Texas State Bobcats
2014 Record: 7-5 (5-3, Sun Belt)
Scheme: Head coach Dennis Franchione (remember him?) was one of the first proponents of the spread offense way back in his days at TCU and although his Bobcat offenses have embraced the up-tempo craze and go much faster than his offenses at TCU or Texas A&M, the recipe remains the same: spread people out to create running lanes and utilize a dual-threat QB. Texas State runs the ball about 55% of the time and with some unknowns at WR, expect the Bobcats to be fairly run heavy early in the season.
Quarterbacks: Junior Tyler Jones is entering his third season as the starter and last year he really blossomed, proving a threat as both a runner and passer. Jones (2,670 yards passing, 65%, 22 TD, 7 interceptions, 539 yds rushing, 6 TD) struggled at times last year against better teams, but he proved to be efficient as a passer and dangerous as a runner. Franchione has stocked up on QB transfers (Micah Thomas came in from Utah and Blaire Sullivan started games at UTEP) but it does not seem as if Jones needs to be looking over his shoulder. What it does mean, though, is that Texas State can run Jones and not worry as much about him getting injured, as they have decent depth here.
Running Backs: Senior Robert Lowe returns to lead the ground attack after eclipsing the century mark last year. Lowe (1,091 yds, 5.9 avg, 12 TD, 24 receptions) isn’t big or fast, but he is good at moving the pile forward and can produce the odd big play. Mostly, though, he is a chain-mover. Depth has been bolstered by the return of senior Chris Nuttall, who was suspended last year but rushed for nearly 500 yards in 2013. Nuttall provides a nice change of pace. Add in 3-star true freshman Bralon Hutchison and you’ve got a pretty good corps of runners.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: In theory this should be a strength, as three receivers who caught at least 22 passes last year return. However, the trio of Brandon Smith, C.J. Best, and Jafus Gaines were largely underwhelming last season (they combined for less than 1,000 yards) as the Bobcat offense struggled to stretch the field with the passing game. Gaines has potential as a big play guy and Best is a solid slot receiver, but this group needs to produce more. Expect sophomore Brice Gunter, JC transfer Kwamane Bowens, and true frosh Justin Gamble to get every chance to play to help this unit out.
Despite running a spread offense, the Bobcats actually utilize the tight end a lot. In fact, tight end Bradley Miller was the leading receiver in both receptions and yards last year, but he has graduated. In his place, expect senior Ryan Carden (13 receptions, 196 yds, TD) to carry the mantle. The problem, though, is depth as Miller and two of his backups graduated, leaving Carden and little-used sophomore Chris French as the only tight ends on the roster.
Offensive Line: This unit could be the key to the offense, what with seven players with starting experience returning. Senior LT Adrian Bellard was second team all conference last year and should be the leader. The right side of the line should be in good shape with senior Zach Crawford back at guard and junior Ryan Melton at tackle. In the pivot, expect experienced, but undersized senior Matt Freeman (6’2, 260) to handle the job. He can get overwhelmed due to his size, but he has decent technique. The battle is at LG, where senior Brandon Sarabia and junior Felix Romero, both of whom have starting experience, are battling it out. The loser could conceivably push Freeman. The coaches have high hopes for redshirt frosh Tryston Mizerak, a former 3-star recruit who can play multiple positions.
Scheme: Last year was veteran coordinator John Thompson’s first with the team and the Bobcats definitely struggled, allowing 446 yards and 28 points per game. The problem was too many big plays on the ground and too much passing efficiency from opponents. Thompson runs a 4-2-5 defense which is predicated on bringing pressure. Lots of pressure. The problem is that there are no discernible stars on defense, no one to build around. Thus, year two could be another struggle for Thompson’s defense.
Defensive Line: The Bobcats actually return a lot of guys who have playing experience on defense, but the line might be the unit with the most promise, with ten of last year’s top 12 back plus a couple of talented recruits.
The defensive ends are undersized and inexperienced. Sophomore Jeff Banks is very small (6’3, 212) but showed promise last year, making 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks in eight games. Classmate Karee Berry (27 tackles, 2.5 for loss) saw more playing time than Banks, but seems less likely to be an impact player. Junior Brian Guendling and redshirt freshman Cedric Gambrell are in the mix as well, but the coaches really hope true frosh Landon Beck can provide quality snaps.
The most hope is at tackle, where several players who got experience last year return. Junior Dallas McLarty (41 tackles, 7 for loss, 3 sacks) is a tad undersized for a tackle, but has nice moves and explosiveness. Senior Mershad Dillon (15 tackles, 2 for loss) provides more beef and is a run-stuffer. Seniors Dondre Elvoid and Rusmin Nikocevic and sophomore Will Trevillion all played in at least 10 games last year and will add depth. Javier Edwards, a 6-3, 330 pound 3-star recruit, will be expected to play right away.
Linebackers: Three of the top four returning tacklers are back here, but David Mayo, who was far and away the leading tackler and play-maker, is the one guy missing and he’ll be sorely missed. Senior SLB Jerrid Jeter-Gilmon (46 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks) was Mayo’s backup and the coaches like his potential as a play-maker At MLB, senior Trey McGowan (80 tackles, 2 for loss) is back after starting 11 games last year. McGowan finished second in tackles and is not flashy and won’t make many big plays, but he also won’t make glaring mistakes. Junior Stephen Smith (35 tackles) and sophomore Dominique Williamson both return after backing up McGowan last season. The coaching staff really need any of a trio of incoming freshmen (Bo Anderson, Kerry Walker, and Jordan Mittie) to contribute. Anderson and Walker came in with the most hype, but Mittie has more college-ready size.
Secondary: This unit returns all but two of last year’s contributors, but the unit was underwhelming to say the least. (Sense a theme here?) Texas State allowed opponents to complete a staggering 63% of their passes and allowed 243 yards per game. The Bobcats did manage to intercept 13 passes, but this unit needs to improve. Unfortunately for Bobcat fans, the two guys who are not returning were the two leading tacklers.
The good news is at safety, which is a good thing for Texas State since in order to run a 4-2-5, you really need quality depth at safety. Despite the loss of FS Colby Targum, the Bobcats return six players to the three safety spots. The leaders will be senior “weak” safety Aaron Shaw and junior Germod Williams, who plays more of a nickel safety role (what FSU calls the Star). Shaw (44 tackles, 1.5 for loss) is productive, but isn’t necessarily a difference-maker. That role could fall to Williams (35 tackles, 4 ints), who finished second on the team in interceptions despite missing three games due to injury. The new starter will be junior Damani Alexcee, who was Targum’s backup last season. Alexcee (25 tackles, 2 pass breakups) looks to be a typical center fielder-type FS who could help bolster the pass defense some. Senior Demetrius Woodard and sophomore Stephan Johnson, who saw time last year, are back, but the guy on the bench to really look for is sophomore Dila Rosemond, the top rated recruit of any DB on the roster. Rosemond (23 tackles) is not a big guy, but he has really good natural instincts. He is currently listed as Williams’ backup, but could push Alexcee as well.
The CB position is the worry spot of the secondary. Senior David Mims II (48 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 5 ints) is a great building block, an aggressive corner with decent size. However, the cupboard is bare after him. Sophomore Brandon McDowell appeared in 10 games last year, but that was mostly on special teams. Classmate Clarence Guidry III will get a long look as well. Beyond that trio, the Bobcats are banking on JC transfers and true freshmen. This unit could really struggle without a pass rush or significant help from the safeties.
Special Teams: Will Johnson did both the kicking and the punting and he is gone so new specialists are needed. Redshirt frosh James Sherman looks set to be the punter while true freshman Lumi Kaba leads to kick. The return units were mediocre last year so expect open auditions to find anyone that can potentially break one.
Schedule: With the exception of the opener at FSU, the non-conference schedule is actually pretty easy for a Sun Belt team, who traditionally seem to play three or four major programs. The conference schedule is tougher, though, with road trips to Arkansas State, Georgia Southern, and UL-Lafayette, probably the three best teams in the conference. In order to achieve bowl eligibility, the Bobcats will likely need to win all of their home games and steal at least one road game (FSU, Houston, Idaho, and the aforementioned trio).
Overall: Dennis Franchione has somewhat resurrected his career (but likely not his reputation) with his work at Texas State. The Bobcats managed to win 7 games last year and did it with an entertaining, fan friendly offense. They will probably be involved in more shootouts this year, given how porous their defense again appears. But things appear to be on the upswing given the fact that Franchione is reeling in some decent recruits (he has signed an impressive amount of 3-star recruits) and is in an infinitely winnable conference. The combination of unknowns at WR, a potentially bad defense, and a tough road schedule means that predicting another 7-win season is tough, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bobcats win 6 and go to their first FBS bowl game. At minimum, they’ll again be an entertaining team to watch.