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Texas State to play for championship ‘in our hearts'
All football teams play for a championship of some sort.
In Pop Warner, high school, college and the pros — there’s always a title to be won, right?
Well, not exactly.
This fall, the Texas State Bobcats can’t win a championship and can’t make the playoffs.
They’ll play essentially as an independent, no longer as a member of the Southland Conference.
One year removed from the SLC and one year away from entry into the Western Athletic Conference, Texas State players will need to pull together and find less tangible motivation than pursuit of a title, or a trophy.
In some respects, with the season-opener looming Saturday at Texas Tech, they already have.
Texas State senior offensive line star D.J. Hall said it “feels great” to have played at Texas State during the era in which the program started the journey to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
In Hall’s first year on campus, students rallied around the program, voting in April 2008 to increase fees to get the ball rolling toward an upgrade.
“I feel like we have more fan support here now,” Hall said. “There’s just an air of excitement on campus. I really wanted to play in the WAC, but, oh well. I’m just glad I get to go out with all these guys.”
The deal was sealed last fall when Texas State accepted an invitation to join the WAC.
Along with the move, Texas State elected to execute a gradual increase in football scholarships to 74 for this season, and then to the FBS level of 85 in 2012.
As a result, the SLC took action.
Conference members, whose football teams are capped at 63 scholarships, voted to remove Texas State from the title chase.
So, while all other Texas State sports will play one final season for SLC championships, the football team is out.
None of its games against Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State and McNeese State, and the rest, will count in the standings.
After 12 regular-season games, fans will say farewell to seniors like Hall and linebacker Brian Iwuji.
“We don’t really get to play for a championship, and that’s kind of sad,” Iwuji said. “But (playing) against teams we’ve competed against before, it gives us a chance to finish out right and leave the Southland Conference with a boom.”
The boom already has sounded.
A West Side stadium expansion, adding a new façade and premium seating, was completed in 2009. Head coach Dennis Franchione, formerly of Alabama and Texas A&M, was hired in January to guide the program through the transition.
Another stadium expansion, which will boost seating capacity from 16,000 to near 30,000, will commence at the end of this season.
“This is a special team,” Franchione said. “Never before and never again in the history of this program will we have a team that will bridge the gap between FCS and FBS football.”
Without a title to be won, Franchione said players need to bond, build relationships and pull together for each other.
He compares the situation this year to one faced by one of his Alabama teams.
Because Franchione inherited an NCAA probation when he took over in Tuscaloosa in 2001, his 2002 team finished atop the Southeastern Conference West Division but was ineligible for a bowl game because of sanctions.
“We couldn’t say we won the (West) title but we could say we were the best,” Franchione said.
At Texas State, the Bobcats can go into this season with the same outlook.
“We don’t need a trophy,” Hall said. “If we can win we’ll have a championship — it’ll be in our hearts.”
By Jerry Briggs, San Antonio Express-News