Joint preview this week! Our esteemed Arkansas State beat writer Jeremy Harper and our...slightly disgruntled Texas State beat writer Will Butler team up to bring you a double stuffed preview of a game that will decide whether only one or multiple teams will get a Sun Belt Conference championship trophy.
It was supposed to be better for Texas State, who last year endured the indignity of being denied a bowl game despite recording a seven-win season. Despite losing a whopping five players to the 2015 NFL draft, including defensive studs Craig Mager and David Mayo, the Bobcats were expected to compete in the Sun Belt. The conference coaches ranked Texas State 5th in the preseason poll. Bobcats signal caller, Tyler Jones, was named Phil Steele's 2nd Team All Sun Belt. And the program was stable with head coach Dennis Franchione and 2nd-year DC John Thompson.
The season did not go as scripted.
The defense is awful – so awful that Thompson resigned mid-season. The Bobcats' total defense ranking went from 99th in the nation (not great to begin with) to 115th. Total offense went from 44th (pretty damn good) to 72nd. Tyler Jones ranks third to last in the Sun Belt for QB Rating (120.2), and the Bobcats as a whole ranks 7th in the conference for total offense. Yuck.
Meanwhile, the Red Wolves took their lumps against USC, Missouri and Toledo before steamrolling the Sun Belt, averaging 48 ppg in conference play. The Monster D leads the nation with 24 INTs and 5 Pick Sixes, earning DC Joe Cauthen a nomination for a Broyles Award. Last week, A-State punished New Mexico State 52-28 to guarantee at least a share of the SBC title.
The only objective remaining for Blake Anderson's Red Wolves is securing full custody of the Sun Belt Championship.
Broadcast: ESPN3, The Official Channel of the Sun Belt.
Weather Forecast: 55º and awesome.
Location: Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro, AR (capacity: 30,964)
Radio: 107.9 KFIN (A-State), KTSW 89.9 (Texas State)
Series Record: The series is deadlocked 1-1, with the Bobcats the defending series champ.
Betting Line: A-State is a -26 favorite over Texas State.
A-State's ESPN FPI Chances: 90.6%
More bowls set: Arkansas State to New Orleans, Georgia Southern to GoDaddy & Appalachian State to Camellia, sources told @ESPN— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 2, 2015
After a run of results ranging from mediocre to painful and an increasingly wearisome litany of excuses following bad losses, one previously forgotten word has wormed its way into the lexicons of Bobcat fans everywhere: Hope.
Yes, you read that right.
Danny Kaspar's intrepid basketballers put an unholy 76-53 beatdown on rival UTSA Wednesday night in Strahan Coliseum, forcing 26(!) turnovers and smashing the birds' guts against the unforgiving Wall Of Power. Emani Gant is the athletic star forward that is the engine behind this team, and Kavin Gilder-Tilbury has added a new facet to his game along with his shot-blocking: Three point shooting. 6'7" forward Maljhum McCrea adds a bruising presence down low, and seniors Cameron Naylor and Ethan Montalvo help drive an offense that has looked as good as any Kaspar team.
The Red Wolves received a modicum of respect in the preseason poll, garnering a 4th place vote partially based off of four returning starters, including star forward Anthony Livingston who will terrorize Sun Belt defenses. However, much like their in-state cousins UT-Arlington, the Bobcats were overlooked in the preseason poll and will use their righteous anger to take out their frustrations on an unwitting conference, including those same Red Wolves who split with the 'Cats last season.
Just look at that behind the back pass with the follow up jam starting at 0:36. Take heart, Texas State fans. The culture's changing. The players are buying in, and the coaches are fostering a culture of excellence and don't accept excuses from their players or, refreshingly, from themselves. Best of all, it's fun to watch.
Well, that's all true in at least one sport.
Official Prediction, Yo!
"That wasn't a football preview, Will."
"This is Underdog Dynasty, a football website. If you wanna write about basketball, go write for Mid Major Madness."
"As God is my witness, if you make me write another sentence about this football program this season that doesn't involve the words 'thank you seniors for all of the hard work you put in,' I will absolutely punt this laptop straight into the Gulf of Mexico. Roll damn Kasparball."
Arkansas State 49, Texas State 24