August 21st, 2023 3:00am
2023 Lone Star Conference Season Preview
Spring and Summer practices are wrapping up across the Southwest and Pacific Northwest, and we are just a few days from opening kickoff on August 31. Before the helmets and shoulder pads are put on for real, let’s take a look back at last season and look ahead to the upcoming LSC season.
Part 1 – A look back at the 2022 LSC season
2022 LSC standings
The main stories coming out of the 2022 season were:
Part 2 – The LSC Off-Season
If you haven’t read my Summer update, that article has more details about the busy Winter to Summer in the LSC, in particular the four coaching the immediate and future changes in LSC membership.
To summarize, here’s what happened:
Part 3 - 2023 Lone Star Conference Preview
Go here to see the LSC’s Preseason Awards and players to watch. Central Washington running back Tre’Jon Henderson is the LSC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and Texas A&M-Kingsville defensive back Amos Coleman is the LSC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Next up is the LSC Preseason Media Poll and Team Previews – I will profile each team in this order:
1. Angelo State (25 first-place votes) - 241 points
2. Central Washington (1) - 198
3. Texas A&M-Kingsville - 174
4. Midwestern State - 147
5. West Texas A&M - 123
6. Western Oregon (1) - 118
7. Texas-Permian Basin - 98
8. Eastern New Mexico - 59
9. Western New Mexico - 57
9. Western New Mexico Mustangs
2022 Record: 6-5 (5-4 LSC)
Coach: Billy Hickman (first season, no record)
First Game in 2023: September 2 at home against Sul Ross State
Outlook: No Experience, No Problem?
Western New Mexico had their first winning season since 1994 in finishing 6-5.Their “reward” was losing head coach Philip Vigil to CSU-Pueblo. Former offensive coordinator Billy Hickman will try to keep the wins coming, and with gunslinger Devin Larsen primed to return, they may have a chance.
Top rusher Maurice Smith returns along with top receivers Charles Byers and Tobi Sonaika leading a young group. Defensive back Jordan Davis, linebacker Clavon Caine, and defensive lineman Devin Graham are the top retuning defenders on a side that has had a lot of turnover from last season and was the team’s major weakness.
Between the coaching changes, the number of new faces on both sides of the ball, and the fact that the Mustangs won’t sneak up on opponents anymore, a repeat or improvement on last year’s 6-5 record seems unlikely. But any team with Devin Larsen throwing the ball out of the shotgun has a passer’s chance of springing an upset.
September 9 at New Mexico Highlands – Highlands won’t have very long to travel as they are playing their second straight game against a New Mexico-based opponent to start the 2023 season.It will be Hickman’s first game against a Division 2 opponent in his coaching career.
October 14 at West Texas A&M – Last season’s game was a close-fought 41-27 Mustangs win, a result that the retooled Buffaloes are looking to reverse on their field.
November 11 vs. Eastern New Mexico – If the LSC Preseason Media Poll holds, the Green Chile Bowl could be a battle to determine who doesn’t finish in last place in the LSC.
8. Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds
2022 Record: 3-8 (2-7 LSC)
Coach: Kelley Lee (first season of second tenure at ENMU, 21-12 record at ENMU from 2017-2020)
First Game in 2023: August 31 at home against New Mexico Highlands
Outlook: Back to the Future
In 2020 Kelley Lee left the head coaching job at ENMU and moved to Brownsville, Texas to coach at Veterans Early College High School.Tye Hiatt then came to ENMU hoping to repeat the success he had with Tyson Bagent at Shepherd with his pass-oriented attack. Hiatt ultimately left to call plays at Southern Utah after posting a 7-15 record and Lee (armed with his Triple Option offense) was welcomed back by about 20 of the still-active players Lee originally recruited to ENMU. At this time, no information about the ENMU roster or projected starters are available, so I’ll put this preview together as best as I can and more specific information about the team will come as it becomes available.
On defense, linebacker Timothy Jones and defensive backs Lino Odenat, Cameron Santa Cruz, and Caden Ochoa are among top tacklers likely to return.On offense, lineman Hunter St. John was named a preseason “Player to Watch” on LSC Football Media Day.Running back Isaiah Tate is the likely top returning rusher.
ENMU will be going back to the old ways, but it will likely take some time to get it back to where coach Lee wants it.But once things are in place, the Greyhounds will be running and giving LSC defenses fits once again.
August 31 vs. New Mexico Highlands – ENMU looks to get out on the right foot in Kelley Lee’s first game back as the Greyhounds’ head coach with a second-straight win over Highlands. This will be the first game of the New Mexico three-way dance in 2023.
November 4 vs. West Texas A&M – ENMU won the Wagon Wheel Game in 2022 and hope to keep the Wagon Wheel for a second year.
November 11 at Western New Mexico – This year’s Green Chile Bowl will have two new head coaches facing each other.Will Lee or his former boss Josh Lynn come out on top?
7. Texas-Permian Basin Falcons
2022 Record: 5-6 (4-5 LSC)
Coach: Kris McCullough (first season, 9-3 record at East Central University in 2022)
First Game in 2023: September 2 at home against Texas College
Outlook: No More Breaking Even
Except for the undefeated 2020 COVID season, the best that UTPB has done in any single season was a 6-6 record in 2021. Head coach Justin Carrigan stepped down and moved into an administrative position and in came 28-year-old Kris McCullough, fresh off a 9-3 season leading the East Central University Tigers.And McCullough immediately went to work.He and his staff might have been the most active staff in the nation at recruiting the transfer portal, bringing in 30 players (eight from ECU alone) in the nation’s top Division 2 transfer class, including McCullough’s quarterback at ECU, Kenny Hrncir. Getting all those transfers and returning players to work together will be one of the many challenges for McCullough’s staff.In addition to Hrncir, the UTPB offense returns running back Kory Harris and wide receiver Gunnar Asbeck. Returning linebacker Hayden Kelly returns to lead the UTPB defense, which also returns linebacker Jalon Rocquemore and defensive back Donta Stuart (Please note that the many transfers coming in may impact who among the listed players here will be starters). McCullough has cited ECU’s leading the nation in turnover margin in 2022 as a model for UTPB’s success in 2023.
The level of anticipation is the highest the program has seen since it began in 2016, and the message is clear with McCullough’s hire.Breaking even isn’t enough anymore.
September 9 at Western Colorado – The first Division 2 test for Kris McCullough as UTPB head coach is against a Western Colorado team picked to finish third in the RMAC. The Falcons won a 34-31 overtime thriller against the Mountaineers last season, can they do it again on the road?
September 16 at Southwest Baptist – Southwest Baptists used a strong ground attack to down the Falcons last season.Will this season be any different?
October 7 at Midwestern State – The 2022 edition of this matchup was a one-point loss for the Falcons, who have just one win in seven tries against the Mustangs.
6. Western Oregon Wolves
2022 Record: 6-5 (5-4 LSC)
Coach: Arne Ferguson (nineteenth season, 100-83 overall record)
First Game in 2023: August 31 at South Dakota State
Outlook: You Know What You’re Going to Get?
Head coach Arne Ferguson won his one-hundredth career game at WOU with a season-ending 48-37 win over Texas A&M-Kingsville. The Wolves ended 2022 at the LSC team nobody wanted to play (unless you were playing Angelo State, of course), winning five of their last six games with the only loss a 26-21 loss to Midwestern State.
Going through Ferguson’s tenure at WOU, the Wolves have typically been good for 5 to 7 wins each season and are competitive in most of their games thanks to a solid defense, but too often there’s something missing to prevent them from having more wins.WOU would get an upset one week (the Central Washington win) but also have a head-scratcher (the WNMU loss). Like Texas A&M-Kingsville, WOU was a whole lot of “feast-or-famine”, losing four of their first five games before their 5-1 run to finish the season.Consistency will be key to a strong 2023 season. They certainly didn’t do themselves any favors in the non-conference schedule, with Division 1 FCS National Champion South Dakota State and Division 2 playoff team Minnesota State-Mankato scheduled along with the regular LSC slate.
WOU will need to rely on their defense to keep them in games.Defensive back Jaylin Parnell has graduated, but linebackers Malcom Liufau and Isaiah Abraham return.Hopes are high for Sacramento State transfer defensive back Elijah King.Gannon Winker will lead the offense in his second year at quarterback. WOU will attempt to replace all-time leading rusher Omari Dixon-Land with some combination of Dominique Loggins, Fresh Ison, and Air Force transfer (and former three-star Division 1 recruit) Kainoa Sayre. Top receiver Damon Hickok and London Smalley are the only returning receivers with significant statistics.
As mentioned previously, WOU has managed to have their moments but have lacked something to allow them to move to a higher level.Ferguson will be working with many new starters in 2023, especially on defense, so it may take some time for that unit to come together. You may see a Wolves team that is a lot like last year’s – they may struggle early, but they could be a tough team to play late.
September 23 vs. Central Washington – WOU won a defensive struggle against Central Washington in 2022 and look to repeat that at home in 2023.
September 30 at West Texas A&M – The Wolves are 2-0 against West Texas A&M and this game will be a significant test for both teams to determine if they are ready to challenge the LSC’s best.
October 14 at Minnesota State-Mankato – With this game and their Week 1 game against South Dakota State, the Wolves have one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules.MSU-Mankato is picked to finish a close second behind Bemidji State in the NSIC.
5. West Texas A&M Buffaloes
2022 Record: 5-6 (3-6 LSC)
Coach: Josh Lynn (first season, 65-50 overall record at Eastern New Mexico and Nebraska-Kearney)
First Game in 2023: September 2 at Western Colorado
Outlook: Transition Year or Full Speed Ahead?
Last season, West Texas A&M won their first game over nationally ranked Western Colorado by five touchdowns and lost their last game to one-win Simon Fraser by five touchdowns. No additional information about the maddening inconsistency of the Buffaloes over the past two seasons is necessary to explain why Hunter Hughes is no longer head coach.High on new head coach Josh Lynn’s to-do list will be to establish a culture of consistency.
Like McCullough at UTPB, Lynn was active in the transfer portal, with seven players from Lynn’s former team, Nebraska-Kearney (including linebacker Jimmy Harrison, who was second on the Lopers in tackles with 88 in 2022) among the many newcomers to Canyon.The cupboard was not bare, however, as standout wide receivers Noah Bogardus and Tyler Sweet, running backs Brian Okoye and Isaiah Smallwood, linebacker JT Cavender (who looks to avoid the injury bug), and interception leader Preston Steszewski are back. Their leadership will be necessary since the Buffaloes are one of the youngest teams in the LSC, with 102 of their 154 players listed as freshmen or sophomores and with only seven seniors on the roster. That youth is particularly seen at the quarterback position. With do-everything quarterback Nick Gerber gone to graduation, sophomore Kyle Brown and junior New Mexico transfer Weston Eget are the top candidates to run the Buffaloes’ offense.
How the Buffaloes take to Lynn’s system will go a long way toward their overall success in 2023.Many remaining upperclassmen from the Hughes tenure are likely starters, and this was a team in the top 10 of the Super Region 4 rankings before their season-ending three-game losing streak.There is potential for success in Canyon – it is now up to Lynn and his players to realize it.
September 2at Western Colorado – We will find out right away about Lynn’s Buffaloes when they head to 2021 playoff participant Western Colorado to start the 2023 season.
October 8 at Midwestern State – WT will likely need to at the very least split against Midwestern State and Angelo State and have a strong overall record to be in the playoff conversation.Both those games are in Canyon this season.
November 4 at Eastern New Mexico – This season’s edition of the Wagon Wheel Game will pit WT head coach Lynn against his former offensive coordinator at ENMU, Kelley Lee.
4. Midwestern State Mustangs
2022 Record: 6-5 (5-4 LSC)
Coach: Bill Maskill (twenty-third season, 169-73 overall record)
First Game in 2023: September 2 at Colorado State-Pueblo
Outlook: Who’s the QB?
After alternating between Neiko Hollins and Dillon Sterling-Cole at quarterback for most of the 2022 season, Sterling-Cole ultimately won the job and MSU was more competitive as the season went on.Well, both Hollins and Sterling-Cole are gone and MSU needs someone new to run the offense. The answer might be Zachary Bohannon. The sophomore from Delray Beach, Florida was one of the main stars of the MSU Maroon and Gold Spring Game, throwing for 276 yards. Should Bohannon earn the starting job, he won’t be alone, as running back Devin Cross is back for his sophomore season.Newcomer Jalen March could also get his share of carries out of the backfield. The MSU defense is led by defensive back Dylon Davis, who had a spectacular 2021 season with three interception returns for touchdowns, but his 2022 season was cut short after four games due to injuries. If MSU can start the season strong (particularly winning the West Texas A&M game in Week 3), they could be primed to make a run to the top of the LSC standings.
September 2 at Colorado State-Pueblo – CSU-Pueblo qualified for the Super Region 4 playoffs last season and look to move up under new head coach (and former WNMU head coach) Philip Vigil.MSU lost to the ThunderWolves big last year and look to avoid the same fate this year. CSU-Pueblo was picked to finish second in the RMAC Preseason Poll.
October 8 at West Texas A&M – Cory Hogue of Texas Football calls the “Highway 287 Rivalry” “one of the most underrated rivalries in Texas”.The Mustangs look to break a four-game losing streak in the series and their first win at WTAMU since 2012.
November 11 vs. Texas A&M-Kingsville – This season-ending contest could potentially decide second place in LSC and maybe even a playoff spot.
3. Texas A&M-Kingsville Javelinas
2022 Record: 7-5 (5-4 LSC)
Coach: Mike Salinas (fourth season, 12-12 overall record)
First Game in 2023: September 2 at Colorado Mesa
Outlook: No Excuses
Texas A&M-Kingsville was the LSC’s ultimate “feast-or-famine” team – the Javelinas won their first seven games and then lost their last five, ending in a 38-21 loss to now-Texas-Permian Basin head coach Kris McCullough’s East Central University. The Javelinas took advantage of a weaker schedule to build that 7-0 record, with one non-conference opponent in Division 3 and the other in the NAIA. There will be no excuses this season, as 2023 non-conference opponents Colorado Mesa was picked to finish sixth in the RMAC and West Georgia a close third behind West Florida in the GSC. Their performance in those season-opening non-conference games could be a strong indication of where the Javelinas can go in 2023.
Kingsville has a team that could possibly challenge Angelo State for the top of the LSC.Returning 15 starters and having 25 seniors, the Javelinas are now an experienced team that is trying to keep moving up the LSC standings. On offense, workhorse running back Christian Anderson is returning.Jacob Cavazos enters his second year at quarterback and returns his top four wide receivers in terms of yardage (Jason Gaines, Craig Clemons, Jackson Allen, and JT Mackey).On defense, Preseason LSC Defensive Player of the Year Amos Coleman returns after intercepting five passes in 2022 along with top linebacker Khalid Wlaker, defensive back Dailon Gants, and defensive tackle Xavier Henderson.
With a veteran starting roster, this could be the year for the Javelinas to make a run at the top of the LSC. To get there, they will need to put together more complete games and avoid cases like last season where either the offense or the defense was solid but the other side of the ball wasn’t.No excuses this year in Kingsville.
September 8 vs. West Georgia – A tough GSC opponent hoping to return to the playoffs visits Kingsville.The Wolves have gone 17-5 the last two seasons and come off a season where they gave GSC Champion Delta State their only regular-season loss.
October 28 vs. Central Washington – The Javelinas held a fourth-quarter lead but gave up the game’s last 9 points to lose their second straight game of what would become a five-game losing streak.
November 11 at Midwestern State – This season-ending contest could potentially decide second place in LSC and maybe even a playoff spot.
2. Central Washington Wildcats
2022 Record: 6-4 (6-3 LSC)
Coach: Chris Fisk (fourth season, 21-15 overall record)
First Game in 2023: August 31 at Weber State
Outlook: One Step Forward, or Two Steps Back?
Central Washington mostly fared well in their first LSC season, relying heavily on a strong defense to keep them in games as the offense scored more than 24 points in just 3 games and didn’t score more than 49 in a game. Injuries played a big part, as starting quarterback Quincy Glasper, running back Tyler Flanagan, and wide receiver Darius Morrison were all out for significant parts of the season. With Glasper deciding to transfer out, JJ Lemming, who had his moments, is the front-runner to start at quarterback.LSC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Tre’Jon Henderson returns as the top running back. Other returning offensive players include wide receivers Marcus Cook and Darius Morrison, running backs Cameron Daniels and Tyler Flanagan, and tight end Payton Glasser. On defense, the defensive backfield is the top returning unit, led by Patrick Rogers and Tanner Volk. Brett Accimus is the top returning linebacker.CWU had significant turnover on both the offensive and defensive lines (losing four starters on both sides of the ball) after the 2002 season, so CWU’s success up front will go a long way toward how the Wildcats will succeed on both sides of the ball.
September 16 vs. Angelo State – CWU will have completed their non-conference schedule by this point, and the Rams will be their first Division 2 opponent in 2023.Last season, Angelo State erased a 9-0 halftime deficit by outscoring the Wildcats 22-3 in the second half.
September 23 at Western Oregon – Last season, the Wildcats lost on a last-second pass from Gannon Winker to Omari Dixon-Land to lose a defensive struggle.
October 21 vs. West Texas A&M – The 35-16 loss to WT in 2022 was arguably CWU’s worst game of the season, and the Wildcats will likely need a win to stay in the top half of the LSC.
1. Angelo State Rams
2022 Record: 12-1 (9-0 LSC), 2022 LSC Champions
Coach: Jeff Girsch (sixth season, 39-15 overall record)
First Game in 2023: August 31 at West Alabama
Outlook: Rebuild or Reload?
Last we saw Angelo State, John Matocha and Colorado Mines were celebrating a 42-24 win in the Super Region 4 final where the Rams seemed to run out of gas in the second half under the pressure of the Mines offense. The Rams have now established themselves as the LSC’s top program and have spent the last two seasons on the national stage.With the many losses to graduation and the transfer portal, do the Rams still have what it takes to win Super Region 4, and possibly more importantly, can they FINALLY get past Colorado Mines?
A telling sign of the Rams’ success is the number of significant contributors who are now with other programs. Nate Omayebu III graduated and is now at Southeastern Oklahoma. Noah Massey is now at West Virginia. Daron Allman is now at Texas-San Antonio.However, there are reinforcements. Kason Phillips and Alfred Grear are more than capable of running the ball, with Grear coming back from an ACL injury in the Colorado Mines game.Zorhan Rideaux is the top receiver and one of the LSC’s best, but Rasheen Green, Kyle Bradford, and Kel Williams are also back. Linebacker Eric Rascoe is returning and 2022 LSC Defensive Back of the Year Andrew Pitts is one of the nation’s best ball-hawking defensive backs.
The Rams will need to replace Zach Bronkhorst, with Hagen Garvin the most experienced candidate. Garvin, if he earns the starting job, should have the opportunity to be effective.Overall, there should be enough talent for Angelo State to remain on top of the LSC.Whether they are a national title contender gain is the next question, and we will begin to find out right away. The Rams’ first three opponents are West Alabama from the strong GSC, Colorado Mines, and Central Washington. No rest for Angelo State.
September 9 vs. Colorado School of Mines – This is the fourth matchup between Angelo State and Colorado Mines over the past 3 seasons, with Mines winning both meetings in the playoffs.Last season’s Super Region 4 final saw John Matocha the Mines offense, led by returning quarterback John Matocha, dominate the Angelo State defense like no team had all season.
October 14 at Texas A&M-Kingsville – The Rams shook off a slow start to pull away from the Javelinas last season.This game will determine if the gap between the two teams has narrowed.
October 28 at West Texas A&M – Last year, the Rams trailed 7-6 at halftime before outscoring the Buffaloes 28-7 in the second half.
Wrap-Up - What’s my take on the LSC?
Last season, there was the dominance of Angelo State followed by a logjam of 4-loss and 5-loss teams. In Super Region 4, the RMAC placed two teams in the playoffs and the NSIC placed four teams while Angelo State held up the LSC’s flag by itself for the second straight year. Can someone rise out of that logjam and challenge Angelo State at the top of the LSC, or will the Rams remain the clear front-runner with the LSC’s middle cannibalizing itself out of playoff chances?
Every team in the LSC has question marks (of course, every team in the nation does, however small they may be). My best guess (and this is without my trusty Magic 8-Ball) is that Angelo State wins the LSC again and makes the playoffs again. The Rams still have plenty of talent and have a system in place that will continue to win as long as that consistency remains. The rest of the league, however, still needs to convince me. It is certainly possible that a team picked lower in the league can surprise (West Texas A&M and UTPB, I’m looking at you!). Texas A&M-Kingsville or Central Washington could take the next step and compete in a way they weren’t capable of last season, going from 4- and 5-loss teams to 2- or 3-loss teams and playoff contenders. I do think that the LSC will be in the running for two playoff teams this season – Angelo State and one other team in the top 5 of the Preseason Media Poll. But beware of teams like Western Oregon and ENMU – they could spring some upsets along the way.
OK...Time for kickoff!