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Texas State’s First Year in Big-Time Football

Good news and bad
Joe O'Connell, 12:05pm, Fri. Dec. 14, 2012
My grand experiment: Watch/listen to every game this season as the Texas State Bobcats embarked on FBS (Big-Time Football!) in an expanded stadium with new/old coach Dennis Franchione in a dying Western Athletic Conference. Do you want the good news or the bad news?

OK. The good news is, despite their 4-8 record, the Bobcats were competitive in every game save against eventual conference champ Utah State, which pounded the Bobcats right out of the gate. The year opened with a startling 30-13 win over the University of Houston that proved less startling when the Cougs fell to 5-7 on the year. Texas State ended the season by mauling perhaps its least-talented opponent, the hapless New Mexico State Aggies. After exchanging touchdowns three times, the Bobcats defense transformed into a Duran Duran-ish hungry wolf. First Joplo Bartu knocked the ball loose from Aggie QB Andrew Manley and Black McColloch took it in for a score, then two plays later McColloch ripped the ball from Manley and Jamie Clavell-Head returned it 32 yards for a score. The game was essentially decided then, but the Bobcats strutted on for an impressive 66-28 win in which they looked almost perfect in every facet of the game.

Now for the bad news. The Bobcats’ most embarrassing defeat was a 38-31 loss to a brand-new UTSA team, which seemed to care a whole lot more about the game than the Bobcats did. Roadrunner fans celebrated with the obligatory Hitler video that claimed it was a rivalry 40 years in the making. Except nobody in San Marcos much cared, which may explain how unmotivated the Bobcats were in this newly manufactured rivalry (previous nonfootball attempts at a rivalry don’t count).

In the end the loss didn’t matter as much as the bigger losses UTSA has slapped on Texas State: the loss of a media market and a place in a thriving conference. San Marcos has always had the advantage/albatross of being just outside the Austin and San Antonio markets. In Austin, Texas State is still fighting to get noticed by the media. The Austin American-Statesman this year started adding the Bobcats at the bottom of the graph of their weekly game predictions, and even sent a reporter to cover the Texas Tech game (said reporter then misspelled QB Shaun Rutherford’s name). But that season-ender at home against New Mexico State rated a few wire-service paragraphs. Austin TV sports crews didn’t bother to run footage. San Antonio previously tended to be kinder to Texas State with coverage, which makes sense with the lack of a pro or college football team to root for. That’s change with UTSA’s birth of a football baby. The Express-News fawned over the new team’s winning record and ignored the fact that most wins were over really bad teams.

Worse, UTSA nabbed a spot in Conference USA for next year, while the Bobcats will go the Sun Belt, where members are fleeing as fast as they did from the WAC. C-USA was never interested in Texas State, so the Bobcats had to go with the SBC, which one commentator rightly referred to as the Island of Misfit Toys. Middle Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic are the latest to vamoose to the C-USA and the SBC hemorrhaging may not end there.

Making the step up to FBS football isn’t easy. Texas State has made a steep financial commitment with a stadium expansion and rehiring of Franchione who has made stops at Alabama and Texas A&M since last dining on a Herbert’s Special in San Marcos. We’ll likely know in the next couple of years whether there’s a payoff in wins and media attention.

Part of the problem is the talent pool Franchione is dredging. His son Brad, now an assistant Bobcat coach, was coach at Blinn College and molded Shaun Rutherford into a fine wide receiver turned quarterback at Texas State. Outstanding tight end Chase Harper was recruited by Nebraska, but couldn’t make his grades and ended up at Navarro Junior College. Marcus Curry didn’t like the discipline at Navy and end up as the Bobcats’ top running back. All three impact players will be gone after short Texas State stays. That’s the problem with having to skim the cream from the juco and/or “troubled player” coffee.

Also lost to graduation is Joplo Bartu, arguably the Bobcats' best defensive player. He had 17 tackles and four sacks against the Aggies. And here’s the kicker: he was on the Texas State team for five years, including one as a redshirt. Coaches smartly switched him from linebacker to defensive end for his senior season. Bartu ended up on the All-WAC second team along with Harper and defensive back Darryl Morris. Bartu was groomed in San Marcos and will have an outside shot at playing professional ball somewhere.

Here’s betting next year’s Bobcat quarterback will be Duke DeLancellotti, another junior college transfer who will has one year of eligibility left. I hope there will be a young quarterback on second team battling him for the job. A patchwork quilt of second-chancers isn’t the key to long-term success.

Want to build a fan base? Every game needs to be on the air not just on the radio. I found this season that with ingenuity and some good Twitter tips I could watch all but the final game either streaming or on an actual TV broadcast. The final game against New Mexico State was the lone exception.

The final decision Texas State needs to make is who is going to helm their effort to thrive in Big-Time Football. And I’m not talking about Franchione. Serious thought needs to be given to replacing Larry Teis, who has served admirably as athletic director since 2004. But in the history of an organization there are those who begin change and those who see it through. Teis may well be the former. Texas State needs to look at putting some firepower at the top of the athletic food chain to build excitement. The Bobcats may never have another Jim Wacker, but they need to find a reasonable facsimile now.

Maybe then graduates of the school that shall forever by known at Southwest Texas State will stop rooting for the Longhorns and/or the Aggies and instead proudly wear the Maroon and Gold as the Bobcats Eat ‘em up.

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