been a head coach at four different stops, starting at Grand Valley State in 1991. Todd Graham’s had four head coaching jobs since 2006, two of which, Rice and Pittsburgh, lasted a single season. Nick Saban’s had four jobs, each on the F.B.S. level: Toledo, Michigan State, L.S.U. and Alabama. Jerry Kill has had five, beginning with Saginaw Valley State in 1994 and continuing at Minnesota, where he’s about to enter his second season. Dennis Franchione sees your four, smiles knowingly at your five, and raises you all the way to eight, if you count Texas State twice. Southwestern, in Kansas, from 1981-82. Pittsburg State, also in Kansas, from 1985-89. Texas State — part one — from 1990-91. New Mexico from 1992-97. T.C.U. from 1998-2000. Alabama from 2001-2. Texas A&M from 2003-7. Then break, then back to Texas State — part two — in time for last season. He’s a wanderer. The Bobcats hope that Franchione, in his second go-round, has decided to make himself a permanent home.

Conference
WAC

Location
San Marcos, Tex.

Nickname
Bobcats

Returning starters
17 (8 offense, 9 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. N/A

2011 record
(6-6, 0-0)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. N/A

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    at Houston
  • Sept. 8
    Texas Tech
  • Sept. 22
    Stephen F. Austin
  • Sept. 29
    Nevada
  • Oct. 6
    at New Mexico
  • Oct. 13
    Idaho
  • Oct. 27
    at San Jose St.
  • Nov. 3
    at Utah St.
  • Nov. 10
    Louisiana Tech
  • Nov. 17
    at Navy
  • Nov. 24
    at U.T.S.A.
  • Dec. 1
    New Mexico St.

Last year’s prediction

For the third time, not applicable. There’s only one more of these coming. That would be Massachusetts, which is coming fast.

2011 recap

In a nutshell You can split the season into three portions. The first came over the season’s first two weeks, when Texas State assumed its fairly common role as patsy to an F.B.S. team looking for an easy win. The Bobcats opened the year with losses to Texas Tech and Wyoming by a combined score of 95-20. Par for the course. That was followed by a glorious five-game winning streak, which had Texas State fans dreaming of a wildly successful final season on the F.C.S. level in Franchione’s first year with the program. Then the bottom dropped out: four losses in five games to end the year, leaving the Bobcats at an even 6-6. A successful season? Certainly, especially after the Bobcats went 4-7 under Brad Wright in 2010. But was losing four of five the way the Bobcats wanted to end one life in the F.C.S. and begin another in the F.B.S.? I wouldn’t think so.

High point The five-game winning streak, of course. Two victories came over teams that finished the year over .500: Stephen F. Austin and McNeese State. The Bobcats averaged 35.6 points per game during this stretch; in comparison, the offense averaged only 21.6 points per game over the Bobcats’ 1-4 finish.

Low point Of those four losses, only one was particularly hard for Texas State to swallow. That would be a 23-10 loss to Southeastern Louisiana, which would win only three games on the year. The most painful loss, however, came against Central Arkansas, which would go 9-3 in the regular season and earn a spot in the F.C.S. playoffs. After Texas State took a 22-20 lead with about five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Central Arkansas went ahead for good on 19-yard field goal with a minute left.

Tidbit Texas State’s home field was known as Bobcat Stadium from 1981, when the facility first opened,  until 2002, when it was renamed Jim Wacker Field at Bobcat Stadium in honor of the university’s former coach and athletic director. Wacker went 42-8 at Texas State — then known as Southwest Texas State — from 1979-82, winning the Division II national championship in each of his last two years before leaving for T.C.U., where he went 40-58-2 from 1983-91. He returned to Texas State in 1998 as the A.D., and held that position through 2002; Wacker passed away just prior to the start of the 2003 season after an extended battle with cancer. Most of you are probably very familiar with Jim Wacker Field at Bobcat Stadium: it served as the home for fictional Texas Methodist University on the show “Friday Night Lights.”

Tidbit (McMurry edition) Burnt Orange, that oracle of Texas football, first clued you into this fact in the comment field below the Texas-San Antonio preview. For an idea of how Texas State and U.T.S.A. might match up, consider the transitive relationship between the Bobcats, Roadrunners, Stephen F. Austin and McMurry, the latter a former Division III program transitioning up to Division II in 2012. McMurry beat U.T.S.A., 24-21, last September. Stephen F. Austin lambasted McMurry, 82-6, in last year’s season opener. Texas State beat S.F.A. on Sept. 24. If McMurry beat U.T.S.A. by a field goal, S.F.A. beat McMurry by 76 points and the Bobcats beat S.F.A. by nine points, what does that say about how the Bobcats and Roadrunners might match up in 2012?

Former players in the N.F.L.

1 DT Fred Evans (Minnesota).

Arbitrary top five list

N.B.A. teams that need Anthony Davis the most
1. Charlotte Bobcats.
2. New Orleans Hornets.
3. Washington Wizards.
4. Golden State Warriors.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers.

Coaching

Dennis Franchione (Pittsburg State ’73), 6-6 after one year back at Texas State. He’s 19-15 overall with the Bobcats, with last season’s .500 finish joining a 13-9 mark from 1990-91. Even then, by the second year of the 1990s, the then-40-year-old Franchione was close to the fifth head coaching job of his career; his wandering ways didn’t develop later on, when he had moved to the F.B.S., but have been the defining aspect of his career from the start. From the start: Southwestern, where he went 14-4-2 from 1981-82; Pittsburg State, his alma mater, with a 53-6 record from 1985-89; with the Bobcats to start the 1990s; on to New Mexico, with a 33-36 record from 1992-97; T.C.U., where his star rose with a 25-10 mark from 1998-2000; to Alabama, where he built up and then broke hearts by going 17-8 from 2001-2; and to Texas A&M, where he went 32-28 from 2003-7. That’s Franchione, from start to finish. Outside of A&M, where things fell apart, he’s had a golden touch. He laid the foundation for Rocky Long’s success at New Mexico. He did the same at T.C.U., leaving Gary Patterson in a position for immediate success — though both Long and Patterson exceed Franchione’s accomplishments at each school. At Alabama, Franchione had fans believing in the program’s revival; his name remains a four-letter word in Tuscaloosa to this day. He’s always been a well-regarded figure in San Marcos, however, and the program should be happy to land a coach with his name and track record. Given Franchione’s history, however, there’s no reason to believe he’s not looking to turn another successful turn with the Bobcats into a more prestigious position.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Franchione lost co-offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey to Memphis in late January, leaving him with two options: either hand Mike Schultz all coordinator duties or find a true replacement for Dickey, one who would share the coordinator title with Schultz. Franchione went with the latter option, choosing to team Schultz with former Sam Houston State wide receivers coach Jeff Conway. I spoke about Sam Houston State’s offense in the New Mexico preview: under new U.N.M. coordinator Bob DeBesse, the Bearkats showed great offensive balance with a lean towards the run — Franchione’s desired offensive system, based on history. So why didn’t the program merely hire DeBesse, a Texas State graduate? Timing: Bob Davie hired DeBesse in late December, while Dickey wouldn’t leave to join Justin Fuente at Memphis until a month later. Obviously, having Sam Houston State’s actual play-caller would have been better for Texas State. Regardless, Conway’s experience in that system makes him a valuable addition. He’ll provide a new voice for the Texas State offense.

Players to watch

Texas State proved it can run the ball against F.C.S. foes, but can the Bobcats taste the same level of success on the ground against this drastically tougher schedule? The entire season hangs in the balance — so no pressure, of course. The offense needs to run the ball well because, for now, that’s all the offense does well; passing was secondary last fall, and barring vastly improved quarterback play, the offense will again butter its bread with the running game. Hopefully, Conway can help tweak the system slightly to include a bit more focus on the pass.

The Bobcats are in trouble if the running game takes a step back. It’s simple: the Bobcats haven’t shown an ability to pass — yet, as I’ll discuss below — leaving the running game in the position of carrying a heavy burden offensively. Part of that is by design, but there’s little question that Texas State should not be running the ball more than three-fourths of the time, as it did a season ago. In the big picture, however, a strong running game keeps Texas State’s defense off the field. This would be a good thing.

On a positional level, Texas State’s biggest offensive concern lies up front, where the Bobcats lost three linemen with at least 20 career starts, including F.C.S. all-American right guard D.J. Hall, as well as left guard Jon Vernon, who had 12 career starts. Last year’s line will resemble this year’s group in only slightly: as in 2011, Thaddeus Watkins will start at right tackle, while sophomore Charlie Will Tuttle will move to right guard from center, where he started seven games as a rookie.

It’ll be a very raw and untested group outside of Watkins and Tuttle. Redshirt freshman Mike Freeman is the current leader at center, ahead of another redshirt freshman, Stephan Jacobs. Two JUCO transfers, Mike Yoder and Tyler Potter, are in the mix at left guard and tackle, respectively. Another redshirt freshman, Zach Crawford, is in line for a backup role on the interior of the line. At left tackle, Texas State has designs on handing the job over to Adley Eshraghipour, an oft-injured former defensive lineman. The line could be serviceable if the JUCO transfers hit the ground running and Eshraghipour can translate to the offensive side of the ball. If that doesn’t happen, Texas State’s offense might be in trouble.

Let’s be optimistic: if the line does shake out, the Bobcats have a pair of backs capable of carrying the offense. One is senior Marcus Curry, a former Navy transfer who rushed for 637 yards and 3 scores in his first season of eligibility. Curry’s once-promising career in Annapolis fizzled out following a series of rules violations. In his final season with Navy, in 2009, Curry rushed for 585 yards with a team-best 10 receptions for 287 yards. That dual-threat ability continued with the Bobcats: Curry added 19 receptions for 119 yards a year ago.

He’s joined in the backfield by sophomore Terrence Franks, last year’s team leader in carries (146), yards (863) and touchdowns (9). A good portion of Franks’ damage came against Southeastern Louisiana, when he rushed for a school freshman-record 234 yards; he is the only freshman in school history to rush for more than 200 yards in a single game. As a pair, Curry and Franks combined for 1,500 yards and 12 scores on 273 carries. Can each get it done against F.B.S. teams? They showed an ability to find space against Texas Tech and Wyoming last fall, but Curry and Franks will only be successful if the inexperienced line rounds into form.

The Bobcats have targets to work with in the passing game; all they need is a quarterback capable of getting them the football. Perhaps the most intriguing pass-catcher is senior tight end Chase Harper (20 receptions for 287 yards), who received scholarship offers from several B.C.S. conference programs as a JUCO transfer in the class of 2010 — including Nebraska and Miami (Fla.) — but was unable to qualify academically. Texas State reaped the benefits; outside of San Jose State’s Ryan Otten, there may not be a more gifted tight end in the WAC.

The Bobcats also return former JUCO transfer Isaiah Battle, who finished second on the team last fall in receptions (27) and receiving yards (368) and led the way with 5 touchdowns. As Texas State closed spring camp, Battle was joined at wide receiver by junior Cody Matthews (8 receptions for 72 yards) and senior Ed Amerson. One player who will move into the mix is Tim Hawkins, who rushed for 288 yards as a reserve running back last fall. Hawkins is too valuable a play-maker to keep on the sidelines.

Well, this defense is terrible. Or was, rather, though I don’t see many reasons to predict the defense to turn over a new leaf against a schedule featuring Houston, Texas Tech, Nevada, Utah State and Louisiana Tech, among others. In fact, there is reason to believe that this defense, barring a lights-on turnaround under coordinator Craig Naivar, will rank among the very worst in the country.

Last fall, this defense allowed 561.5 yards per game against F.B.S. competition. Central Arkansas threw for 457 yards. Tarleton State, a Division II program, threw for 256 yards and a score. Prairie View A&M had 300 yards rushing. Southeastern Louisiana gained 496 yards of total offense. The good news is that eight starters are back off last year’s team, though to some, that might also qualify as bad news. Not here: returning starters are almost never a bad thing. But it’s also clear that Naivar and Texas State have a significant amount of work to do on the defensive side of the ball.

Each of the three losses occurred along the front seven; in one case, at defensive end, the Bobcats are relying on JUCO help. That’s coming in the body of Thomas Evans, formerly of American City River College, who takes on a daunting task: replacing former Texas A&M transfer Michael Ebbitt. All Ebbitt did last fall, his only one on campus, was lead the Bobcats in tackles for loss and sacks en route to being named the F.C.S. Independents Defensive Player of the Year. Evans will have his hands full, though he won’t be asked to replace Ebbitt single-handedly.

The Bobcats will need to get more production out of junior end Jordan Norfleet (32 tackles, 5.5 for loss), one of three returning starters along the defensive line. Only two seem poised to retain their starting roles: Norfleet and nose tackle Deshun Williams (22 tackles, 2 sacks). At 250 pounds, junior Blake McColloch is simply too small to stand up at tackle. He’ll step back to a reserve role in 2012, replaced by JUCO transfer Kamu Tauleiei — only 265, though that’s an improvement.

Along the second level, Texas State will step senior Joplo Bartu (51 tackles, 4 sacks) into the permanent role at middle linebacker. This makes sense. So would moving another senior, Brian Lilly (52 tackles, 6.5 for loss) into the starting role on the strong side, where the Bobcats must replace Josh Minde. Not so fast: Lilly may very well grab the starting role eventually, but he’s currently embroiled in a competition with redshirt freshman Josh Robinson. The ball’s in Naivar’s court; if he thinks Robinson can do more than Lilly, who has produced for this defense, then more power to him.

The entire secondary returns, though standout free safety Xavier Daniels (team-best 77 tackles, 3 picks) didn’t participate in much of the spring due to academic difficulties. When he does return — and believe me, Texas State needs him — Daniels will reclaim his starting spot, moving his temporary replacement, Tyler Chase, back into a reserve role. The secondary houses three safeties: Daniels, senior Jason McLean (42 tackles, 1 interception) and junior Justin Iwuji (38 tackles, 5.5 for loss). It’s status quo throughout, with sophomore Craig Mager (51 tackles) and senior Darryl Morris (62 tackles, 3 sacks) back at cornerback — though Mager needs to heal after dislocating his elbow during the spring.

So what does this defense want to do, anyway? Create confusion. Wreak havoc. That’s all. Someday, given the amount of talent in Texas, the Bobcats might be able to cobble together enough pieces on defense — especially in the secondary — to run with the more potent offensive teams in the WAC. Today, the Bobcats aren’t nearly far enough along in the process to slow down the better teams on the schedule.

Position battle(s) to watch

Quarterback The Bobcats return last year’s starter, Shaun Rutherford, but I can give you three good reasons why he won’t be the starting quarterback in 2012: he’s coming off shoulder surgery; Franchione praised his potential replacement nearly non-stop during the spring; and last September, Rutherford admitted that he likes playing receiver more than quarterback. Those three factors — even just one alone, in fact — point towards Tyler Arndt reclaiming the starting role he held in 2010 but lost to Rutherford last fall, when he was still recovering from knee surgery. Arndt started six games for Texas State two years ago, throwing for 1,364 yards and 9 scores in a different system, but took a back seat to Rutherford, the more athletic of the pair, in Franchione’s offense.

One issue with that: Arndt’s the better passer, and if Texas State wants to actually throw the ball with any consistently in 2012, he’d be the team’s best option. It may be safe to say that Texas State achieved its dream scenario during the spring: Arndt stepped forward, according to Franchione’s comments, which might give the offense the sort of passing balance it needs to be successful. If his strong play continues, Arndt could grab the starting role outright during the fall — the competition is fairly neck-and-neck leaving the spring — pushing Rutherford either into a role in certain packages, as a running threat, or to a new position altogether. Whether Franchione feels like he can move Rutherford out of the quarterback competition depends on how comfortable he feels with a younger quarterback like Duke DeLancellotti, Jordan Moore or Fred Nixon serving as Arndt’s backup.

Game(s) to watch

September won’t be pretty, thanks to dates with Houston, Texas Tech and Nevada. With little chance that the Bobcats can take out the WAC’s best, this team must take care of business against the league’s bottom half if it hopes to win four of five games in its F.B.S. debut. That makes games against U.T.S.A., Idaho and New Mexico State the most important games on the schedule.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Compared to Texas-San Antonio, Texas State is Alabama. That doesn’t mean much, though having the Roadrunners in the WAC should allow the Bobcats to avoid a last-place finish. Compared to the vast majority of the F.B.S., however, Texas State’s issues loom large. The Bobcats need to run the football effectively to score points; unfortunately, the offensive line is a major work in progress. The offense will fall apart at the seams if the Bobcats can’t move the ball on the ground. Arndt is a better option than Rutherford, in my mind, but he’s a complimentary piece, not the star of the offense. The defense is in shambles: even if the individual pieces will be better — it is the second season in the 4-2-5 — the defense is going to get ripped to shreds during non-conference play and against the WAC’s best. Is there good news? There’s always good news. The Bobcats should revel in joining the F.B.S. party. Franchione has won at similar stops throughout his career. Recruiting has picked up. I’m not saying that the Bobcats can’t eventually win games in the WAC; they just won’t in 2012.

Dream season The offense gets a boost from an improved passing game. The defense remains suspect, but does just enough to help Texas State win six games in its first season on the F.B.S. level.

Nightmare season Welcome to the F.B.S., Bobcats. The offense can’t run the ball consistently and the defense can’t do anything right. What’s worse? Texas-San Antonio 14, Texas State 6. Ouch.

In case you were wondering

Where do Texas State fans congregate? I think the best option is Bobcat Fans, which houses a very active message board. For recruiting coverage, check out Bobcat Report. For newspaper coverage, visit the Web sites of The San Marcos Mercury and the San Marcos Daily Record. As always, let me know if there’s a site I’ve missed.

Texas State’s all-name nominee S Brixx Hawthorne.

Word Count

Through four teams 12,928.

Up Next

Who is No. 120? The head coach at tomorrow’s program once served under a coach who served under a coach who served under a coach who served under a coach who was an alum of an Ivy League school and coached at two service academies.

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Comments

  1. Eksynyt says:

    I’ll guess UMass…they’ve gotta be on here soon.

  2. Hokieshibe says:

    That’s quite a coaching tree… No clue on the hint, btw.

  3. Eatem up says:

    I believe this is a fair critique, Texas State will move further up on next years list for sure.

  4. Joel says:

    Great preview. I’ve always liked the solid rocks like JoePa and Frank Beamer that pick a school and stick with it, but there’s something exotic and fascinating about wanderers like Franchione and Dennis Erickson. College football would be less interesting without them, although I wouldn’t want one coaching my school.

    Todd Graham’s one year was at Rice, not Tulsa, where he stuck around for four years–a lifetime by his standards.

    Tough clue! Homer Smith graduated from Princeton and coached at Air Force and Army, but that’s as far as I can figure out.

    Paul: Rice, not Tulsa. They all run together. Thanks, fixed it above.

  5. CB1533 says:

    Berst choice for info., Bobcat Fans?….That’s a joke, right? The only reason I go to bobcat fans is to see the local bar/drink specials. I go to bobcat report for my information. http://texasstate.rivals.com/

    Also, As much as it hurts to say, I think the predictions are right on. Let’s hope for a better season.

    - TxSt Alumn

  6. Pittalum says:

    Memphis? They also have to be coming up soon

  7. Burnt Orange says:

    UNLV might be next- Bobby Hauck coached under Rick Neuheisel who coached under Terry Donahue who coached under Homer Smith ( if being a backfield coach under and OC counts.) Joel explained Smith’s connections to the Service Academies and Ivy league.

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