COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
HEAD COACH: Dennis Franchione, 19-15 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Conway, Mike Schultz | DEF. COORDINATOR: Craig Naivar
The run-first Bobcats bring back their top five rushers after averaging 195.3 rushing yards per game last season. The two-headed running back attack of sophomore Terrence Franks and senior Marcus Curry combined for 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns a year ago. Franks averaged 5.9 yards per carry and scored nine touchdowns.
Last season’s starting quarterback also returns, senior Shaun Rutherford. He threw for 1,227 yards with 12 touchdowns and only four interceptions and added 449 yards on the ground in 10 games. Leading receiver Darius Bolden is gone, but junior Isaiah Battle had five touchdown catches and 368 yards on 27 receptions. He will be Rutherford’s top target. Senior tight end Chase Harper is another quality pass-catcher. He was third on the team with 20 receptions last season.
The main concerns on offense are ball security — the Bobcats lost 17 fumbles last year — and the offensive line. Texas State lost three starters up front, including standout guard D.J. Hall. Returning starters Thaddeus Watkins and Charlie Will Tuttle will be asked to lead a young group.
Losing star defensive end Michael Ebbitt (11.5 sacks) certainly hurts this 4-2-5 unit that returns nine starters. Junior end Jordan Norfleet, who had 2.5 sacks last year, has a chance to fill that pass-rushing void.
There are some playmakers at linebacker, including seniors Joplo Bartu and Brian Lilly. Bartu was second on the team last season with four sacks and forced two fumbles. Lilly had 6.5 tackles for a loss.
The secondary is experienced with five returning starters. Last year’s leading tackler was junior free safety Xavier Daniels with 77. Starting cornerbacks Craig Mager and Darryl Morris combined for 18 pass breakups. The defense’s success will largely depend on how much of a push the front seven can generate on a consistent basis without a pass-rusher like Ebbitt.
Sophomore Will Johnson appears set to pull double duty this season as a kicker and punter. Johnson made all 33 extra points a year ago but connected on only 13-of-24 field goals and missed four from inside the 40-yard line. Michael Gilmore and Battle will be the top kickoff returners. Gilmore averaged 27.6 yards per return in ’11. Junior receiver Andy Erickson averaged 11.1 yards on 18 punt returns.
After a 5–2 start last season under coach Dennis Franchione — in his first year in his second stint at the school — the Bobcats stumbled down the stretch to finish 6–6 as an FCS independent. Texas State now takes another step forward in 2012, joining the WAC for one season before moving on to the more stable Sun Belt Conference in ’13.
The schedule will certainly be more challenging this season for the Bobcats, who will play only one FCS opponent — local rival Stephen F. Austin — after facing nine FCS foes and one Division II school last year. This season’s first two weeks include a Sept. 1 opener at Houston and Sept. 8 home game against Texas Tech.
Texas State has been preparing for its move to the FBS ranks and expanded the seating capacity of Bobcat Stadium from 16,000 to 30,000 in the offseason.
Franchione took New Mexico, TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M to bowl games before arriving in San Marcos. The Bobcats may eventually find similar success, but there will likely be some growing pains in the short term.