Louisiana Tech can go ahead and crown themselves as the best football team in the Bayou State, not named LSU. Since Skip Holtz' arrival in 2013 the Bulldogs have been 16-8 in C-USA play, but haven't made the splash on the national stage that a few G5 teams such as Temple, Houston, and Memphis (after their shocking upset of then No. 13 Ole Miss in Memphis).
But first, for Ruston to get any kind of attention, the Bulldogs need to get over the hump, which means not just giving a Power-5 conference team a respectable effort but winning. Unfortunately, the team has been gutted by graduation and the cornerstones of their team heading to the NFL.
With that being said, let's dive into the 2016 schedule and breakdown some of the key match-ups that will mean the difference between wallowing in mediocrity and taking a run at the championship crown. Oh, and a 10-win season might be enough to make us forget about this embarrassingly turrible video.
Setting The Tone
at Arkansas Razorbacks
D.W.R. Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, AR
The leading passer for the Razorbacks, Brandon Allen, is now a part of the Jacksonville Jaguars organization. But a larger loss may be their 1500 yard, 20 touchdown running back beast, Alex Collins (now within the Seattle Seahawks). This is a middling SEC team that started the season with losses to Toledo and Texas Tech, but finished their 2015 campaign strong against a softer schedule.
For the Bulldogs this is a prime opportunity to set the tone for the season. Unfortunately, it will be without a very dynamic Jeff Driskel under center. This the battle of who can get their offense together before the season opener. Both teams are replacing a very productive quarterback and have questions to answer on the defensive side of the ball.
LA Tech has been the team that registers wins against teams they're supposed to beat and never seems to rise to the occasion as underdogs. My only theory that seems to work, and it's a long shot, is that with some of the highest turnover in the nation, this will be a totally different team with a unified purpose now that Skip Holtz has had almost a full cycle of recruiting under his belt.
(Could Be) A 12-round Slugfest
at Texas Tech Red Raiders
Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, TX
Here's another measuring stick of a match-up against an up and coming, but utterly abysmal on defense, Texas Tech team. Sure, the Raiders can run up the scoreboard and have talent on offense that starts with returning QB Patrick Mahomes.
Except their defense has been historically bad. If the Bulldogs can slow the game down a bit they may have a chance, but if it becomes a race to 50 points, LA Tech may be done by the time this contest makes it to the third quarter. However, if they manage to defeat an undefeated Big 12 team, they'll start to get some national attention.
Defensively, they'll want to keep Mahomes in the pocket. He isn't a burner by any stretch of the imagination, but is quick enough to convert 1st downs if you're not keeping an eye on him during 3rd-and-short situations.
Playing "The Challenger" to the Champs
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Joe Aillet Stadium, Ruston, LA
Gone are the magnificent duo of Doughty and Higbee, but WKU is still immensely talented. The reigning C-USA champs still have most of their skill position players, minus Doughty of course, so Tech will have their work cut out for them.
If the Bulldogs manage to split their games against Texas and Arkansas and win up until this point, they could have early leverage for the C-USA crown.
Might Need a little Dirty Boxing
at Southern Miss Golden Eagles
M.M. Roberts Stadium, Hattiesburg, MS
The revenge game. After reeling off 4 wins in a row the Bulldogs ran into a Southern Miss buzzsaw in 2015. LA Tech will have to do the little things right to come out on top between two very evenly matched teams. This means that special teams may be a key to earning a W in Hattiesburg. Last season the Golden Eagles ranked 119th in Special Teams S&P+.
Southern Miss bulldozed over Tech's path to the C-USA Championship last year, and it wasn't pretty. Driskel threw 3 picks, and wideout Paul Turner was their leading rusher with 7 yards. SEVEN. YARDS. Plus, Nick Mullens is back from his 4400-yard, 38-touchdown Junior season that set Southern Miss passing records. Tech is going to have to keep Mullens on a leash and execute a more balanced rushing attack to have any hope that this year's contest doesn't become another thrashing.
This season will be one of Skip's biggest challenges.
Coach Holtz has done an admirable job so far in his tenure at Louisiana Tech. But, in a state that lives and breathes college football, the tolerance for losing seasons is waning. Sure, the SEC will have their pick of talented 4 and 5-star recruits coming out of the deep south, but that doesn't mean that Tech can't put a quality, winning product on the field. The real test will be whether Skip can put together the pieces of the puzzle left after such a big loss through graduations and the NFL Draft.