Not all rebuilds are created equal. Some require patch work at certain units to replace graduating stars. Others demand a little more than a fresh set of eyes and loftier expectations. The toughest jobs require a culture refresh and a whole new foundation. Everett Withers inherits a slice of all three issues in San Marcos.
Previous head coach Dennis Franchione did a solid job boosting the Bobcats from the Southland Conference to the Sun Belt, boasting solid recruiting classes and an ability to turn FBS transfers into contributors. Franchione did lead Texas State to a strong 7-5 season in 2014 but wasn’t able to parlay that success into the following season after the Bobcats failed to receive a bowl bid.
Ultimately, Franchione’s failure wasn’t so much football related as it was discipline oriented. San Marcos is a great place to party and the Bobcat football team were regulars on the “Square”, the college town’s entertainment district, throughout the 2015 season.
Withers’ first task upon accepting the job in San Marcos was to weed out the leaches in the program— fellas that didn’t want to put in the work necessary to build a championship caliber program, but were happy to sport their team apparel to Chimy’s for $2.50 double wells on Thursday night before a home game. The team’s culture was lethargic and absolutely toxic to those players on the roster that were dedicated to winning football games.
Bear Bryant would be proud of Withers’... aggressive... approach to rooting out the issue. San Marcos Record beat writer Ishmael Johnson gave us a look into the “cleanse” of Bobcat football.
Withers’ tactics had the results one could expect. Per Kirk Bohls at the Austin Stateman, Texas State’s roster is down to 71 scholarship players. The majority of their competition in the Sun Belt will have 85 players on scholarship. A gap of 14 scholarship players is massive and will cause severe harm to the Bobcats’ depth, especially on special teams. Any incoming freshman thinking about redshirting? Forget about it.
Needless to say, this season could be rough for the Bobcats just strictly based off the numbers. Time will tell if Withers’ purge of the program will pay dividends but the parallels to Charlie Strong’s entrance at the University of Texas, just 31 miles up Interstate 35, are obvious. Three seasons later, Strong is still trying to climb out of a hole he dug for himself after kicking a huge portion of the roster off the team in 2014.
While the numbers in San Marcos look dreadful, the talent level isn’t nearly as scary. Senior quarterback Tyler Jones returns to build on his honorable mention all conference designation last year. Jones is an elusive runner that periodically struggles with passing accuracy. He might not have a future playing on Sundays but he’s certainly talented enough to carry the Bobcats through the 2016 season. Withers will have plenty of options behind Jones if needed, including Missouri graduate transfer Eddie Printz.
The Bobcats are also in pretty strong shape at running back, a position Franchione and his staff recruited extremely well. Senior Tyler Siudzinski, sophomore Stedman Mayberry, and true freshman Tyler Tutt have all splits first team carries at running back. Both Siudzinski and Mayberry rushed for over 4 yards per carry last season.
Unfortunately, the rest of the offense is a myriad of question marks. Eight out of the Bobcats’ top nine returning pass catcher have left the team and the roster does not have a single wide receiver with an FBS catch to his name. Former quarterback LG Williams moved out wide to hopefully provide the offense with a spark but Texas State will need to find a go-to option that can consistently move the chains.
The offensive line is in just as poor shape. Offensive tackle Ryan Melton (6’5”, 325) and guard Felix Romero (6’4”, 303) return with terrific size to provide the building blocks of what could be a fine starting unit. Past that? Close your eyes and hope for the best. Any injuries to the starting five could prove to be absolutely disastrous with zero depth to speak of behind the starting unit.
Defensive coordinator Randall McCray’s defense faces similar woes in the trenches despite the move to a 3-4 defense. Undersized defensive tackle Dallas McClarty is the only returning defensive lineman that registered double-digit tackles last season as Karee’ Berry has moved to linebacker and Jeff Banks to tight end. If Texas State wants to run a 3-4 defense that can compete against the run they’ll need to find a massive, space-eating defensive tackle. That won’t happen this season as the four Bobcats listed on the roster as nose tackles average out to be 6’0”, 257 pounds.
Playing in front of what may be a porous defensive line, Texas State’s linebackers will have a lot of pressure on them to play downfield and shed blocks. The Bobcats have a staggering 19 linebackers on their roster competing for four spots. There are some pretty good options here including 6’3”, 220 pound former UT track athlete Easy Anyama. Previously mentioned Karee’ Berry should provide an adequate pass rush off the edge after tallying 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks as a defensive end last season.
Despite losing talented cornerback David Mims II, the Bobcat secondary should be salty in 2016 if the front seven can create some pocket pressure. Standout senior strong safety Damani Alexcee provides a play-making presence to the defense while junior Brandon McDowell has skins on the wall, notching 38.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and six pass breakups last season. Keep an eye on junior college transfer Quinn Tiggs. His size at 6’0”, 190 pounds could be a challenge for Sunbelt receivers.
As if the forecast was gloomy enough for the Bobcats, the start to the schedule makes the situation even worse. With an opening trio of Ohio, Arkansas, and Houston, Texas State will likely start the season 0-3. If the Bobcats can survive, they’ll have an opportunity to salvage the season with upset wins over either Arkansas State or Louisiana Lafayette, both of which travel to San Marcos.
While wins may be sparse this season, Bobcat fans will still have plenty of reason to tune in. Withers is taking this program in the right direction, even if the record at the end of the season doesn’t show it. Sports fans hate the phrase, but it’s time to embrace the process. Texas State has all of the resources needed to be a Sun Belt powerhouse but it’s going to take some deep cleaning to get the house in order. The Bobcats may take it on the chin at times but they’ll have their comeuppance once Withers has the opportunity to append his foundation with talented, high-character athletes that fit the system.
Preseason MVP: Tyler Jones
Breakout Candidate: LG Williams
9/3: vs. Ohio (L) - Ohio controls the tempo in Bobcat v. Bobcat abuse and squeaks out a slim win on the road.
9/17: @ Arkansas (L) - Ouch. Please no injuries.
9/24: vs. Houston (L) - A fun atmosphere at Bobcat Stadium turns sour after Greg Ward scrambles his way to multiple touchdowns.
10/1: vs. Incarnate Word (W) - The Bobcats finally get over the hump and start to figure themselves out a little bit.
10/8: @ Georgia State (W) - Tyler Jones turns in a great performance as Georgia State struggles to replace Nick Arbuckle. Big game for both programs.
10/15: @ UL Monroe (W) - It’s a win streak! Bobcats win big with a dominating performance on the ground.
10/22: vs. UL Lafayette (L) - Texas State’s defense struggles to contain Elijah McGuire and Anthony Jennings in a blow out for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
11/5: @ Appalachian State (L) - Another ugly loss but the Bobcats’ bowl hopes remain alive.
11/12: vs. Idaho (L) - Matt Linehan gets the best of the Bobcats secondary in a high-scoring slugfest.
11/19: vs. New Mexico State (L) - Larry Rose III does his thing in a disappointing loss for the Bobcats as injury and fatigue starts to take its toll on an already depleted roster.
11/26: vs. Troy (W) - Things start to click again as Texas State rushes to a big win as some freshmen start to come into their own.
12/3: vs. Arkansas State (L) - The Bobcats can’t keep up with the talented Red Wolves but show enough fight to leave hope for a better 2017 campaign.
Record prediction: 4-8