Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: In order to make the move to the Western Athletic Conference beginning in 2012, the Texas State Bobcats had to operate as a FCS Independent a year ago. The school made a wise move in bringing back former head coach Dennis Franchione to hopefully give them instant credibility, although it will take some time for the program to earn the respect of the rest of the WAC and the other schools at the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Franchione, who coached the Bobcats two decades ago when they were known as Southwest Texas State, has a history of turning around programs from New Mexico to Texas A&M before taking a break from the rigors of coaching. In 2011, Franchione and the Bobcats played a schedule weak on FBS talent, clashing with and losing to both Texas Tech (50-10) and Wyoming (45-10) in the first two games before settling in against more applicable competition.
The team managed to put together a five-game win streak, but at no point during that run did it perform in front of a crowd as large as even 16,000. The victories, while important to boost morale, were registered against schools such as Tarleton State, Stephen F. Austin, Nicholls State, McNeese State and Lamar. Unfortunately, following that successful run the Bobcats bowed in four of their final five games, the lone win coming against Prairie View A&M (34-26).
Even though a 6-6 record is nothing to sneeze at, Franchione and the rest of the coaching staff know full well that the talent level in the WAC is much tougher and perhaps coming up with even four or five wins this time around should be seen as a major accomplishment. While the team brings back as many as 18 returning starters, one of those who has moved on is offensive guard D.J. Hall who was named an FCS All-America Second-Team selection by The Sports Network last year.
OFFENSE: As recently as late July, Franchione wasn't completely set on who he was going to have directing the offense.
"Our quarterback position, right now I don't know whether it will be Shaun Rutherford or Tyler Arndt to start, but both of them elevated their games in the spring."
Rutherford had the most experience of the two last season, completing 58.3 percent of his pass attempts for an average of 111.5 ypg and a total of 12 touchdowns against only 4 interceptions. In the case of Arndt, he started 2 of the 8 games in which he participated, but his accuracy checked in at only 51.4 percent and he finished with the same number of INTs (3) as he did TDs.
In terms of the primary receiving corps, the Bobcats are counting on Isaiah Battle to pick up the slack left by the departed Darius Bolden who led the team with 30 catches for 473 yards. Battle was responsible for one-third of the unit's aerial scores as he averaged 13.6 yards per grab. A couple of sturdy tight ends in Kyle Doll and Chase Harper should give the passing attack some additional options close to the line of scrimmage as well.
Despite his freshman status, Terrence Franks settled in as the team's leading rusher a year ago with 863 yards and 9 touchdowns on 146 attempts, and he is expected to again be a major player in that department for the Bobcats. Now a senior, Marcus Curry figures to pick up a few more carries this year after averaging a solid 5 yards per attempt in 2011.
DEFENSE: Perhaps the area that needs the most attention for Texas State is at linebacker where Joplo Bartu is the only returning starter. Granted, Bartu was consistently around the ball when he was on the field last season, delivering 51 tackles and a team-best 2 forced fumbles in 10 games, but he cannot do it all by himself as the competition ramps up.
The better news is that the secondary is perhaps the most experienced groups on the roster as five former starters all vie for the spotlight. Cornerbacks Craig Mager and Darryl Morris combined to record 18 pass breakups, the latter also returning his lone interception of the campaign 37 yards for a touchdown against Nicholls State. At 6-feet-tall, Xavier Daniels is one of the tallest in the secondary for the Bobcats and even though he is also one of the lightest in terms of weight, he was the program's leader in tackles last season with 77, making 51 of them unassisted. Add to that his ability to cover receivers; he tallied 3 interceptions and 5 pass breakups, and Daniels could be on his way to all-conference accolades in his first and only year in the WAC.
SPECIAL TEAMS: "Will Johnson will probably be our kicker and punter," declares Franchione, although he does admit there is still room for Johnson to grow. "Will has to be more consistent, but he has a tremendous leg. He broke the school record for distance on a field goal last year and I wouldn't be surprised that with a little wind he couldn't hit a 60-yarder."
Granted, Johnson was just a freshman last season with the Bobcats, but converting a mere 13-of-24 field goal attempts and failing to put points on the board when the team is in the red zone could be cause for alarm if the trend continues.
Battle was second on the team in kick returns with an average of 23.8 yards per attempt, thanks in large part to a 93-yard effort that resulted in a touchdown. Expected the same sort of numbers this year against better competition could be a stretch.
OUTLOOK: "I think sometimes you make a move like this (moving to the FBS), you make the move but you don't make the move with the purpose of being successful," Franchione has acknowledged. "I think our administration has given us a device, or a mechanism or ways to have a chance to make the move as positive as we can and we understand that moving up a division is going to be a challenge. Our schedule is a challenge, but we're looking forward too it, our players are looking forward to it."
To say that their schedule is a challenge is probably an understatement given that the talent on the other side of the line will be consistently better than what the program faced last year. With clashes against Houston, Texas Tech and Nevada in three of the first four games of the campaign, Texas State could be trying to dig out of a deep hole even before the actual WAC slate kicks off in the middle of October versus Idaho.