Well, that was fun. The Sun Belt preempted the scheduling process by proactively telling Idaho and New Mexico State that they could kick rocks all the way back to the Big Sky well ahead of the March 10 decision deadline, so we had to wait a few days to find out if Karl Benson and the #FunBelt would give the Texas State Bobcats another head-scratching schedule.
For once, they didn't! The good news is the Sun Belt's set schedule for Texas State is relatively forgiving and, for once, makes plenty of sense. The bad news is that Texas State's out of conference slate is a damn buzzsaw outside of their one FCS matchup, just like last year. Here's hoping all the new energy in the locker room caused by Coach Withers's culture change to the program will also help the team build plenty of resiliency. They're gonna need it.
Without further ado:
A new era for @TXSTATEFOOTBALL begins under @everett_withers with this 2016 schedule. pic.twitter.com/L5X1B5qD71— #FunBelt (@SunBelt) March 3, 2016
The Out of Conference Slate Will Be Rough
We all knew the out of conference slate was going to be brutal even if Dennis Franchione had come back for a sixth season and there hadn't been major upheaval to the Bobcat roster. Two early road trips against a MAC bowl team and a seemingly ascendant SEC team in Arkansas represent a tough test and a meat grinder of a game, respectively, especially for a new head coach and a very young team with tons of questions at key positions.
It doesn't get any easier for Coach Withers's crew with Tom Herman's "Probably Should Be in the Big 12 by Now" Houston Cougars coming to San Marcos for what should be a sold out home opener. The Coogs, who were the class of the Group of Five and avenged the Bobcats' shocking 2012 upset in efficient and murderous fashion last season, will pose a test in Texas State's home opener that might be even tougher than that which was posed by Texas Tech in 2012.
So let's be brutally honest here: Even though we're all rightly ecstatic about the new energy sweeping through Texas State football, our beloved 'Cats might be lucky to be 1-2 by the time Incarnate Word finally rolls into Bobcat Stadium four weeks into the season.
Oh, and don't sleep on Incarnate Word. Although the Southland Conference upstart is far from the intimidating FCS profile of a Jacksonville State or NDSU, they'll likely view the game as a local rivalry and play at a level much higher than what UAPB or PVAMU had to offer in previous seasons. The Cardinals have finally started their ascent to relative respectability (by Southland standards) and if the Everett Withers experiment isn't going to plan by Game 4, that game could be uncomfortably close.
Conference Play is "Easier"
Because of the bottom of the conference improving as well as the turnover on the roster and coaching staff that occurred after Dennis Franchione's retirement, Texas State now exists in a brave new world where previously assumed wins (pre-2015, at least) against the likes of Georgia State, NMSU, Idaho, and even ULM are far from guaranteed. Unless Withers gives the defense an immediate kick in the rear and figures out the frankly scary situations at OL and WR, every single Sun Belt game is a toss-up at best.
Thankfully, the conference schedule itself is a bit forgiving. Early contests at Georgia State and ULM will be tough but winnable, and getting ULL at home might not be the terrifying prospect it once was. Georgia Southern gets dropped for a "hold onto yer butts" trip to Appalachian State, and OUR MOST HATED RIVAL South Alabama gets swapped out for an also winnable game against a Troy team that's still finding its feet.
Idaho at home is also a possible (but far from guaranteed) win, although by the time Texas State visits Las Cruces on November 19, they'd better hope Larry Rose III decides to forego his "Bobcats didn't offer" revenge tour and quits football to go on a spiritual consciousness journey across the Himalayas. Namaste, Larry.
As for defending conference champs Arkansas State, well...at least it's at home. Guess the 'Belt is trying to force an end of season rivalry game down our throat with those folks. At least this means we can all get in more famous state celebrity/alumni staring contests with that weirdo Jeremy Harper on Twitter.
Sidebar: No bizarre scheduling, no national tv games (probably)
There have long been complaints--petty, maybe, but justified--from the Bobcat camp about Sun Belt scheduling oddities that other schools didn't have to deal with, such as playing (read: getting slaughtered by) ULL within the first week or two of conference play, and having two early season bye weeks within three weeks of each other while having to play two midweek games on short rest later in the season.
Yet aside from having to start conference play with two road games, which is hardly uncommon, Texas State really has little to complain about with their 2016 conference slate. They get a balanced four home, four away slate, no ridiculously difficult 3-4 game stretches that could kill the team's confidence, and no bizarre bye week setups.
Why's that, you ask? Because every single game is on a Saturday instead of midweek. Which means no national TV games. That'll happen after you crater with a 3-9 season.
Hopefully Coach Withers and company will help fix that lack of tv exposure in the near future. For now, though? Improving on last year's total of 3 wins and rebuilding the roster would be a start.