Kicking off the weekend of my Texas triple header was a Thursday night Sun Belt showdown in San Marcos, Texas – home of the Texas State Bobcats. As one of a dozen FBS programs in the football crazed Lonestar State, the ‘cats had eluded a visit during my Dallas days. But the promise of a triple header weekend (with additional stops at Rice and Houston), along with the allure of some proper Texas BBQ, made a trip to San Marcos an easy sell.

It’s a long drive from Houston, but pleasant, after escaping the clutches of nightmarish urban congestion. Wide open plains stretch in the distance as I blast down I-10, the cruise control set at a comfortable 80mph. A few thunderheads ominously gather in the western distance, great columns rolling over in the horizon like black surf. Cattle graze listlessly on the lush fall grass, shaded under twisted live oak canopies poking out of the prairie.

Approaching the I-35 corridor, midway between Austin and San Antonio, San Marcos has experienced explosive growth in the past decade as part of the great population migration to business friendly Texas. Chain restaurants clump around the exits, their gaudy neon signs littering the skyline next to garish billboards. Naturally, I opt for something a bit more tasteful – a massive barbecue lunch at the newly christened Kent Black’s BBQ. Kin to the infamous Blacks Barbecue of Lockhart, the barbecue capitol of Texas, Kent Blacks only recently opened their doors but boast over 80 years of BBQ tradition attributed to the Black family name. Evidently, the brick pits at this new location are already chugging out first rate cue’ and I settle into a heaping plate of brisket and ribs, capped with a Jurassic sized beef rib.

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Bellied up for the night, I head towards Bobcat Stadium and slip into some free parking next to a set of railroad tracks across the street , quickly setting off to survey the tailgating grounds. True to it’s reputation as one of the preeminent party schools in Texas, the revelry does not disappoint. While they may not enjoy the same mass following as their burnt orange neighbors to the north, pound for pound Texas State may have some of the most raucous tailgating in the game.

Lifted trucks are stuffed into the lots with giant speakers thumping in the beds, pumping out anything from Randy Rogers Band to Swedish House Mafia. A few setups even feature live bands, and dozens of cowboy boots scuttle rhythmically across the asphalt as tanned legs two-step to the twang. Beer cans litter the ground along with a few empty tins of dip, while the aroma of bbq smokers wafts through the humid night air. A few cops ride by in a golf cart chuckling at some of the outlandish antics, they keep an eye on things, but refrain from the need for heavy handed intervention. It’s a raucous yet positive, magnificent scene. The best of what tailgating should be.

As the lights of Bobcat Stadium flicker in the gathering night mist, kickoff beckons and I make my way towards the shining concrete facade. I score a free ticket from a woman draped in a maroon ‘Cats sweatshirt, she’s waving fistfuls of them outside the entrance gates as fans shuffle in from the parking lots. Booming across the loudspeakers, It’s senior night for the Texas State squad, and after each of the graduating players is personally announced they greet their family on the field. Shortly after, the rest of the team pours out of the tunnel as gold and red fireworks blast into the sky, the smoke hovering at field level for a few extra beats in the humid night air.

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A light patter starts to fall as the game kicks off, but the Bobcats are undeterred. They run roughshod over the Red Wolves, jumping out to a 28-14 lead at halftime. Junior running back Robert Lowe annihilates the Arkansas State defense, gashing them for 236 yards against four touchdowns – a career night for the Waxahachie, Texas native. Despite the foul weather, the largest collegiate dance team – the Texas Strutters – make their halftime appearance. The crowd gazes for a few moments and undergrads cheer, as hundreds of mini skirt and cowboy hat clad women rhythmically dance and kick legs high in the air for the performance. The second half of football plays out much the same as the first, as the Bobcats run away with a lopsided 45-27 victory. They cement their position in the upper tier of the Sunbelt Conference with a convincing senior sendoff.

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