Texas State Bobcats Use Transfer Portal To Become Sun Belt Favorites

    The Texas State Bobcats are emerging as dark-horse candidates to win the 2024 Sun Belt Championship after nearly 70 transfer additions.

    It took one season for G.J. Kinne to flip the Texas State Bobcats from a Sun Belt punch bag to legitimate contenders for the conference championship in 2024.

    After an overall record of 23-73 between 2015 and 2022, the Bobcats broke an eight-season streak of losing records last year, finishing with an 8-5 record. Kinne oversaw the program’s first bowl appearance and win, defeating the Rice Owls in the First Responder Bowl.

    The Bobcats’ meteoric rise in the Group of Five wasn’t by happenstance. The Texas State staff has relentlessly pursued a strategy of rebuilding on the fly by retooling through the transfer portal. As the dog days of summer are upon us, let’s take a deep dive into how Kinne built Texas State into a legitimate contender.

    Texas State Foundation Set with 39 Transfers in 2023

    A complete staff and roster overhaul quickly followed Kinne to San Marcos with six coaches and 10 players from his previous stop at Incarnate Word joining the Bobcats, including both coordinators, OC Mack Leftwich and DC Jonathan Patke. It was the tip of the spear for the vast amount of changes to come.

    Kinne’s first big splash in the recruiting circuit came a month after he arrived, landing Arkansas QB Malik Hornsby. A dynamic speedster, Hornsby was a coveted prospect and even visited Nebraska, but he was being recruited to play receiver. He chose Texas State for a chance to remain behind center.

    An avalanche of incoming transfers ensued for the Bobcats throughout the spring and summer sessions, with 39 added before the first game against Baylor. 19 of the 39 were announced in February of 2023:

    • Ismail Mahdi, RB, HCU
    • Malik Hornsby, QB, Arkansas
    • Nash Jones, OL, Incarnate Word
    • Caleb Johnson, OL, Incarnate Word
    • Jimeto Obigbo, OL, Incarnate Word
    • Emeka Obigbo, OL, Incarnate Word
    • Dorion Strawn, OL, Incarnate Word
    • Kaleb Culp, SAF, Incarnate Word
    • Kole Wilson, WR, Incarnate Word
    • Shadeed Ahmed, WR, Marshall
    • Drew Donley, WR, Cincinnati
    • Konner Fox, TE, Kansas State
    • Tavian Coleman, DL, Utah State
    • Deven Wright, DL, Boise State
    • Joshua Eaton, CB, Oklahoma
    • Kaleb Ford-Dement, CB, Washington State
    • Darius Jackson, SAF, Missouri
    • Dan Foster Jr., LB, Marshall
    • Bryce Cage, DL, Southeastern Louisiana

    Another SEC QB, T.J. Finley, was added to the mix following the Bobcats’ spring practice, creating a QB controversy that brewed up to the season-opening kickoff. 20 transfers were added after spring practice concluded:

    • TJ Finley, QB, Auburn
    • Beau Corrales, WR, SMU
    • Joey Hobert, WR, Utah Tech
    • Sean Shaw Jr., WR, Iowa State
    • Marcus Alexander, OL Oklahoma
    • Alex Harkey, OL, Colorado
    • Chayse Todd, OL, Houston
    • Danny Valenzuela, OL, Arizona State
    • Brey Walker, OL, Oklahoma
    • Victor Obi, DL, Baylor
    • Chance Main, DL, Colorado
    • Sam Latham, DL, UIW
    • Christian Rorie, DL, Duke
    • John Blunt Jr., DB, Eastern Kentucky
    • Caleb Coleman, DB, West Virginia
    • Shawn Holton, DB, UIW
    • Jaylon Shelton, DB, West Virginia
    • Langston Anderson, WR, Oklahoma State
    • Jason Gold Jr., DL, Northwestern*
    • Derrick Brown, LB, Texas*

    *off the roster before the season started

    Finley started all 13 games for the Bobcats, resetting the program’s single-season passing yards record at 3,439 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Hornsby was still productive off the bench in a change-of-pace role, rushing for six touchdowns in seven games.

    First-year transfers dominated the productive output for the Bobcats in 2023, including leading rusher Ismail Mahdi (1,331 yards) and leading receiver Joey Hobert (76 catches, 895 yards, and eight touchdowns).

    Both players joined the Bobcats from the FCS, with Mahdi at Houston Christian and Hobert coming over from Utah Tech. Mahdi led the nation in all-purpose yards (2,169 total yards) and was named a First-Team All-American as an all-purpose player.

    Kinne and his staff thrived at finding value at the FCS level, especially with several of the Incarnate Word transfers.

    MORE: 2024 Sun Belt Season Predictions

    Left tackle Nash Jones, guard Dorian Strawn, right tackle Jimeto Obigbo, center Caleb Johnson, defensive end Sam Latham, safeties Shawn Holton and Kaleb Culp, and receiver Kole Wilson all emerged as productive starters after previously playing for the Cardinals.

    It wasn’t all on the backs of transfers, as returning players had their place in Kinne’s system. Linebacker Brian Holloway led the team in tackles (105) and interceptions (four), while Ben Bell led the team in sacks (10), and Ashtyn Hawkins finished second in receiving yards (874).

    Holloway graduated, and Hawkins left for the Baylor Bears, but Bell will return in 2024.

    Retention and Additions Place Bobcats in Favorable Position in 2024

    While Kinne was rumored to be a candidate for multiple jobs after turning Texas State around in 2023, he agreed to restructure his contract with the Bobcats leading into the bowl game. One year was added to the deal and his pay was increased to $1 million a year, tying him with Tim Beck at Coastal Carolina for highest paid coach in the Sun Belt.

    Attrition inevitably befell the Bobcats, and along with it, quarterback controversy returned to San Marcos. Finley hopped in the portal and reappeared at Western Kentucky after Arizona QB Jayden de Laura signed with the Bobcats. Hornsby also left, spurning the Bobcats and switching positions to receiver for Sun Belt foe Arkansas State.

    MORE: Texas State 2024 Football Schedule

    De Laura’s stint with the Bobcats was short-lived following public outcry amidst revelations of a settlement in a sexual assault civil suit against him. He withdrew from Texas State a week after signing and declared for the NFL Draft, eventually landing in the USFL.

    The damage was done with Finley and Hornsby already out the door, leaving the Bobcats scrambling to find their next signal-caller. As he’s one to do, Kinne attacked the portal and came out with arguably an upgrade at the game’s most important position, adding JMU transfer Jordan McCloud.

    McCloud, the 2023 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, entered the portal after the Dukes’ former coach, Curt Cignetti, left for the Indiana Hoosiers following an 11-1 season.

    McCloud tossed for 3,657 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for 276 yards and eight scores. He’s one of four quarterbacks to throw for over 3,500 yards and 35 scores last season, along with LSU’s Jayden Daniels, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., and Oregon’s Bo Nix.

    McCloud was one of 16 transfers announced as signees in the spring, with all 16 participating in the Bobcats’ spring practice in March and April:

    • Jordan McCloud, QB, JMU
    • Tunmise Adeleye, DL, Michigan State
    • Alex Merritt, DL, Eastern Michigan
    • Steven Parker, DL, Incarnate Word
    • Jaylen Jenkins, RB, Washington State
    • Torrance Burgess, RB, UTEP
    • Deion Hankins, RB, UTEP
    • Trez Moore, CB, UTEP
    • Donte Thompson, CB, Arkansas State
    • James Neal, LB, UTEP
    • Max Harris, LB, ULM
    • Tellek Lockette, OL, ULM
    • Jaden Williams, WR, Boston College
    • Beau Sparks, WR, Utah Tech
    • Brice Bass, EDGE, Gardner-Webb
    • Blake Smith, TE, Oklahoma

    Adding McCloud was the crown jewel of the offseason for the Bobcats but far from the last of the Texas State foray into the transfer portal. S

    o far, 28 transfers have been added from the portal, including 12 announced post-spring practice at the end of May:

    • RJ Martinez, QB, Baylor
    • Mannie Nunnery, LB, Florida
    • Treylin Payne, LB, Houston
    • Amipeleasi Langi, DL, Houston
    • David Conner, OL, Colorado
    • Martin Tine, OL, Cal
    • Sully Burns, OL, Tulane
    • Ian Langford, OL, TAMU-Commerce
    • Jaylon Griffin, WR, Tulane
    • Griffin Moore, TE, Illinois
    • Canden Grogan, CB, Lamar
    • Jordan Polk, CB, TAMU-Commerce

    All in all, that’s nearly 70 transfers in two recruiting cycles for Kinne. Of the 39 signed last year, 19 are returning in 2024:

    • Ismail Mahdi, RB, HCU
    • Nash Jones, OL, Incarnate Word
    • Jimeto Obigbo, OL, Incarnate Word
    • Emeka Obigbo, OL, Incarnate Word
    • Dorion Strawn, OL, Incarnate Word
    • Kaleb Culp, SAF, Incarnate Word
    • Kole Wilson, WR, Incarnate Word
    • Drew Donley, WR, Cincinnati
    • Konner Fox, TE, Kansas State
    • Tavian Coleman, DL, Utah State
    • Deven Wright, DL, Boise State
    • Joshua Eaton, CB, Oklahoma
    • Darius Jackson, SAF, Missouri
    • Joey Hobert, WR, Utah Tech
    • Alex Harkey, OL, Colorado
    • Chayse Todd, OL, Houston
    • Christian Rorie, DL, Duke
    • Caleb Coleman, DB, West Virginia
    • Langston Anderson, WR, Oklahoma State

    With 28 signed transfers for 2024 and 19 returning transfers from last season, Kinne has 47 available to play this season. With 85 total scholarships allowed for every FBS team, 55% of Texas State’s scholarships are held by players who transferred in within the last two offseasons.

    It’s a remarkable roster turnover that wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago. Teams were hamstrung to 25 new scholarship allotments per year, plus strict transfer restrictions for players that severely limited the amount of transfers teams could procure.

    Those restrictions, including the 25 scholarships cap, have been lifted, paving the way for coaches like Kinne to take advantage with truncated transfer classes.

    KEEP READING: Texas State Bobcats Coaching Staff 2024

    Texas State led the Sun Belt in scoring (36.7 points per game) and total yards (458.5) last season, and that was before it added the reigning Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year in McCloud.

    All of that, plus the fact that Texas State’s 2024 schedule is the easiest in the Sun Belt — fifth-easiest in the nation based on CFN’s Strength of Schedule metric — leaves the Bobcats in prime position to steal a conference championship.

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!

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