San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 24th, 2008
Going big time through the small time

Points: A Sports Column
Editor at Large

While the Texas State athletic department pushes for big time football in the near future, its Southland Conference brethren suggest that the Bobcats still have to master the small time.

The league’s coaches and sports information directors both picked the Bobcats to finish sixth in the eight-team league at this week’s league media days in Houston. McNeese State, the 2007 champion, was predicted as the 2008 conference champion by a virtually unanimous vote.

McNeese is sort of the stock choice in the Southland. The Cowboys have won 12 league titles. The other seven programs in the league have won 11 Southland titles combined. McNeese pulled seven of eight first-place votes among the coaches, and it probably would have been eight, except McNeese Head Coach Matt Viator is prohibited by the rules from voting for his own team.

Off the field, Texas State has undertaken an ambitious project to apply for Football Bowl Championship status in 2011. The project calls for substantial upgrades across the athletic department, including attendance benchmarks for football. Towards a goal of averaging 15,000 in the seats for each home football game, alums Jerry and Linda Fields of Houston recently donated $100,000 so more than 1,000 season tickets could be distributed to recent alumni.

But it remains that Texas State must demonstrate it won’t be a pushover on the football field. The Bobcats must at least be competitive in the Southland Conference, which isn’t one of the better regarded leagues at the FCS level.

Obviously, McNeese is the league standard, the school Texas State has to match if it’s going to going to matter in the Southland, let alone reach excellence at the Football Championship Series (FCS) level. That is the distance Texas State has to travel.

On the field, last year, McNeese hung a 41-20 drubbing on Texas State at Bobcat Stadium. The Bobcats hung with McNeese for a little more than a quarter, leading, 10-7, three minutes into the second period. Then, the Bobcats surrendered three long touchdowns, all 36 yards or more, one by the run and two by the pass. Before the third quarter ended, McNeese held a 34-13 lead.

The defense is where Texas State most needs to improve. The Bobcats ranked 108th out of 116 FCS teams last year in scoring defense, allowing 37.6 points per game, and 112th in total defense, allowing 460 yards per game. Only once last year did Texas State give up fewer than 29 points in a game.

“Defensively, we have three new coaches, including Fred Bleil as our defensive coordinator,” Texas State Coach Brad Wright told reporters at this week’s league meda days in Houston. “They made some strides last spring and need to continue that improvement this season.”

However, the Bobcats could be about halfway to matching McNeese this year, depending on the productivity and efficiency of their offense. The Bobcats are loaded with nine returning starters, including four players on the league’s preseason first or second teams. Texas State stands to be very good “up the middle,” as it were.

The center, senior Jeff Bowen, is on the preseason second team. The fullback, senior Blake Burton, is primarily a blocker who made the preseason first team. If these players perform as their projections indicate, the Bobcats should be able to control the middle with their running attack, thereby opening up the margins.

It doesn’t hurt that Texas State also is well loaded for running backs. Sophomore Karrington Bush, a league second-team selection in the preseason, carried last year for 1,039 yards. Bush received his chance because of an injury to Stan Zwingga, who rushed for more than 800 yards in 2006 and returns this year. The Bobcats also can call on former San Marcos High standout Alvin Canady.

The quarterback, Bradley George, passed for 2,099 yards last year with 16 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 120. Wright told the media this week that he would like to see more consistency from George so he may become “a championship caliber quarterback.”

Wide receiver Cameron Luke is one of the league’s top-flight offensive players, making the preseason first team after 60 catches last year for 1,035 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

The key questions for any football team are whether the stronger unit will play up to its capability and whether the weaker unit will at least not hurt the effort. Can the Texas State offense produce so much that the defense almost doesn’t matter? Can the defense play well enough to hold the fort on days when the offense isn’t at its best?

“We have been working hard to change the attitudes and work ethic in our team since last January so that we can become a better team,” Wright said.

Those are the large issues for the Bobcats when they begin workouts early next month. After last year’s 4-7 finish, they’ve got some distance to travel before they conquer the small time. But they are steps the Bobcats need to take before they’re accepted into the big time.

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