Earlier I wrote about the fledgling South Alabama Jaguars and the possible spoiler role they could play in the Sun Belt conference in the 2013 season. They aren’t the only new kid on the FBS block though. In 2012 the Texas State Bobcats made the jump from the FCS and competed in the now defunct WAC conference and this year will join fellow newcomers South Alabama and Georgia State in the Sun Belt.
The Bobcats of Texas State though enter the 2013 season with expectations a little higher, and reasonably so.
It starts with none other than former TCU and Alabama head coach Dennis Franchione. Gary Patterson may receive the love and adoration at TCU, but let’s not forget that it was Franchione who laid the groundwork for the Horned Frogs ascension into the upper reaches of college football, and ultimately a place in the Big 12 conference.
The groundwork laid at TCU is a large part Franchione is a perfect fit for Texas State. He’s used to swooping in under the heavy hitters that recruit the talent rich state of Texas and picking up the best of the leftovers, and the best of what went overlooked.
We all know the state of Texas is rich in high school football talent, and if a few of the smaller schools can snatch some of it up, the chance is there for a quick turnaround and rise to prominence. TCU, Baylor, Houston, and SMU have all risen from obscurity and ashes in the past 20 years to now being members of AQ conferences with dreams of playing in a BCS bowl. Three of the four have finished in the top 25 in recent years, and SMU has gone from 2-22 in 2007 and 2008 to just 23 losses in the 4 years since, with four consecutive bowl trips. Texas State looks to follow in those footsteps.
Just last season the Bobcats went to Houston and trounced the Cougars 30-13. They also lost by just 13 to Nevada, and 11 to San Jose State, though they were outgained by very wide margins in both games. They fell by merely a touchdown to 19th ranked Louisiana Tech and won their final two games of the season in finishing 4-8.
Overall, it wouldn’t seem all that much to get overly excited about, but remember, that was their first year as an FBS team.
The 2013 Bobcats should be a better version than 2012 squad, and also plays a more forgiving schedule.
They do lose quarterback Shaun Rutheford and tailback Marcus Curry, both dynamic playmakers, and the majority of their rushing attack a season ago.
However, Franchione feels comfortable turning the reins over to Tyler Arndt, who was recruited by TCU, Missouri and Arizona among others. The hope is Arndt can deliver on the promise he offered as one of the program’s top signees.
It’s tailback though where Franchione feels his replacement will be an upgrade. In house, the Bobcats are expecting Terrence Franks to return to his form as a freshmen when he ran for 863 yards, as opposed to last seasons disappointing 269 yard campaign, though he did tack on five scores.
Beyond just the hopeful return to form by Franks though is JUCO C.J. Best, who following spring practice was atop the depth chart, and true freshmen Jamel James, a sought after running back with great size and strength.
Together, that trio of backs will run behind an offensive line with four starters back from a team that averaged 5.2 yard per carry a season ago. Six times a year ago they topped 150 yards rushing, and with the vast majority of the offensive line back, figure to potentially improve upon those numbers in 2013.
Leading receivers Andy Erickson and Isaiah Battle also return to the mix after combing for over 900 yards a season ago to help aid the passing game in keeping defenses honest. But there’s no secret here, the ability to run the football will make or break this team, and they have the linemen and stable of backs to do just that.
Defensively they lost three of their top four tacklers, but return 5-12, so they don’t have to replace much on defense. The secondary returns intact, and his talented, and the defensive line will be among the very best in the conference. They will also add in former Colroado State linebacker Michael Orakpo.
All told, the Bobcats will be exceptionally strong on both sides of the line. Generally in football, teams who have the edge on both the offensive and defensive line win football games.
The home schedule offers six winnable football games, with conference tilts with pre-season favorites Louisiana-Monroe and Western Kentucky rating as the toughest tests they’ll face in San Marcos. On the road, Idaho, Troy and, yes, even Southern Miss, all present as winnable games. Not that Arkansas State and Louisiana can’t be won, but realistically speaking, those three offer the best chances.
Getting ULM and Western Kentucky both at home offers the Bobcats a chance to play a major role in the conference title race. The Bobcats open conference play with games against the Louisiana schools in back to back weeks, with home games against Georgia State and South Alabama immediately following. A victory over either of the Louisiana schools could leave them 3-1 in conference play before their end of the year stretch with Arkansas State and Troy on the road sandwiching the visit by Western Kentucky.
While I don’t anticipate them winning the conference crown, the possibility of entering that final trio of games 3-1 in the Sun Belt, and potentially 6-3 overall could leave them without a lot to play for in those final three games. A trip to the postseason included, meaning they won’t just be playing spoiler down the stretch.