The much anticipated 2021 season kicks off in 75 days and before our great big preseason write up and then our August Hiatus before the season starts. The Lone Star Conference is changing and the power is shifting from traditional powers to newcomers and some programs on the rise are now looking to crash and burn. Let’s take a look at how The Wire looks at the power of the conference teams.
1. Texas A&M-Commerce Lions (11-3 record, NCAA DII Quarterfinalists in 2019)-The Lions are simply the most talented team in the conference from top to bottom. There are no weaknesses as far as personnel. If Miklo Smalls retakes the reigns at QB, and assuming he is healthy and stays healthy, the Lion offense will be potent, powerful, and hard to stop. The Lion Defense is full of talented playmakers and the special teams are explosive and strong on all fronts. David Bailiff has taken what he inherited, added some of his own players and his own style and has kept the Lions as national title contenders. Some polls have the Lions as high as # 3 and some around # 5-7 in the preseason polls. The Lions have got it all lined up to make another run to play in McKinney in December and so long as there are no major team collapses, they are the team to beat in the LSC.
2. Angelo State Rams (8-3 record in 2019, 2-2 record in Spring 2021)-The Rams will return a strong core of offensive and defensive players. The Rams are under Jeff Girsch for their second full season, and return much of what they had in 2019. The Ram defense was solid as was their offense, and they look to be in contention for the LSC crown led on offense by Quarterback Zack Bronkhurst. The rams host Commerce in the next to last game of the season, and that game will likely decide the LSC crown. Girsch has been able to show the ASU fans he has the program on the right track and they should be in the thick of things come early November.
3. West Texas A&M Buffaloes (8-3 record in 2019, 3-3 record in Spring 2021)-The Buffs are heading into their fourth season under Hunter Hughes, and the Buffs were right in the think of things during the 2019 season. They were nationally and regionally ranked at points in the season and finished the season 8-3 with their only losses being to Tarleton State, A&M-Commerce, and Angelo State. While WT’s defense is decent, they find themselves riding on the arm of Nick Gerber, who showed flashes of promise in 2019 and 2020, but also showed himself to be sack and turnover prone. Hughes runs a traditional offense that cannot be described as a passing or a running offense, but a basic pro set style. WT get both A&M-Commerce and Angelo State in Canyon. If they want to get back to the playoffs, they are going go have to win at least one of those games. For now, the Buffs look like a solid third.
4. Texas-Permian Basin Falcons-(4-7 in 2019, 5-0 in Spring 2021) Justin Carrigan has taken a program that started out in 2016 and has steadily but surely made the program into a competitive Division II program. Carrigan has been allowed to make mistakes and feel out the job by his administration and the fans in Odessa are behind him and the Falcons. If you were to combine the two records from the fall of 2019 and spring of 2021, the Falcons are 9-7 over the past 2 seasons, and were undefeated the spring. The beat some good teams in 2019, like an 8 Win Eastern New Mexico squad, and in the spring defeated Western New Mexico, Texas A&M-Kingsville, and Midwestern State, and more impressively, went 5-0. This team looks pretty solid on all fronts and look for them to have a winning record this year. An upset of one of the top 3 teams in the LSC looks likely if not outright a guarantee. This is a program on the way up. Look out.
5. Midwestern State Mustangs-(5-6 in 2019, 2-2 in Spring 2021) MSU’s Bill Maskill is not used to having seasons like he did in 2019 and only to follow that up with a meh 2021 spring season. Maskill is used to being at the top, but this year, he looks like defense is going to be a problem, and that will be an even bigger problem against the top 4 teams in these power rankings as they all have potent offenses. The Mustangs do not appear to have any problems scoring, but if they don’t stop anyone and fix the special teams errors that doomed them in 2019, Maskill could find himself on the end of a 3rd straight season without a winning record.
6. Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds-(8-3 in 2019, Heritage Bowl Champions)-There is one reason, and one reason alone that Eastern is down this far. The State of New Mexico’s Governor’s office destroyed the Eastern program with one swipe of a pen. The absolutely draconian COVID-19 restrictions that were place on this institution was far too great a burden to bear, and that is what led Kelley Lee to leave Portales and head to Texas for a high school coaching job. That being said, Eastern is going to have to essentially build their program back. The new head coach in Portales is Tye Hiatt, and he was a fantastic coordinator at Shepherd College in West Virginia, but gone is the Hounds trump car, their feared triple option attack. They did not have a spring to get their offense going due to some more New Mexico State rules regarding COVID-19. New offense, new coaching staff, new program, and no spring to prepare will be rough on any program, much more so on a program that has always done less with more like Eastern’s has.
7. Texas A&M-Kingsville Javelinas (2-9 in 2019, 0-2 in Spring 2021)-Mike Salinas takes over in South Texas and the TAMUK program has seen hard times like never before. Salinas took the job at the end of the 2019 season and had only two games in the spring of 2021 to evaluate his players, but that is it. Kingsville is essentially having to recreate a program and get them back to the top heap of the LSC. They have done nothing but go downward over the past 5 years with a decent season in here or there from time to time. Salinas is a TAMUK alum and was in Kingsville when the Javs were dominant back in the early 2000’s and was the defensive coordinator at West Texas A&M under Don Carthel when the Buffs were in their heyday. Salinas has a tough road to haul ahead of him, and what he will be able to do in his first season leaves a lot of question marks.
8. Western New Mexico Mustangs-(2-10 in 2019, 0-1 in Spring 2021)-Frank Tristan had the Mustangs of Western New Mexico on the right track, but once again, the inability to have any workouts thanks to the fierce restrictions placed on New Mexico’s student athletes had Tristan realizing he was better off in his hometown, and he returned to Missouri. Stepping in is Philip Vigil, who was the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator under Colby Carthel at Stephen F. Austin. Vigil can recruit, and more than likely, he will keep Western’s 4-wide air raid style approach on offense. However, like his counterpart to the east, he did not get a full chance to have a look at what he had in the spring, as he was just hired in early May. He will have his hands more than full and a very tough job in Silver City. However, he has shown his ability to recruit and if he can keep the WNM offense somewhat productive and improve the defense, the Mustangs could be more than cellar dwelling spoilers.