When Texas State named GJ Kinne its new head football coach more than a few eyebrows were raised. Who is this guy, people asked.
It was a good question as the 34-year-old Kinne was a relative unknown with one year of head coaching experience although it was a highly successful year: he led University of Incarnate Word to a 12-2 record and a spot in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs.
After several years of abject failure — the team has never finished better than 4-8 since moving up to FBS and becoming a member of the Sun Belt Conference in 2013 — Bobcats officials figuring they had nothing to lose reached out and offered Kinne the job after they parted ways with Jake Spavatal.
Kinne is the second youngest coach in FBS — Arizona State’s Kenny Dillingham is 32 — and the move is looking to be paying off.
The son of a long time Texas high school coach is Texas State’s fourth coach since it moved up to FBS and he has the Bobcats (5-3, 2-2) within one win of bowl eligibility for the first time. A dormant fan base is energized as attendance is currently 23,320 per game, an increase of 5,779 over last year.
Texas State wasted no time in showing it is not the same old Texas State when it went to Waco, Tx., and shocked Baylor, 42-31, in its season opener. Other wins have come against Jackson State, Nevada, Southern Miss and Louisiana-Monroe.
With the exception of last week’s 31-13 error-laden loss to Troy the Bobcats’ other defeats were one score games with Texas-San Antonio and Louisiana which scored twice in the last five minutes to pull out a 34-30 win.
In making the quick turnaround Kinne has made great use of the transfer portal. The Bobcats have 53 newcomers on their roster which includes 28 players who started their careers at Power 5 schools, 14 at Group of 5 teams and 14 from the FCS ranks including eight who came with him from UIW.
“Coach Kinne has done an amazing job in transforming this team in just a year from his roster management to their scheme,” Georgia Southern Coach Clay Helton said. “They are a hard team to play and just like our Paulson Stadium they provide a great college experience so we’ve got to become a better road team.”
Thanks to picking up quarterback TJ Finley, running back Ismail Mahdi and wide receiver Joey Hobert the Bobcats have been transformed into an offensive juggernaut.
Finley, who was rated the top quarterback in Louisiana in 2019, started three games as a true freshman at LSU before being injured and redshirted. He then transferred to Auburn following the arrival of Coach Brian Kelly.
At Auburn last year he played in nine games, starting three, and hit the portal again when Hugh Frieze was hired.
The 6-foot-7, 255-pound Finley has been a godsend for the Bobcats. He has thrown for 2,203 yards and 15 touchdowns to lead an offense which leads the conference in total offense and scoring at 483 yards and 35.13 points per game, respectively.
Mahdi is third in the Sun Belt in rushing at 106.75 yards per game and leads FBS in all-purpose yards with 1,363. Mahdi is a transfer from Houston Christian University formerly known as Houston Baptist.
Mahdi has an interesting background in that he was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. His parents are from Somala and they eventually came to the United States and wound up in Texas. Mahdi played soccer as a youth before picking up football. His season high is 216 yards coming in a 35-24 win over Nevada.
Hobert is third in the conference with 51 catches for 663 yards. He started his career at Washington State before transferring to Utah Tech where he was an FCS All-America last year with more than 1,500 yards receiving.
Complementing Hobert is sophomore wide receiver Kole Wilson, a transfer from UIW, who has 38 catches for 444 yards.
Linebacker Brian Holloway, a transfer from SMU, is one of the top defensive players in the conference with 64 tackles including 10 for a loss.
“I think we were the more physical team,” Kinne said of the loss to Troy. “We just had too many turnovers (four) and too many mistakes on the back end to beat a championship caliber team.
“The good thing is we’ve got another championship caliber team coming to our house so we get another opportunity,” Kinne said. “Ball security will be at a premium against Georgia Southern but at some point, you just have to go out there and play and let it loose
“We’re going to do what we do and go out there and play our brand of football.”