By Kent Schmidt
College Sporting News
The Independents in FCS this year are all not long to stay that way.
South Alabama, Texas State, and Texas-San Antonio all have plans to move to the FBS level, while Georgia State will join the Colonial Athletic Conference next year.
The other three also have conference affiliations lined up already.
Texas State and Texas-San Antonio will join the Western Athletic Conference with TSU joining in 2012 and UTSA following in 2013. South Alabama will join the Sun Belt Conference, also in 2013.
Long time independent Savannah State is no longer an independent after joining the MEAC this fall and Old Dominion officially moved to the Colonial Athletic Conference for football this year after being a pioneer member of the conference in other sports.
UNC-Charlotte will start its program in 2013 and Mercer and Stetson will start programs the same year, but will begin play in the Pioneer Football League so will never see the independent status.
One thing that this year's group of independents has is coaching pedigrees.
Georgia State has Bill Curry, an ex-NFL standout who was the coach at Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech.
Texas State has Dennis Franchione back for his second tenure, after time with New Mexico, Texas Christian, Alabama and Texas A&M.
Texas-San Antonio has Larry Coker, who won a BCS national title with Miami.
The exception to the rule is South Alabama's coach Joey Jones, whose first D-I job is at the Mobile school.
Georgia State started their first year of football a year ago and finished well at 6-5 overall including four wins over FCS foes. One of the Panthers' loses was in overtime to FCS playoff participant Jacksonville State.
The Panthers also got great exposure with an ESPN game against Alabama.
This year's GSU slate will have just two sub-D-I schools this year after three such games a season ago.
The Panthers only lose five seniors from last year's team, so they should be fairly well experienced in their last independent season before moving to the CAA next year.
On offense, the Panthers will be without starting quarterback sophomore Drew Little, who will have to sit out four games for violating team rules.
Last year's backup Star Little decided to leave the program so they likely will be with inexperienced sophomore Kelton Hill for the first four games.
Little threw for 2,102 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010, while Hill only attempted 15 passes. Hill was more of a rusher and actually led the team in rushing with 416 yards and three scores.
One area that will help Hill will be the play of wide receiver sophomore Danny Williams, who led the team with 54 receptions for 649 yards and five scores.
The running game was done by committee last year but the leading back will return in sophomore Travis Evans who totaled 382 yards and three touchdowns.
The offensive line will be headed by senior tackle Clyde Yandell, who transferred before last year from FBS Georgia Tech.
The Panther defense will be headed by senior linebacker Jake Mausau, along with older brother Louie who will be a fifth-year senior.
The duo totaled 83 tackles a year ago. Jake led the team with 8.5 tackles for a loss and was second on the team with four sacks.
They will receive help from sophomore strong safety Fred Barnes, who led the team in tackles a season ago with 66.
South Alabama enters its second full season of play and third season overall having not lost a game yet.
The Jaguars posted a 7-0 mark in 2009, playing mainly junior college competition, and went 10-0 last year.
The Jaguars did post some impressive wins a year ago over established FCS teams in UC Davis and Nicholls State but six of the wins were against sub-D-I competition.
This year, USA will play two FBS teams in North Carolina State and Kent State and just two sub-D-I teams so the Jaguars winning streak will likely come to a quick end.
South Alabama will be classified as an FCS this year and next before joining the FBS Sun Belt Conference in 2013.
The quarterback position was a question mark coming into spring ball with competition between two sophomores in C.J. Bennett and Myles Gibson.
Bennett, the starter last year most of the season, throwing for 1189 yards and nine touchdowns, appears to have won the starting job again.
Myles also saw action, mostly in a relief role, but still accounted 325 yards and two scoring throws.
Whichever quarterback plays, he will need to find a new top wide out with the graduation of leading 2010 receiver Courtney Smith.
Second-leading receiver sophomore Bryant Lavender, who accounted for 16 catches for 275 yards and two scores, will be looked to be a leader this year.
The USA running back situation looks to be better, with returning leading rusher sophomore Kendall Houston back after running for 891 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
The backfield will also see a freshman newcomer in FBS Georgia transfer Demetre Baker, who redshirted there a year ago.
Three seniors on the offensive line should be the leaders upfront including tackles Levi Slaydon and Brian Krauskopf and guard Jon Griffin.
The Jaguar defense should be led by sophomore linebacker Enrique Williams after he led the team in tackles a year ago with 48.
Fellow sophomore linebacker Logan Bennett, who has started all 17 games, should be another defensive leader after he finished second on the team in 2010 with five tackles for loss and three sacks among his career-high 24 total stops.
Another sophomore linebacker, Clifton Crews, had seven stops behind the line of scrimmage including 3.5 sacks as a true freshman in 2009, but has proved he can defend the pass as well after posting eight break-ups and picking off two passes in his first two seasons.
Entering the FCS independent ranks this year is Texas State after a long run as a member of the Southland Conference.
The Bobcats finished just 4-7 overall in their last SLC season and fired long-embattled coach Brad Wright.
The Bobcats now have Coach Franchione to try to lead them into the FBS ranks next year.
For this season, Texas State will start the FBS transition by playing two FBS teams in Texas Tech and Wyoming, but will compete against many former Southland foes as well.
The Bobcats will have Tyler Arndt back at the quarterback spot. Arndt played just seven contests a year ago due to a torn ACL.
In his limited play, Arndt threw for 1,364 yards and nine touchdowns.
He will need to find a new go-to receiver after the graduation loss of DaíMarcus Griggs.
Looking to fill that role will be last year's second-leading pass catcher, senior Darren Dillard, who recorded 37 receptions for 510 yards and five touchdowns.
Transfer Brad Miller from FBS New Mexico could also see some action after being a redshirt a year ago.
The running back situation for the Bobcats will also need a new ground gainer with All-SLC back Karrington Bush lost to graduation.
Dexter Imade will look to take over the role after gaining 414 yards and four scores last season.
Imade will look to run behind All-American guard D.J. Hall, who should again lead the group up front.
Texas State's defense will see a number of new faces but All-SLC junior cornerback Darryl Morris should be the leader of the group. Morris recorded a team third best 60 tackles and team best nine pass breakups.
Junior linebacker Brian Lilly should be another leader after he tallied a team second best 63 tackles and a team best four interceptions.
Punter Ben Follis was an All-SLC honorable mention performer in 2010 after ranking in the league with an average of 41.6 yards on 49 punts. He had 11 punts over 50 yards and placed 13 inside the opponent's 20 yard-line.
The newest Division I football team is Texas-San Antonio.
The Roadrunners will make their transition to FBS quickly, but will be classified for two years at the FCS level.
Coker has sparked enthusiasm in the football-starved community.
The city is the sixth largest in the country and has toyed with NFL (home to the New Orleans Saints when that city was hit with Hurricane Katrina) and other professional football (USFL, WLAF, and CFL) in the past but has never had a Division I football team before.
The schedule for the new team will see several SLC teams and four non-Division I foes.
While UTSA won't join the WAC full time in 2013 but has already upgraded its 2012 schedule with several FBS opponents.
Coach Coker will have a passing first attack and the quarterback to take the first snap looks to be Texas State transfer Eric Soza, who redshirted in 2009 while at Texas State and will be a freshman this fall.
Two fellow freshmen in wide receivers that Coker is also high on are Earon Holmes and Jake Wanamaker.
The offensive line saw a big transfer from FBS Oklahoma State in Patrick Hoog, who will be a junior this fall after playing in eight games for the Cowboys a season ago.
On defense, a basketball transfer from St. Mary's of Texas, Marlon Smith, looks like a star in the making at an end position.
Another FBS transfer in junior Lekenwic Haynes from Mississippi should help on the defensive line. He recorded a total of seven tackles and a forced fumble a year ago.
FCS Independents Games of the Week
Texas State @ Texas Tech, Sept. 3
The Bobcats get their first taste of FBS play with in-state Red Raiders.
Lamar @ South Alabama Sept. 10
The Jaguars have won all their games thus far after starting their program a year ago. Will the Southland Cardinals provide some opposition for them in this game?
Texas-San Antonio @ Southern Utah, Sept. 17
This is the first DI game for the Roadrunners after hosting two non-DI opponents to begin the season. Will a trip to the 2010 Great West champions give them their first DI victory?
Texas State @ Stephen F. Austin, Sept. 24
The Bobcats travel to now-former Southland rival Lumberjacks. Which Texas school will win this one?
Texas-San Antonio @ Sam Houston State, Oct. 1
These two played in the Southland together in other sports but play for the first time against each other on the grid iron.
South Alabama @ Texas-San Antonio, Oct. 8
This is the first contest between two independents. This one will give a good idea who will be the best of the four teams this year.
Georgia State @ South Carolina State, Oct. 15
The Panthers visit the MEAC top Bulldogs. Can they come out on top in this one?
South Alabama @ Georgia State, Oct. 22
These two football newcomers battle it out in the Georgia Dome.
Georgia State @ Texas-San Antonio, Oct. 29
This is second straight independent opponent for the Panthers. This one is in the Alamo Dome against the Roadrunners.
Prairie View A&M @ Texas State, Nov. 5
The Bobcats host another FCS Texas opponent in this one against the SWACís Panthers.
Texas State @ Central Arkansas, Nov. 12
Can the Bobcats win this one on the purple and gray turf against former Southland foe in the Bears?
Cal Poly @ South Alabama, Nov. 19
The Panther host the Great West's Mustangs in what might be a crucial game for Cal Poly's playoff possibilities.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Georgia State
2. South Alabama
3. Texas State
4. Texas-San Antonio
Offensive Player of the Year:
Danny Williams, WR, Georgia State, So.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Enrique Williams, LB, South Alabama, So.
Biggest Shoes to Fill:
WR Courtney Smith, South Alabama
Georgia State Panthers
Location: Atlanta, GA
Stadium: Georgia Dome (28,155 (Lower Bowl) Capacity)
Head Coach: Bill Curry (6-5, GSU, 89-110-4 overall) 2nd Season
Who's Gone: PK Iain Vance, WR Charles Borowsky, QB Star Jackson.
Who's Back: QB Drew Little, RB Travis Evans, WR Danny Williams, LB Jake Muasau, LB Louie Muasau.
Historical Fact: Georgia State is one of just eight collegiate programs to play its home games in the same facility as an NFL team. Six are FBS programs: Miami, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Temple, Tulane and USF. The only other FCS program to play in an NFL facility is Tennessee State.
Last Season: The Panthers finished 6-5 in their first year of football at the school.
This Season: GSU hopes to improve on that mark before starting CAA play in 2012.
South Alabama Jaguars
Location: Mobile, AL
Stadium: Ladd-Peebles Stadium (38,888 Capacity)
Head Coach: Joey Jones (17-0, USA, 20-7 Overall) 3rd Season
Who's Gone: WR Courtney Smith, OL Cory Pittman, LB Justin Dunn, LB Charlie Higgenbotham.
Who's Back: QB C.J. Bennett, QB Myles Gibbon, LB Enrique Williams, LB Josh Chestang, LB Bryson James, OC Trey Clark, OG Jon Griffin, OG Melvin Meggs, OT Brian Krauskopf, OT Levi Slaydon, RB Brandon Ross, WR T.J. Glover.
Historical Fact: The Jaguars started play in 2009 and went 7-0 that first season but the competition was all against non-D-I opponents.
Last Season: USA went undefeated at 10-0 a season ago in their first full season and won four games against DI completion.
This Season: This year's team hopes to continue the winning ways but the schedule will only see two non-DI opponents and two FBS teams before they move to FBS themselves in 2013.
Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners
Location: San Antonio, TX
Stadium: AlamoDome (65,000 Capacity)
Head Coach: Larry Coker (0-0, UTSA, 60-15 Overall) 1st Season
Who's Gone: None.
Who's Back: None.
Historical Fact: The University was founded in 1969 and two years ago decided to add a football program for the first time.
Last Season: The team practiced but did not play a game.
This Season: UTSA begins play as a FCS member this fall but will be looking to move to the Western Athletic Conference in 2013.
Texas State Bobcats
Location: San Marcos, TX
Stadium: Bobcat Stadium (16,000 Capacity)
Head Coach: Dennis Franchione (13-9 TSU, 187-101-2 Overall) 3rd Season
Who's Gone: RB Karrington Bush, WR Da'Marcus Griggs, LB Marcus Clark.
Who's Back: OG D.J. Hall, CB Darryl Morris, P Ben Follis, QB Tyler Arndt.
Historical Fact: The Bobcats won 13 conference championships during their history, including a 2005 Southland Conference co-championship and an outright SLC title in 2008.
Last Season: The Bobcats finished just 4-7 and let former coach Brad Wright go after the season.
This Season: Coach Franchione returns to San Marcos after spending two seasons there in 1990-91 to try to turn around the program as an independent this season before moving to FBS and the WAC in 2012.