Everett Withers would just as soon forget last season. The Bobcats 2-10 finish included a ten game losing streak to FBS opponents and a team that, according to cbssports.com, was the worst team in college football. When you're in the bottom ten, does it really matter? It was bad. So what's the argument that things will be better in 2017? Is there an argument that the Bobcats could be worse? Dear God we hope not.
The Bobcats Will Be Better...
Damian Williams is in San Marcos and not Starkville. Listen, we loved Tyler Jones, but he was beaten down in 2016. He ran for his life behind a terrible offensive line and played check down football. After a record setting opener Jones was pedestrian. In wins, both of them, Jones threw for 446 yards a game. In losses, all ten of them, Jones threw for 143 yards a game. One of those wins was against Incarnate Word which we don't really count, but out of respect for Jones we will.
Enter Damian Williams from Mississippi State, a stocky fullback sized quarterback with a big arm and more importantly, decent running ability. Williams could be a huge addition for the 'Cats. We'd like to see what he can do as a full time starter in Texas State's offense. If he doesn't make a full season then ignore all this and skip ahead because the Bobcats have nothing behind him. For as much as Withers needs Williams to break the pocket and run on occasion, Withers needs Williams to stay healthy.
Better up front...Texas State's offensive and defensive lines will be bigger and hopefully better. Size and talent have been issues up front since Texas State made the move up to the FBS. The 'Cats have been waiting for real live, FBS looking linemen on both fronts. Defensive ends Dean Taylor, Jordan Mittie, and Ishmael Davis, if we're to believe the spring roster, have all added thirty pounds or more to their respective frames. Their bigger on the interior as well. That's a big deal for Texas State because last season linebacker Gabe Lloyd at 240 weighed more than four of the six defensive line two-deep. That size will help as the season grinds on and will free up the Bobcat linebackers, arguably the strength of the team, to flow and make plays.
On the offensive line, Texas State struggled with numbers and experience in 2016. This season however, there are some answers. Aaron Brewer looks like a bedrock offensive line player, a guy you can build around. Jaquel Pierce had a nice spring at guard and Tristian Mizerak looked good at tackle. The Bobcats have real competition at some line spots this offseason, a luxury they lacked last season.
Have we mentioned linebackers? Texas State is deep at the linebackers position and it starts with Bryan London. London ranked second in tackles per game in the whole freakin' FBS. He's joined by Gabe Lloyd and Frankie Griffin who both played at a high level in 2016. Lloyd and London (I feel a marketing campaign coming on) combined for almost 250 tackles and fourteen tackles for loss. Griffin returned from a 2015 knee injury to start six games in 2016 and make 46 stops. Gavin Graham started four games in 2016 and made 47 stops as a true freshman.
Again, the improved and bigger defensive line should really help Lloyd and London et al make even more impactful plays. As others have pointed out the Bobcat defense didn't so much give up big plays but were just generally gouged by their opponents. Texas State's opponents average a quarterback rating of 157 in their twelve games, 3rd worst among all FBS defenses. Meanwhile opponents rushed for almost five yards a carry. That's not Texas Tech bad, but it was 96th in the country. If Texas State can slow opposing offense down, slow down something, anything, be it run or pass, that's a huge step.
The Bobcats Will be Worse...
Could Texas State be worse? Please no. There are children present, so please no. Perhaps a sink hole or this global warming thing really kicks up a notch. Some sort of biblical plague? It's hard to imagine but let's dive down the abyss.
Keep Damian Williams healthy. If Damian Williams gets hurt, we've got trouble. Withers is bringing in a slew of young quarterbacks in the 2017 recruiting class, we assume some won't play quarterback. If they play quarterback in 2017 the 'Cats are in trouble. The other two quarterbacks already on the roster, Joseph Gonzalez and Michael Ross just aren't ready.
Symbiosis... College football, it's all a symbiotic relationship. Yes, we just dropped a symbiotic reference, we're Yoda. Here's what we mean, last season opponents could play Texas State's offense straight up and win. Idaho blitzed three times in a blowout win over the Bobcats because they knew they could get pressure with three or four. That leaves seven or eight in coverage and clogs passing lanes. Tyler Jones couldn't push the ball downfield because he literally had no time and as a result it was check down city. Jones threw three passes over nine yards the entire game.
What helps that is an effective running game, to keep defenses honest and bring boundary and secondary defenders closer to the line, or at least makes them think about the run. Texas State was dead last rushing the ball in 2016 in terms of yards per carry at 2.32.
Defensively Texas State couldn't rush the passer. At all. When they committed more players to the rush they were exposed on the back end. Now your covering for longer in the secondary and pass plays develop and are more efficient. Opponents ran for almost five yards a carry, so now safeties start cheating up, your rush slows down, your linebackers get caught up in the wash, it's all bad.
What's the point? We don't think Texas State will be the flood of ineptitude that they were in 2016. The line should be better or at least serviceable. The Bobcats have pretty good returning skill talent. Williams is a dual threat at quarterback.
Defensively, the young players are growing in both experience and girth. The linebackers should make a larger impact and the secondary will benefit from what is hopefully an improved pass rush. All those things add up to a better season, but if any of them struggle, the dominoes fall pretty quickly. Just keep Damian Williams upright and healthy. We don't want to ponder the alternative.