(This is the ninth in a series previewing the teams in the Sun Belt Conference and the non conference opponents for Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns.  Today:  Texas State.  The Bobcats host the Cajuns in a nationally televised game Tuesday night, October 14th on ESPN2.)

For the first time in four years, Texas State will have the same home this year that they had the year before.  From an FCS member of the Southland to a year as an independent and a year in the Western Athletic Conference, The Bobcats have found a permanent home in the Sun Belt.  Veteran Head Coach Dennis Franchione, who has won over 200 games as a collegiate head coach, led his team to a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility in the Bobcats’ first year in the Belt.  But the ‘Cats lost their final three games last year by an average of nearly 21 points per game.  Franchione wants his team to start well again…but this time finish well, too.

It was quarterback by committee for Texas State a year ago as they played three quarterbacks extensively before settling on freshman Tyler Jones.  Jones completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 1130 yards and eight scores.  He also ran for 257 net yards.  Jones started seven straight games but played banged up at the end of the season.  The others who played at the position are gone and the job belongs to the sophomore.  UTEP transfer Blaire Sullivan is the only other quarterback who has played a down of FBS football.

The running game is in good hands.  Robert Lowe was a second team all-SBC pick a year ago after rushing for 945 yards and nine touchdowns.  His primary backups, Chris Nutall and Terrence Franks combined for nearly 700 more yards and they both return as well.  That’s nearly 300 carries returning, making this unit one of the league’s most experienced.

It’s no secret the biggest issue for Texas State last year was consistency at quarterback.  Now they have more experience, but must replace their top two wide outs.  Ben Ijah, who caught 16 passes last year and Brandon Smith, with 22, have the most returning experience.  JC redshirt C. J. Best is being counted on to contribute.  TE Bradley Miller caught 24 balls a year ago and Texas State will look for him a lot.

The offensive line gave up 81 tackles and 21 sacks last year and they have to be better.  They should be.  Four starters and eight of their top ten linemen return and they start only one senior up front.  That alone should make the Bobcats offense better.

There are a lot of issues for Texas State on the defensive line after losing five players who logged extensive playing time.  There are a slew of junior college players being counted on heavily here, many of whom redshirted a year ago.  There’s some talent, but almost no FBS experience here and the line is a big question mark.

Although the Bobcats lost linebacker Justin Iwuji, this unit is in good shape as the Bobcats’ two best defensive players play this position.  Both Michael Orapko and David Mayo received honorable mention from the coaches a year ago.  The two combined for 160 tackles and 14.5 TFL last year.  There are newcomers in the secondary, but Craig Mager and Colby Targun combined for more than 100 tackles a season ago.

Overall the defense has work to do.  They only forced five fumbles and had just 18 sacks last season.  That part of the defense has to get better if the Bobcats are going to be better.

The kicking game is in good shape as Jason Dann, who was 9-10 in FG last year returns along with Punter Will Johnson who averaged over 40 yards per punt.  KR Brandon Smith returned two against the Cajuns for touchdowns last year and he hopes to terrorize them again.

Texas State does not play Troy or Appalachian State this year.  Their non conference games aren’t killer.  They get Navy at home along with UAPB and travel to Illinois and Tulsa.  They get both Louisiana and Arkansas State at home in league play, but have to travel to ULM and South Alabama.

OUTLOOK:  The schedule is manageable.  The key for Texas State will be finding a way to get one of those big two (UL and A-State) at home and either ULM or South Alabama on the road.  If they can get one of each, they’re looking at maybe an eight win season.  They’ll be at least a break even team this year.  If the offense, particularly in quarterback consistency is better and the Bobcats can be better at taking the football away, they’ve got a good chance to play at 13th game.  They’re probably not ready to finish among the league’s elite.  But they’re getting there.