by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

Unlike fellow 2012 Football Bowl Subdivision newbies South Alabama and UTSA, Texas State is no infant on the college gridiron. South Alabama began playing football in 2009; UTSA in 2011. Texas State has each beaten by more than a century, with a program dating back to 1904. Previously known as Southwest Texas State, the Bobcats have a history that includes two Division II crowns (1981 & ‘82) and 14 various conference championships. The school of nearly 35,000 students is know formally Texas State University-San Marcos, partly because that while San Marcos is definitely in the south of Texas, it isn’t so damn far west, being barely west of Austin along the San Marcos River halfway to San Antonio in the hill country.

More importantly for our purposes, Texas State has joined the WAC this season. But don’t get used to that affiliation, as the Bobcats are headed to the Sun Belt in 2013. Moreover, Texas State (6-6 last season as an independent after 23 years in the Southland Conference) is ineligible for the WAC championship and any bowl action.

The Bobcats are coached by a familiar figure, Dennis Franchione, who led Southwest Texas State to a 13-9 record back in 1991 and ‘92. After that, Franchione departed and had mostly successful runs at New Mexico, TCU, Alabama, and Texas A&M...until revelations of an ill-advised, for-pay, confidential newsletter for well-heeled Aggie boosters (plus a disappointing record) resulted in Coach Fran’s downfall at College Station in 2007.

Then, following three years off and needing a fresh start to rehabilitate his career, Franchione stepped into his DeLorean, turned on the flux capacitor, and was suddenly back in San Marcos for 2011, preparing to lead the Bobcats into “big time,” FBS football.

Last season, Texas State faced only two FBS foes, losing 50-10 at Texas Tech (the Bobcats led 10-9 at the half) and 45-10 at Wyoming (the Cowboys racked up 618 total yards, 382 on the ground). In truth, however, Franchione used 2011 mostly as preparation for this first year at the FBS level. Thus, Texas State goes into this season bolstered by 21 redshirt freshmen, a couple of transfers, plus nine early enrollees from the Bobcats’ 2012 recruiting class, including five early-enrollee jucos.

Franchione is hoping that such added manpower and depth will help his team take the big step up in class. The run-oriented offense returns its top two backs in 5-11, 210 sr. Marcus Curry (637 YR in 2011) and the speedier 5-10 soph Terrence Franks (863 YR). And Franchione employed two QBs last season—6-0 dual-threat Shaun Rutherford (right; 58.3%, 1227 YP, 12 TDs, 4 ints.; 449 YR) and 6-4 pocket type jr. Tyler Arndt (51.4%, 576 YP, 3 TDs, 3 ints.). Juco QB Duke DeLancellotti, once at Cal Poly, might also get a look after some bright moments in spring. Jr. WR Isaiah Battle (27 recs.) and 6-5 TE Chase Harper (20) are proven targets. But Franchione is counting on his stockpiled newcomers to help provide the offense with an improved aerial threat. The OL must replace three four-year starters. Fumbles were a problem last season, with the team coughing up the spheroid 33 times, losing 17.

The 4-2-5 Bobcat defense returns nine starters, but will miss impact pass-rushing DE Michael Ebbitt, who collected 11½ of the Bobcats’ 31 sacks last season. Otherwise, there is plenty of experience, including sr. LB Joplo Bartu (51 tackles, 4 sacks), sr. CB Darryl Morris (62 Ts, 3 sacks), quick soph CB Craig Mager (12 passes broken up), and jr. S Xavier Daniels (77 Ts, 3 ints.). However, Texas State is in search of more defensive toughness and depth after yielding 4.5 ypc in 2011 and being outscored 202 to 115 after intermission. Franchione is hoping that soph P/PK Will Johnson will benefit from experience after making only 13 of 24 FG tries as a frosh.

After being outclassed by the only two FBS teams the Bobcats faced in 2011, Franchione knows that improvement is essential—immediately, considering that volatile Houston and Texas Tech are the first two opponents—if his team is going to have a chance to keep its head above water, even in this year’s diluted WAC (Fresno, Hawaii and Nevada are gone to the Mountain West). In that vein, some starters might lose their jobs, as Coach Fran has groomed his large group of newcomers to step into openings and push holdover starters for time. Among those Bobcat newcomers with a chance to start or to move into the frontline rotation are redshirt jr. G Mike Yoder, redshirt frosh C Matt Freeman, juco WR Rodney Woodland (big-play speed), redshirt frosh WR Jafus Gaines (also HR potential), soph transfer WR Larry Centers Jr. (via SMU), juco DE Thomas Evans, RS frosh DE Tylond Robertson, juco DT Kamu Taulelei, and RS frosh DT Sam Mayes.

Summary...Credit veteran coach Franchione for using his experience, Texas recruiting connections, and patience to help gird the loins of the Bobcats for this step up in class. Schools such as Buffalo and Western Kentucky in recent years have shown that it’s not so easy. Texas State—with its long football history, useful recruiting location, and renovated stadium (expanded from 16,000 seats to 30,000)—is likely better prepared than most. But the Bobcats faced too many third-and-longs last season, lost too many fumbles, and gave up too many points in the second half. However, if Coach Fran’s QBs benefit from their experience, as they should, and if the OL develops, as expected, the Bobcats have the ground game, defense, and improving depth to notch a WAC victory or two and to make its November 24 showdown vs. natural rival UTSA in the Alamodome plenty interesting.


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