Holtz inherited a 4-8 team from Dykes that was in obvious need of a rebuild, though their week four loss to a Kansas squad they out-performed in numerous areas, including yards and time of possession, did their team psyche no favors.
"I think we'll be a much better football team, but it will be interesting to see if the wins and losses follow that with the schedule we have to play," Holtz told the Shreveport Times.
The coaching staff wanted to add depth to the offensive line and to get some blocking tight ends added to the lineup. Tight Ends Josh Gaston (6-3 265) and Ricky Jones (6-1 260) are the type of players missing from the lineup over the last four years.
Most of the offensive line is back, led by seniors Tre Carter and Mitchell Bell. Redshirt Sophomore Darrell Brown looks poised to take over the left tackle spot for good, while newcomers Joseph Brunson, Kirby Wixson, and David Mahaffey will battle seniors Jens Danielson and Richard Greenwalt for starting spots.
Tech needs that line to come together so All-Conference running back Kenneth Dixon has space and the Bulldog's quarterback has a chance to survive. Dixon had over 6 yards per carry, but he was only able to start 8 games. His 917 yards on 151 carries with 4 touchdowns was still enough to land him 2nd team All-Conference USA team. With a fortified offensive line and a stable of running backs led by Dixon and redshirt Sophomore Tevin King, Louisiana Tech is due to show some improvement on offense in 2014.
The key for the offense will be the quarterback position, with Ryan Higgins returning after throwing for 1,715 yards with six touchdowns against thirteen interceptions. Higgins played hurt the last few games of the year and the Bulldogs dropped their last three to Rice, Tulsa, and UTSA.
Holtz also welcomes Cody Sokol to the squad. Sokol set a few records at Scottsdale Community College, a place that should sound familiar to Louisiana Tech fans as the place Tim Rattay, the current wide receivers coach, got his start. Sokol left Scottsdale and went to Iowa, where he redshirted during the 2012 season. He failed to win the starting job for the Hawkeyes in 2013, so when he graduated in May, he transferred to Louisiana Tech.
Sokol and Tech seem made for each other. The team has the look of a contender - they just need someone to lead them. By the same token, Sokol has all the talent in the world; he just needs a team to lead. He threw for 43 touchdowns as a sophomore at Scottsdale and Tech needs him to bridge the gap to next season where true freshman Price Wilson is waiting in the wings. Sokol will have to beat out Higgins this fall, but let's face it - Sokol did not come to Ruston to sit on the bench.
The fan base is guarded, as the first five games include a gauntlet of four road games against bowl teams: Oklahoma, North Texas, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Auburn. If Tech starts 1-4, the season will not be lost. That 2010 team started 1-4 with a heartbreaking one-point home loss to Houston, but bounced back to win seven in a row and a WAC title.
"It will be a great challenge," Holtz said in the Shreveport Times interview. "I think we're going to learn a lot about our football team in the first six games but then hopefully we can kind of get our feet on the ground and get some of these new players coming in a little bit more seasoned with our football team and hopefully we can make a run at the conference in the second half of the season."
If Tech can steal a win early against ULL or UNT, the schedule sets up to make a run in the middle of the season. Tech has four games in a row against teams (Southern Miss, Western Kentucky, Alabama-Birmingham, Old Dominion) picked to finish near the bottom of their conference standings. Tech could have a winning record by the time they finish the regular season on Nov 29th at home against Rice.