2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Texas State Bobcats completed their transition into the FBS in 2013 by permanently migrating to the Sun Belt Conference, and the program continued to take positive strides with a surprisingly successful season.
The campaign got off to an impressive start with back-to-back wins over Southern Miss (22-15) and Prairie View A&M (28-3), and after dropping a tough road matchup with Texas Tech (33-7), it moved to 3-1 with a convincing 42-21 triumph over Wyoming on Sept. 28.
The Bobcats found themselves 6-3 in early November following a 37-21 win at Idaho, but the wheels came off late in the year as they closed out the season with three straight losses. Although they became bowl eligible by finishing 6-6, they were not selected for postseason play, and their 2-5 mark in the Sun Belt placed only ahead of Georgia State (0-7) in the league standings.
OFFENSE: Texas State's offense did little to inspire last season, putting up 23.9 ppg while ranking 114th in the nation in total offense with just 326.2 ypg. The squad hopes that the return of seven starters, including a steady presence at quarterback, will result in a step forward.
Tyler Jones began his freshman season as the backup but soon played his way into full-time duties. While his passing numbers were modest (141.2 ypg), he completed 62.5 percent of his throws, had eight touchdowns to just five interceptions and was a positive asset on the ground (257 yards).
With Jones now fully immersed in the offense, head coach Dennis Franchione hopes that he can incorporate more no-huddle into his game plan to try to improve his offense's efficiency.
"We ran 64 play a game (last season)," Franchione said. "We'd like to average 10-15 more plays a game this year.
The Bobcats were a run-first squad a year ago and expect to keep that theme going in 2013, especially with the return of their two effective rushers. Robert Lowe (945 yards, nine TDs) and Chris Nutall (477 yards, six TDs) both averaged more than 5.7 yards per carry for a squad that ran the ball on 64 percent of its plays. The return of four starters on the offensive line will go a long way in keeping the run game strong as well.
Tight End Bradley Miller (24 receptions, 311 yards) is the top returning pass- catcher. Brandon Smith (22 receptions, 241 yards, two TDs) and Ben Ijah (16 receptions, 207 yards, TD) are expected to be the starters out wide.
DEFENSE: The Bobcats were solid on the defensive side of the ball last season. Their scoring defense (27.3 ppg) and total defense (396.7 ypg) ranked in the middle of the Sun Belt and they forced 19 turnovers. The team hired John Thompson in the offseason as its new defensive coordinator after he held the same position at Arkansas State last season.
"(We) have to make it tough on the offense," Thompson said. "We're going to attack the other team. We're going to attack the other quarterback."
Only five starters from the 2013 squad are back this season, anchored by linebacker David Mayo, who not only racked up 89 tackles but was a difference maker in the takeaway battle with four interceptions. Michael Orakpo (71 tackles, 10. TFL, 4.5 sacks, three FF) is also back to assure a stout linebacking corps.
Safety Colby Targun (54 tackles, INT) and cornerback Craig Mager (49 tackles) bring veteran leadership to the secondary. Mager led the team in passes defended last season with nine.
The only returnee along the defensive line is Michael Odiari, who picked up three of the team's 18 sacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jason Dunn was nearly perfect on his field goal opportunities last season (9-of-10). WIll Johnson is back as the punter after averaging 44 yards per boot. Johnson, who has a stronger leg than Dunn, was also called upon for longer field goal tries last season, although he was 0-of-5, with three of those misses coming from over 50 yards.
Brandon Smith was an electric return man last season, averaging just shy of 30 yards per return while running back two touchdowns. The team had 20 punt returns in 2013, all by Andy Erickson. With his departure, Mager currently sits atop the depth chart.
OUTLOOK: Regardless of the positive strides the program took last season, it was left with a bad taste in its mouth after stumbling down the stretch. Still, that experience should be able to toughen up the young squad, knowing that it doesn't want to go through that again.
Texas State's old-school approach -- operating a run-first offense behind a solid defense -- has the potential to ware on its competition, especially if Jones continues to mature under center.
The Bobcats have what it takes to dismiss some of the lower-level Sun Belt competition, including the newcomers on their schedule (Idaho, New Mexico State, Georgia Southern). They might not be strong enough to compete with Louisiana or Arkansas State for a league championship, but an improvement on a 2-5 conference record seems inevitable. If it can navigate through a tricky non-conference schedule (Navy, Illinois, Tulsa), perhaps a bowl bid is within reach.