Let's recap the Everett Withers era. Year one, the powers that be pull the plug on Dennis Franchione's failed tenure and turn to Withers. Cue the mass exodus of players via transfer or, and we're being politically correct here, separating from the program. In real terms, Withers kicked a bunch of guys off the squad. Texas State is legitimately the worst team in college football in 2016. After a win over Ohio, which is still incredible to fathom and watch, and a win over Southland cellar dweller Incarnate Word, the 'Cats took their two wins and went home.
In the offseason, Withers said some things about his first squad that maybe he shouldn't have said, you know, how they were bad guys and he didn't want children around them, and that made headlines. The Bobcats recruit at a high level, Withers starts turning over his decrepit roster, and more importantly, he redshirts the majority of those first two classes.
Texas State takes the field in 2017 and suddenly...wins two games. On the surface, four wins in two seasons is a failure, and yes, it's not ideal, but if you watched the games, you saw a different team. The Bobcats gave Colorado all they could handle for two-plus quarters. The 'Cats came within a yard of sending their game with Appalachian State into OT. Texas State, who was curb stomped by New Mexico State in 2016, played the Aggies to within ten points in 2017. The 'Cats lost a close game to Louisiana Monroe and another one to Georgia State.
They did all that with another year of poor quarterback play and an offensive line that played a ton of young players and learned on the job. From 2015 to now, the Bobcats are bigger, faster, and better. The roster is turning, and Texas State continues to recruit at a high level.
No, the sky is not falling. No, smart asses, it hasn't already collapsed. Texas State's program is building, now they have to learn to take that next step from competing in games to winning them, but they are on schedule to be a tough out.
Last season Texas State couldn't function in a conventional offense. A lot of their scoring plays came from scheme or gadget plays. That has to change before their offense is efficient. That starts up front, but it also begins with a quarterback that makes the defense defend a bigger portion of the field. A quarterback that makes the defense uncomfortable.
Enter Willie Jones III.
Withers believes, as Urban Meyer does, in a true dual-threat quarterback. A player that defenses must account for in the run game and that safeties must respect in the passing game. Tyler Jones wasn't that player. Damian Williams wasn't that player. Willie Jones might be. In limited action, Jones played with an instinctual fluid ability that's been missing from the Texas State offense. Again, it's limited in sample size, but he flashes all over the place.
Jaylen Gipson will back up Jones after redshirting out of Mexia. Tyler Vitt arrives on campus this summer after signing in February. The hope would be to redshirt Vitt this season.
Going back to the offensive line, none of this works without a physical front, bullying people around. The Bobcats have perhaps the best offensive lineman in the Sun Belt in Aaron Brewer. Brewer can play any position on the line, but he looks to be at left tackle now. That move allows Reece Jordan to continue at center, where he played well during the latter part of the 2017 season.
Tate Heitmeier, a walk-on has the edge at left guard while the right side will be manned by Josiah Washington at guard and Jacob Rowland at tackle. Tanner King and Nick Foster will be in the mix as well. Foster played primarily at left tackle last year as a redshirt freshman. All those names are either second or third-year players, brought on by Withers.
If that unit can find five cohesive pieces, this offense is a handful. The skill talent in San Marcos is pretty good.
Robert Brown and Anthony Taylor return at running back. Anthony Smith injured his ankle in the spring game and may be out for an extended period. Taylor and Brown will form a running back by committee.
At receiver, the Bobcats have tons of options. Tyler Watts is a game breaker who defenses must find and deal with. Before his knee injury, Mason Hays was a vertical threat as well. Jeremiah Haydel, Hutch White, and Caleb Twyford came on as well. Twyford gives the Bobcats a bigger target.
Texas State will have to replace Gabe Schrade at tight end, but Brendan Rushing is a plus athlete and is experienced in the program. T.J. Flinta transferred in from Mississippi State and made a couple of nice plays in the spring game.
Chris Woods replaces Randall McCray leading the Bobcat defense. McCray headed off to the NFL; Woods comes down after working as an analyst for Oklahoma. The Bobcats will run a multiple front, using three and four down lineman and moving between 3-4 base and a four down nickel.
Up front, the transfer of Jordan Mittie is a setback. Mittie grew, literally and figuratively, into one of the better defensive linemen in the Sun Belt. Sami Awad and Jaquel Pierce will play inside. Awad is a fire hydrant that you need in an odd man front, and Pierce made a successful transition from the offensive side to defense. Gjemar Daniels and Caveon Patton will play in the rotation as well.
At end, Ishmael Davis should be back from a knee injury to join Kumonde Hines and Hal Vinson. Dean Taylor is listed at defensive end, but he can swing inside if necessary.
Bryan London, one of the most productive linebackers in the county is back for his junior campaign. He's averaged 9.6 tackles per game since starting as a redshirt freshman. He'll hold down the inside with Clifton Lewis and Nickolas Daniels.
Frankie Griffin is explosive outside. He created 18.5 havoc plays last year including four sacks and two forced fumbles. Vinson bulked up to 240 last year and gives the Bobcats some options either as a down lineman or standup end/linebacker.
The secondary is full of potential but not a lot of production. JaShon Waddy is the headliner at corner. He played last year with one arm and spent the spring healing up. Kordell Rogers and Anthony Taylor played significant snaps on the edge last season. Rogers has a lot of upside while Taylor's height makes him a better fit a the nickel. 6-4 Dennis Johnson moves from receiver to cornerback.
At safety, A. J. Krawczyk was a revelation last season. He was always around the football and played linebacker in McCray's third-down sets. Fresno State transfer Jalen Smith gets the first crack at the other safety position. Josh Newman will be in the mix as well. Preston Dimery saw action in nine games and will play behind Krawczyk.
Marcus Ripley is back after averaging 42 yards a punt in 2017. He got plenty of work after punting 81 times last season. Foster Hilborn is back after stepping in last season to the kicking duties; he made 64% of his attempt with a long of 37. James Sherman made 71% of his field goal attempts and handled kick off chores.
Aaron Brewer - Tackle
Brewer is a freakish athlete with a nice mean streak and physicality. He's a two-time All-Sun Belt selection.
Tyler Watts - Receiver
Watts caught 40 passes last season for two scores and averaged a guady 27 yards on five carries. He's a dangerous playmaker in the open field.
Bryan London - Linebacker
232 tackles in two seasons, he finished second in the FBS in tackles as a redshirt freshman with 141 and followed that up with another excellent season in 2017.
Frankie Griffin - Linebacker
Griffin is undersized but over-productive. He lives in opponents' backfields and punishes ball carriers.
JaShon Waddy - Cornerback
The toughest dude in San Marcos played last season with a bad shoulder and still made 55 tackles, 42 solos and five pass breakups.
The Bobcats turn some of those close losses into wins. 6-6.
Quarterback problems and line issues persist and the Bobcats can finish games. 3-9.
My world for a quarterback. That cry might be answered with Willie Jones. The defense should be better as frontline players and depth improve. Texas State should be in this for the long haul with Withers. This team is close, but won't make a huge leap in 2018.