Preview: D2 Juggernaut Tarleton State Makes FCS Debut In Spring Football Opener

February 13, 2021 by Dave Congrove

History takes place tonight on a few levels.

For starters, we have a Spring football season for the first time in history with 96 teams playing 4 or more games. This unique spring season will run through April 17 when a mix of final regular season games and a trio of conference championship games (MEAC, NEC, Patriot) will be played.

On April 18, a 16-team playoff field will be announced that will consist of 11 automatic qualifiers as conference champions, in addition to 5 at-large entrants.

SEE: Season Preview, Predictions

Tonight's game features Tarleton State playing its first-ever contest as a member of the FCS when the Texans host McNeese State in Stephenville at 7 p.m. ET on Fox Sports Southwest+ and Fox Sports Go.

Tarleton State head coach Todd Whitten is in the 5th season of his 3rd stint with the Texans where he has a record of 79-37, including 23-2 over the the last two seasons. His squad was 11-0 in 2019 before falling to Texas A&M Commerce in the first round of the NCAA D2 playoffs. Tarleton State was 10-0 in the 2018 regular season and finished 12-1 after a 3rd-round playoff loss to Minnesota State.

The Texans will begin their FCS journey with a lot of new players in key positions as they'll have to do without their QB, top RB, top receiver and top tackler from 2019.

Steven Duncan, a Western Kentucky transfer, is the expected starter for Tarleton State tonight.

McNeese State begins the Frank Wilson era in a state of flux, as well.

Wilson was hired to replace Sterlin Gilbert after Gilbert left (January 16, 2020) to become the OC and QB coach at Syracuse for Dino Babers. Nearly two dozen players left the program. Gilbert was 7-5 in his only season with the Cowboys.

Hurricane Laura dealt the school another blow 8 months later when the CAT-4 storm shredded the Lake Charles, Louisiana campus on August 27, 2020. Numerous buildings and athletic facilities suffered significant damage.

Wilson does have QB Cody Orgeron back in the saddle. The son of LSU head coach Ed Orgeron threw for 2,628 yards with 24 TD's and 9 INT's in 2019.

Wilson was UTSA's head coach from 2016-2019 where he posted a 19-29 record and was fired on December 1, 2019. Only 4 wins came against schools with winning records. Wilson had previous FBS stints as an assistant with LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Southern Miss - generally coaching running backs.

The weather for the game tonight will feel more like Wyoming than Texas with a kick-off temp in the mid-20's, feeling like the mid-teens.

My Congrove Computer Rankings at give the Cowboys a 10.90-point edge against a 2.5-point  line at most sportsbooks. But there are numerous wild cards for this game with a new coach on one side, new skill position players on both sides, a spring football game that adds a unique wrinkle and weather forecasts for temperatures 35 degrees lower than the seasonal average.

My personal hunch says Tarleton State not only covers the spread but wins this game outright, 24-10.