The Texas St. Bobcats and head coach Dennis Franchione look to build on a 6-6 2013 campaign — its first as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. While the team did struggle in conference play and only won two of seven games, they did defeat Southern Miss and Wyoming in the non-conference and have shown the potential to be one of the better teams of the conference.
The key to the continued growth of the Texas State offense rests on the arm of returning starter sophomore quarterback Tyler Jones. After starting in place of the ineffective Tyler Arndt for the Wyoming game, the freshman out of Stephenville, TX showed the composure and confidence of an experienced signal caller and was the starter from that point on. He finished the season with 1,130 passing yards eight touchdowns, five interceptions and a completion percentage of 62.5. As the season progressed, Jones saw his pass attempts increase. He became more comfortable with the offense, which should continue this year with more experience.
But the success of the team will rest on the feet of the returning running backs, Robert Lowe and Chris Nutall — the tandem combined to rush for 1,476 yards and 14 touchdowns. Despite having some success in the passing offense, Franchione will look to lean more on the rush offense due to the departure of its two leading wide receivers to graduation. The primary pass catching holdover also happens to be its most talented — Bradley Miller. The tight end/wide receiver hybrid finished the 2013 season with 23 catches for 311 yards but has already kicked off the 2014 campaign with a bang. In the Maroon-Gold spring game he had five catches for 142 yards and definitely looks to become the primary target for Jones.
The defense will have plenty of seniors on its side of the ball, but the question is can any of them play? Of the 15 returning seniors only four are three-year letterman compared to eight one-year letterman; those “young seniors” are led by Michael Orakpo, the younger brother of current Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo. The younger Orakpo transferred from Colorado State and instantly paid dividends in his first season as a Bobcat. He led the defense in tackles-for-loss with 10 and also sacks with 4.5. He will team up with returning senior David Mayo, who led the team in interceptions with four, to form the defenses strongest unit.
There are three defensive names to keep an eye on as the season progresses: Brixx Hawthorne Brandon McDowell and Zach Velliquette. The defensive back position is looking for someone to step up and this trio showed glimpses of being able to do that during the spring game when all three forced turnovers.
The Bobcats open the 2014 season with a home opener against HBCU Arkansas Pine-Bluff, and while you never want to take any game for granted, ask Florida about Georgia Southern, this is a game that should allow Franchione and his staff to not only get his starters plenty of in-game work but also allow the backups to get some early playing time.
After that the Bobcats face a tough three-week stretch as they play an always tough Navy program at home then head on the road to Champaign-Urbana IL to face Big Ten foe Illinois and then travel to Tulsa, OK to face the Golden Hurricanes of Tulsa. If they can make it through that stretch having played competitively and avoid any major injuries, the team should be battle-tested and ready for a more favorable conference record this season.
They open their conference schedule with two home games against Idaho and 2013 conference champion Louisiana-Lafayette. While the game against the Rajin’-Cajuns will be a tough opponent, it will offer the opportunity for the team to be showcased in front of a national audience as the game will be aired on ESPN2.
They finish the season with two home games against Arkansas State and conference newcomer Georgia Southern and four road games against University of Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico St., South Alabama and they close season in the Georgia Dome against Georgia State. If they can finish this six game stretch with at least a 4-2 record, the team will need to pack its bags as they will be bowl eligible — their first as a FBS program.