The last few years, despite the Bulldogs' up-and-down seasons, Joe Aillet Stadium has routinely seen 24,000 to 25,000 fans on game day. Looking back over the last five seasons, it's easy to see that there is more involvement than ever from Tech fans. The problem is, Louisiana Tech has had a hard time capitalizing on that rise in fan interest.
In 2010, Louisiana Tech was not yet in Conference USA, but Southern Miss was coming to town and Tech fans were excited. It was Sonny Dykes' first year and people in Ruston were anxious to get a shot at USM, who, if you remember, was once an elite C-USA program, and had not played in Ruston for several years. Tech lost 13-12 in a lackluster game in front of 22,344 fans. The Bulldogs would go on to win five games that year, and attendance never really picked up.
In 2011, Tech had 24,628 fans show up for a game against Houston. The Bulldogs got up 34-7 late in the 3rd quarter and the game looked over, but Case Keenum led an improbable Houston comeback — as the Cougars scored 28 unanswered points.
Two weeks after Houston, Hawaii came to town, and 25,212 fans showed up, (surprisingly more than the Houston game.) The Bulldogs took a 44-26 beatdown and fan involvement was once again finished for the year.
In 2013, Tech lost three home games. First, 22,000 fans watched Tech lose to Tulane, followed by 20,300 that watched the Bulldogs lose to North Texas 28-13 in their second-ever Conference USA home game.
Tech did beat Southern Miss in front of 18,500 fans in Ruston in 2013, but they lost to Tulsa 24-14 and only 16,000 fans were there. As the season went on there were 2,000 less fans at each home game.
When Northwestern State came to Ruston for the first time in twenty years this past weekend, 26,004 fans packed Joe Aillet Stadium, which is the third largest crowd to ever see the Bulldogs play in Ruston. The new end zone facility is under construction, the tailgating areas were crammed full; everyone there was excited to see their 2-1 Bulldogs and celebrate their revamped, new-look team.
Louisiana Tech has now lost eleven games in Ruston in the last five seasons and they still have UTEP, UTSA, Western Kentucky, and Rice left to play. There probably won't be 26,000 fans at the UTEP game in two weeks, but the fans that do show up really need to see the home team win.
The administration at Louisiana Tech is doing everything it can to build a consistent, winning football program. Fan support is at an all-time high, coaching salaries are up, and facilities are being built. Tech has only had back-to-back winning seasons three times (1990-91, 1996-97, and 2012-13) since moving up to Division 1 in 1988. But if Tech is going to establish a new program standard, the team is going to have to win the home games that it is supposed to win. There is no room for error if for a program in rural north Louisiana.
I'm convinced Louisiana Tech can build a program that consistently sees 35,000 fans in a revamped Joe Aillet Stadium. Tech fans will have a program that consistently wins seven or eight game a year, with occasional years that are better and occasional years that are worse. They key is to be in bowl games more years than not. Tech went bowling in 2008 and 2011, so they are going in the right direction.
The Bulldogs are 1-0 in Conference USA and still have a great chance to go bowling this season. It all starts at home; the Bulldogs must win in Joe Aillet Stadium if they have any hope of playing in a bowl game. Sometimes to take the next step as a program, you have to take that first step; and that means winning the games that you are expected to win.