2023 DCTF Magazine Team Preview: Tarleton Texans

Photo by Trey Pope

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Since 2004, 14 schools have transitioned from NCAA Division II to FCS. Two teams, Tarleton and Utah Tech, are entering their final season of the transition process. Only four of these 16 programs have posted winning records during each of their first three transition seasons.

One of those programs is North Dakota State, which has established itself as a powerhouse while winning nine national championships since 2011. The reigning national champions, South Dakota State, accomplished the feat along with perennial FCS playoff contender Central Arkansas.

The fourth team is Tarleton. The Texans place among those elite programs is a testament to the work of coach Todd Whitten and his staff.

“I’m pleased with how we’ve managed the transition process,” Whitten said. “So far, we’ve managed to get through this process without a losing season, and we will have our best team since we began the transition this year.”

From the outside, it may seem like the transition process has been easy. The truth is an entirely different story.

“Being shut out of the postseason for the last three years was hammered home by everybody we recruited against the last few years,” Whitten said. “We see the light at the end of the tunnel, and this will be the best team we’ve had during the transition.

“We’re proud of three straight winning seasons. We have accomplished a lot. While the average fan may say that we’re just average because of back-to-back 6-5 seasons, a big portion of our roster was one-offer guys that came early in the transition.”

Tarleton has made it known they intend to transition to FBS within the next 10 years, if not sooner. The Texans have overhauled their facilities during the last three years, including expanding Memorial Stadium to a capacity of 24,000 and a locker room that rivals those in Power 5 conferences.

With the new facilities came increased expectations on the field. The Texans own the fifth-best winning percentage among the 16 teams to transition since 2004. Still, there’s a desire for more success.

“The average fella has no idea how difficult this is,” Whitten said. “During the last recruiting cycle, we felt sort of normal again, and we won a lot of our recruiting battles. We beat out some folks for some guys that would be a surprise to people. There’s a learning curve as we’ve moved up. We’ve got to get caught up from a personnel standpoint, and we’re getting there. We’ll have more depth this year than we’ve ever had.”

The raised expectations possibly stem from Tarleton’s success during its first season in the FCS. The Texans nearly defeated McNeese State in a memorable two-overtime game to open the spring 2020 pandemic season. They followed that performance with the school’s first win over an FBS foe with a 43-17 victory at New Mexico State.

“The best opportunity to have a winning season is the first year,” Whitten said. “You’ve got all those Division II guys that wouldn’t have been at that level if their grades had been better. Looking back, the first year was our best and most talented team during the transition. It got a little worse in Year 2, and we’re starting to climb out of that this year. We’re proud of those 6-5 records.”

One of Tarleton’s losses last season was a 59-17 defeat at eventual FBS national finalist TCU. This year will be the Texans most challenging schedule in program history. Tarleton’s 2023 slate features nine FCS opponents and a trip to Lubbock to battle Texas Tech in Week 3. 

It’s not the fan base or donors placing increased expectations on the team this year. It’s the head coach himself. Whitten points to two games this season that will show the state of the program, and he says it’s time for his team to prove it can compete against the top teams in the United Athletic Conference.

“We’re always battling for a winning season because those are important in college football,” Whitten said. “We need to make a real push at Abilene Christian and Stephen F. Austin and get closer to beating those guys. We’ll have the talent to make some noise in the WAC this year.”


It’s not a secret that this season is vital in Whitten’s future with Tarleton. He believes this could be one of the best teams he has ever coached, which is quite a statement from a coach with his track record of success. But questions remain at the most visible position on the field after last season’s starting quarterback and WAC Freshman of the Year Beau Allen transferred to Georgia Southern. 

Whitten said Utah Tech transfer Victor Gabalis, Mississippi State transfer Daniel Greek, and returning junior Marco Siderman will compete for the starting nod during fall camp, with Gabalis holding the edge after spring practice. Tarleton has plenty of depth at every other position group, but the Texans success this year will largely depend on whoever wins the quarterback competition.

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