There's no denying it--the Texas State Bobcats have taken one on the chin to start their season. Well, three on the chin. A 1-3 start certainly isn't what anyone envisioned in this season's push for that ever-elusive bowl bid, and the Houston loss was especially troubling as all sides of the ball failed by halftime.
All that positive momentum and fan goodwill that was built up to start the season seems to be dissipating rapidly. But please allow me, ever the jaded cynic after years of Bobcat fandom, to offer a plea to not jump off the bandwagon just yet. For this season is far from over, and here's why.
1. The three teams they lost to might be really damn good
Deifying your past opponents is a common spin move from fans and athletic departments that I normally scoff at. But sometimes they're right. Consider who Texas State has played so far in FBS competition:
Florida State: Sure, their offense hasn't looked great against the ACC, and Golson's still working the kinks out, but it's still Florida gat-danged State. They have an embarrassment of talent and would've obliterated Texas State even if the Bobcats had had a pulse on defense. They could still go undefeated despite road games at Clemson and Georgia Tech because 1. the ACC is weak as hell and 2. FSU is just that talented.
Southern Miss: Their offense is incredibly quick-paced and full of athleticism, and is absolutely nothing like the walking dumpster fire that Texas State beat in 2013. They gave Nebraska a run and could be a darkhorse in Conference USA west. Not to mention if the Sun Belt used refs with 20/20 vision, then it still could've been a whole other ballgame in San Marcos, even with Texas State's awful defense.
Houston: Might be a bit of a stretch to call them a top 25 team as some of the more starry-eyed optimists have been saying, but they're good. Really good. As in, they could easily win the AAC good despite being in the same conference as G5 heavyweights Memphis, Navy, and Temple. Greg Ward Jr. is going to be impossible to defend, and their defense has capability to hold opponents when it matters. And that offense's tempo is just like Southern Miss, which is 5 seconds to the line and snap. That's going to be tough for a lot of defenses to handle.
And yes, Tyler Jones threw two interceptions against them, but it helped UH that they had two former Texas State coordinators who were tasked with slowing the junior quarterback down every single day in practice and knew much of the offensive playbook. Between that and the receivers uncharacteristically fumbling catches all over the place, the UH game seemed like the one freak bad turnovers game that's afforded every college football team every season. At least, let's hope that's what it was.
Is Texas State's schedule the equivalent of ULM's OOC slate of Alabama and Georgia? No. But it's one top 10 team, one top 30 team, and a peer school that they should've beaten. 1-3 is an incredibly disappointing start, but here's what the rest of the schedule looks like from an advanced stats standpoint.
Not exactly a murderer's row. Road trips to Statesboro and Jonesboro will be tough, but the rest of those games are winnable. Sidenote: what the hell is 0-4 NMSU doing ranked that high anyway?
For perspective, Texas State is 117th in F/+ and 98th in S/P+, but their offensive S/P+ rating is a very respectable 24th (S/P+ doesn't measure FCS games like PVAMU, before you ask). Defensive S/P+, on the other hand, is 124th. With even a modicum of improvement into the 90-100 range on defense, Texas State should be able to compete in every game they play the rest of the season.
And that defensive improvement might be possible because...
2. The defense has to get better without John Thompson...right?
Look, I hate that Thompson felt like he had to resign for multiple reasons. It's never a good look when a coordinator leaves midseason, and by most accounts Thompson was a decent human being. But as I detailed in my reaction piece to his departure, things couldn't have started much worse on his side of the ball.
Although there is a considerable dearth of talent at linebacker and the defensive line has never been all that great to begin with, it takes a breakdown in coaching for any FBS team with this much 2-3 star talent to look this bad. A common theme from people in the know seems to have emerged that Thompson's schemes were too many and too complicated for Texas State's players to pick up properly. San Marcos Record reporter Joe Vozzelli seems to infer that this was the case.
@THETXSTUniv Definitely created confusion for players. Hurt big time against tempo teams.— Joe Vozzelli (@smdrjoe) October 1, 2015
That could just be party line spin in order for Franchione to look less bad, but given the ridiculous numbers of missed tackles and blown assignments, it may be that confusion about defensive schemes did play a role.
@THETXSTUniv Also keeping hearing about "grey areas" in defense under Thompson.— Joe Vozzelli (@smdrjoe) October 1, 2015
Grey areas likely meaning players not having set assignments and/or too many options to go through in various situations. Given how bad the young secondary's looked in pass coverage, there could be something to that.
If it really was about the defensive schemes and not entirely a lack of and/or mismanagement of talent, then help might just be on the way:
HC Dennis Franchione said he expects #TXST will "clarify and streamline" things on D. He added that "simplify" wasn't the right word for it.— Joe Vozzelli (@smdrjoe) September 30, 2015
What this probably means is that they'll quit bringing as many complicated blitz packages and back off in coverage a bit. That's not entirely confidence-inducing given the state of the d-line, but that kind of approach did help previous DC Craig Naivar to mold Texas State into a defense that could get some stops when it mattered. If Texas State can get even that, it would be a major improvement.
3. The Sun Belt doesn't look great
You saw the advanced stats above: Only Georgia Southern and Arkansas State look to be a cut above the Bobcats right now on their schedule (I'm not counting New Mexico State at 93, because they haven't won a game and that ranking frankly makes little sense). Arkansas State is also far from convincing without Fredi Knighten at the helm, not to mention their defense gave up 28 points to Idaho. As of this point, the game in Statesboro is the only game that appears to be a convincing loss.
Everything else is up in the air. Georgia State, Idaho, New Mexico State? Equally bad defenses as Texas State with offenses that are more mistake-prone. South Alabama? Solid defense, unconvincing offense that might not be able to keep up in a shootout. ULM is a big fat unknown at this juncture. If Texas State finally kicks 1-3 ULL while they're down, it's a whole new season.
Even if Texas State improves their defense into the 90-100 range, it seems unlikely that the Bobcats will reel off 7 wins out of 8 games to secure an 8-4 record given roadies to Lafayette, Statesboro, and Jonesboro. But what if Texas State can get to 7-5? Attendance has so far been excellent at FSU, Houston, and at home against Prairie View. So maybe, just maybe, somebody like the Cure Bowl would take a chance on them in that scenario.
This season isn't over yet. Now, if Texas State is 1-6 by the time NMSU rolls around...then the tone of these articles will become much, much different. Until then, go to the damn games, and see y'all in Lafayette.