The Sam Houston State University Bearkats football team will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The Kats have been to at least the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs in each of the last four years, but things have been very different this season. SHSU’s postseason ambitions were likely shattered following a 43-26 loss to Incarnate Word and definitely ended with a 17-10 loss at home to Abilene Christian University, prompting head coach K.C. Keeler to say in his postgame press conference, “We’ve taken a step back.”
With three losses on the season entering the matchup against UIW, I believed the Bearkats were still in the playoff hunt, and had they ended the season 8-3 they likely would have made the 24-team FCS playoffs. Now the best case scenario for the Bearkats is a 6-5 season, and being ranked outside the Top 25 leaves no reasonable likelihood that the Bearkats will find a way into the postseason. With losses to likely non-playoff teams such as Lamar, ACU and North Dakota, many Bearkat fans are probably wondering— what happened?
Over the last two years the Bearkats have undergone a major shift in their offensive philosophy; this change is part of what I believe has led to a disappointing season. After running more of an air raid attack the last three seasons with now-graduate Jeremiah Briscoe at quarterback, the Kats have changed their offense to one that makes the running game a higher priority. While that is not a bad thing by any means, such a major shift in philosophy is hard to implement effectively in just one year, and SHSU’s new offensive coordinator Ryan Carty is experiencing that.
Now that Briscoe is no longer in the backfield, the program has handed the reins over to redshirt freshman Ty Brock. Brock took over the starting job in week five going into the Central Arkansas game that saw SHSU defeat UCA 34-31 in overtime. Brock immediately gave a jolt to a struggling offense, and I think his ability to run the ball from the quarterback position gives the Bearkats a dimension they did not have the previous three years with Briscoe. Having a quarterback who can run the ball is an extremely valuable asset, especially at the college level. Even though this season has not lived up to expectations, the Bearkats do have their quarterback of the future in Brock.
Despite the high expectations I do think that somewhat of a regression was expected by the Bearkats this season. When you lose three of the best players in program history in Briscoe, defensive lineman P.J. Hall now with the Oakland Raiders and record-breaking receiver Yedidiah Louis there is inevitably going to be a drop-off.
I think the Bearkats are well positioned for the future with Brock being a freshman and starting running back Kyran Jackson being a sophomore.
The team will also get star junior wide receiver Nathan Stewart back next year for his final season, and he will be accompanied by freshman standout Dee Bowens. Offensively the Bearkats should be very potent going into next season, as they could have the best dual attack in the Southland Conference. If they can get their defense right, this program can get right back to rolling through Southland opponents, but if they do not, SHSU could easily see another disappointing season in 2019.