One of the inherent absurdities about college football is that the fates of football programs and even the economic livelihoods of entire universities and local communities can be decided by the thinnest of margins. When you live life on the edge as a member of a conference that's very much on the margins of FBS football itself, you're liable to pushed off the cliff by the crowd of too many teams clamoring for not enough bowl bids.
Despite coming out on top of their games more times than not, that's exactly what happened to the Texas State Bobcats.
After destroying mouthy but hapless Arkansas-Pine Bluff out of the FCS, Texas State got hit in the mouth early in their first game that really mattered. The Navy Midshipmen took advantage of Texas State's hot tempers and some questionable refereeing in front of a sold out crowd at Bobcat Stadium and jumped out to a huge halftime lead.
Navy then weathered a spirited 2nd half comeback attempt by Texas State to earn a hard fought road win, but the biggest (and most tragic) news was a nasty cut block that shredded standout linebacker Mike Orakpo's ACL and MCL and ended his season.
Texas State jumped out to an early lead on the road against the Illinois Fighting Illini, but a 2 hour lightning delay destroyed their momentum as their Big Ten opponent fought back. The Bobcat offense also stalled after halftime, and didn't get their rhythm back until it was too late.
The Bobcats responded by gutting out a three overtime road win over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane despite Robert Lowe being scratched from the starting lineup at the last minute. The game was closer than it should've been, which would end up being a pattern throughout the season.
Sun Belt Conference: Season Two
Texas State started conference play against the Idaho Vandals by pulling out one of the strangest wins possible as senior running back Terrence Franks went absolutely berzerk when almost nobody else outside of David Mayo would step up.
At this point, the only thing about Texas State that was going to be consistent was its inconsistency. That inconsistency ended up biting them right on the posterior against a Louisiana Ragin Cajuns team that's been a bastion of consistency in the Sun Belt, and the Bobcats hit a low point in momentum.
Instead of rolling over, Texas State pulled out an unlikely comeback at the ULM Warhawks despite the offense playing like it had eaten the roux-ga-roux through the first three quarters. Next week, it was a previously stout defense that looked lost against the New Mexico State Aggies, but the Bobcats still pulled off a bizarre but close win.
At this point, few apparently believed that Texas State could pull off an upset win over the eventual Sun Belt Conference champion Georgia Southern Eagles, but the Bobcats came oh so very close to making it happen in an excruciating loss. The pain would only get worse the following week for Bobcat fans.
Texas State rolled into Mobile hungry for their sixth win, but earning only 10 points off of three early fumbles and letting the South Alabama Jaguars's backup quarterback pick apart the secondary doomed the Bobcats' bowl hopes. The Bobcats couldn't take care of business, and USA would exact an equally heartbreaking (and inexplicable) loss in exchange for the previous year's last minute Bobcat comeback.
Despite getting an impressive signature win over a wounded Arkansas State Red Wolves team on national television and plowing a mostly lifeless Georgia State Panthers team in Atlanta, Texas State's fate was likely already sealed.
It's easy to feel sympathy for seniors such as Ben Ijah, Bradley Miller, Craig Mager, Mike Orakpo and especially indomitable LB
Thor David Mayo, who played a big role in exceeding preseason expectations. Getting left out by Fort Worth's Armed Forces Bowl for 6-6 Pitt is especially insulting to their legacy.
A Move on the Horizon?
Texas State didn't help themselves by not taking care of business against South Alabama, having only 12,000 fans show up for a nationally televised game against Arkansas State, and not instituting a system for fans to put down a deposit for bowl tickets to give bowl committees solid numbers to work with. Still, much of the fans' ire has been aimed at the Sun Belt and their bowl system.
Can't wait to hear the excuse for next year if we go 7-5 or 8-4.— Brendon Larimore (@BBITKID25) December 7, 2014
#TXST 7-5 South Alabama 6-6 (Bowl game)— clinton kyle cowan (@kyle_cowan15) December 7, 2014
#TXST 45 Ark. State 27 (bowl game)— clinton kyle cowan (@kyle_cowan15) December 7, 2014
In addition to their lack of bowl tie-ins, the locations of the Sun Belt's bowls--two in Alabama, one in Louisiana--are geographically biased towards conference members located in the southeast. Next year's addition of the Cure Bowl in Orlando won't help this issue, especially with Georgia Southern and Appalachian State becoming full FBS members.
There are now clamors by Bobcat fans for Texas State to leave the Sun Belt and their southeast bias by taking UAB's Conference USA spot.
Hey @SunBelt last yr you didn't invite a 8-4 team this year a 7-5 team. Hopefully txst is as smart as wku and gets away from this joke conf— Austin Hunter (@AHunter27T) December 7, 2014
So done with the Sunbelt. It's time for #TXST to move on to bigger and better things.— Julianna Di Napoli (@juliannaadinap) December 7, 2014
A move to C-USA would be optimal for the Bobcats, as it has bowl ties in Texas and familiar faces in UTSA, North Texas, Rice, and UTEP that will bring fans to Bobcat Stadium. Multiple publications, including ours, have listed Texas State as a possible replacement, but an invite is hardly guaranteed.
If they remain in the Sun Belt, it looks like there's one thing Dennis Franchione's men can do to go bowling: Win the whole damn conference.