Everett Withers begins his third year with a road trip to New Jersey to take on Big 10 foe Rutgers. Typing Big 10 and Rutgers in the same sentence is still odd. Former Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash is in year three as well, trying to turn the Scarlet Knights into something other than homecoming fodder.
Here are a few quick thoughts on the game...
It's Willie's Time
Everett Withers named Willie Jones III the starter for Saturday's opener. The move isn't a huge surprise; he's the only quarterback on the roster who's taken a college snap. Jones has all the physical tools and is the type of rangy athlete that you like to have in case everything breaks down. He flashed last season in limited action, now the job is his, and Brett Elliott has had time to mold the offense to Jones' skill set.
Against the Scarlet Knights looks for Elliott to give Jones simple reads and tell him when all else fails, run. That's probably Jones greatest asset; he has a different gear. That speed and quickness will force Rutgers to devote assets to keep him in the pocket and mitigate what he can do via improvisation. If Jones gets got out early, watch out, the Bobcats could give Rutgers problems.
Meet Art Sitkowski
The highest rated recruit in Scarlet Knight history will start on Saturday. Artur Sitkowski, a true freshman, is a big dude at 6-5, 220 pounds with a rocket arm and what Rutgers coaches believe is pro-potential. Sitkowksi played for the evil three letter, IMG last season but he's a Jersey kid. He de-committed from Miami to play for his home state team.
Rutgers is hoping that Sitkowski can jumpstart their anemic offense and develop in a program-changing quarterback. Texas State won't be around to see if that happens, but on Saturday Defensive Coordinator Chris Woods and company can make life hard on him. No matter his pedigree, the speed of the college game is different, and the Bobcats will want to find ways to speed up his internal clock and make him uncomfortable.
Receiver Improvement, Line Questions
Texas State expects a young, talented group of receivers to be a big part of the offense this season. Known commodities Tyler Watts, Hutch White, Mason Hays, T.J. Bedford, and Jeremiah Haydel are all back, Hays from a season-ending injury. Add to that mix talented freshman like Jacoby Hopkins and T.J. Graham and the Bobcats have a solid rotation for Willie Jones to get the ball to.
None of that matters if Texas State can't block up front. The Bobcats expect to be better with the return of Aaron Brewer and Reece Jordan, but the other spots are question marks. Brewer's move to tackle at the end of last year is now permanent, and Jordan stays at center. The Bobcat front has to allow for a sustained running attack to take pressure off Jones and keep Rutgers honest on defense.
The Illusion of Permanence
Bobcat fans need counseling or shock therapy if they've stuck with the program through the last few years. After four wins in Everett Withers' first two seasons, it's easy to dismiss Texas State or associate this team with the 2016 squad, one of the worst in college football. We saw 2017 differently, last season offered a lot of hope for 'Cat fans and further that this team might be among the most improved in the state this season. But this is America, by God, and we want results, and we want them now, and if we don't see them, then nothing's changed. But things are changing at Texas State.
Looking beyond the wins and losses, the talent on the Texas State roster is better than its ever been. The Bobcats stayed in games with Appalachian State, New Mexico State, and Georgia State last season, not to mention hanging around at Colorado for two-plus quarters.
Texas State is getting better, and that will translate into wins this season. They're trending in the right direction. The Rutgers game is a chance to establish a level of effort and execution and see how things play out. The Scarlet Knights are a program with issues. Plagued by off the field issues and a bad offense, Rutgers needs to start quickly against Texas State to eliminate doubt. If the 'Cats can flip the script and get off to a good start, Rutgers doesn't have the horses to regroup and run away, like Colorado did last season.