By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
So now the Texas State Bobcats can mostly map their own course through the rest of the season. They are positioned where almost no one thought they could be.
Entering today’s game against Nicholls State at Bobcat Stadium (3 p.m.), the Bobcats are 6-4 overall, guaranteed that they won’t finish with a losing season and needing only one win to guarantee a winning season. They are 3-2 in the Southland Conference, in effect tied for first place with McNeese State and Northwestern State, since the league decided this week that it would rather preserve its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament than name Central Arkansas (4-1) as its champion.
With wins in their last two games and one Northwestern State loss, the Bobcats would win the SLC and move on the NCAA football playoffs. The team has performed commendably for the last six games to put itself in a good position.
“I think we’re at the point where, I like to think, we’re handling business,” Texas State coach Brad Wright said.
Yet, Wright isn’t savoring the moment, declaring victory or anything of the sort. While it’s true that Texas State could count its fifth winning season since going to Division I in 1987, that’s just good for Texas State. But Wright will tell you that “good” by Texas State standards, isn’t good enough.
“I’m not happy, I’m not excited,” Wright said. “We’re guaranteed mediocrity. That’s it.”
The Bobcats are presented today with a strange opponent in the midst of a strange season. Because of Hurricane Ike, Nicholls State didn’t play a game until Sept. 20, then lost its first four times out. By the end of October, the Colonels found a stride and notched consecutive wins against McNeese State (38-35) and Central Arkansas (20-17), the league’s preseason favorites.
The Colonels (2-5 overall, 2-3 SLC) run an unusual triple-option offense with one set back and a slot back on each side, motioning the slot backs from either direction, or both. The effect, when it works, is to confuse defenses out of holding their assignments, which is a key to defending the option.
Nicholls State has used a couple different quarterbacks, with Chris Bunch leading the team with 372 rushing yards. If all goes well for the Colonels, they will grind up the clock, because their best defense truly is their offense.
If the Bobcats have all their guns working, they ought to at least approach their average of 468.9 offensive yards per game (fifth in the nation) because Nicholls State is giving up close to that much, 444 yards per game.
That’s part of why Nicholls State is holding the ball for only 27:47 per game. Another part is turnovers. The Colonels have lost 11 fumbles and thrown six interceptions in only 78 passing attempts.
By the book, it’s a game Texas State should win at home. But in the SLC this year, there is no book.
“You know who beat both Central Arkansas and McNeese?” Wright asked. “Nicholls State. They’re coming this weekend. There were favorites before the season. It was going to be McNeese and Central Arkansas. You can’t guess. Any team can beat any team.”
The game will be the last at home for the Texas State seniors, who have taken quite a wild ride. The four-year seniors jumped on for the national semifinal run in 2005, struggled through a couple seasons and now, perhaps, may have helped set Texas State on a stable direction going to the future.
Among the seniors is wide receiver Cameron Luke, who is producing another stellar season with 60 catches, including 15 for touchdowns. With 1,088 receiving yards, Luke is second on the school’s all time career list with 2,251 receiving yards in three years, needing 229 yards in the next two games to surpass Johnny Parker (1969-1971).
“I’m going to miss it,” Luke said. “I hope to finish big.”
That’s exactly what Wright wants from this team as it heads to the finish line.