Conference USA officially released the 2017 football schedules Thursday, and for Louisiana Tech, it’s a good one. For the first time since 1937, Louisiana Tech will have seven home games at Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, a huge boost after decades of just five or six home games. The three non-conference home games have it all: a historic rivalry renewed, a first-time opponent, and a regional SEC foe.
Games I would put a premium focus are in bold.
Week 1: Sat Sep 2 - Northwestern State Demons (Southland)
Week 2: Sat Sep 9 - Mississippi State Bulldogs (SEC)
Week 3: Sat Sep 16 - at WKU Hilltoppers
Week 4: Sat Sep 23 - at South Carolina Gamecocks (SEC)
Week 5: Sat Sep 30 - South Alabama Jaguars (Sun Belt)
Week 6: Sat Oct 7 - at UAB Blazers
Week 7: Bye
Week 8: Sat Oct 21 - Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Week 9: Sat Oct 28 - at Rice Owls
Week 10: Sat Nov 4 - North Texas Mean Green
Week 11: Sat Nov 11 - Florida Atlantic Owls
Week 12: Sat Nov 18 - at UTEP Miners
Week 13: Sat Nov 25 - UTSA Roadrunners
Now, let’s take a look at each game individually.
It might seem odd to circle a date against an FCS team, but hear me out. First, it’s the first game of the year, which is always exciting after the long off season. It will also be the debut of the new press box currently under construction. But more importantly, this isn’t just any FCS team; it’s NSU.
For many years, the La Tech-NSU rivalry was huge. So huge, it was played at a neutral site. The Dawgs and Demons faced off during the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport at State Fair Stadium (now called Independence Stadium) every year from 1946-1987, although they had played annually since 1926. The two teams have met 78 times. The rivalry ended in 1988 as Tech played one last year of I-AA football before moving (back) up to I-A. La Tech had gone on a 16-1-1 run against NSU in the last 18 meetings, and was ready to move on to bigger and better things at football’s highest level; NSU was not.
Then in 2014, Tech hosted NSU as the home opener. This was the first meeting in 26 years, and the first meeting in Ruston since 1945. Tech had dominated the series historically, boasting a 53-19-5 record going in to 2014, but NSU would kick a field goal as time expired to stun the Bulldogs 30-27.
So, why did I circle this game? Besides the history, the 79th meeting of Tech and NSU will be a revenge game for the Bulldogs. Plus, attendance should be high. The 2014 meeting drew 26,004 fans to Ruston, which today stands as the 5th largest attendance in the history of Joe Aillet Stadium. The fact NSU won that game could encourage even more NSU fans to make the two hour drive this time around.
The fact I circled this one should require a lot less explanation. It’s not every year that Tech hosts a power 5 school, and it’s even rarer for that game to be in Joe Aillet Stadium. On the occasion that Tech does host a big name, they usually do so in Independence Stadium since it has a larger capacity.
But here we are, and Tech has a huge opportunity before them. This game is part of a 6-game series between the two Bulldog teams. Louisiana Tech hosted MSST in 2008 to start the series, and defeated them 22-14. Tech would drop the two games in Starkville in 2011 and 2015, but the ‘11 game was in overtime, and State had Dak Prescott in ‘15. (Ask Jerry Jones if he’s a difference maker.) With Mississippi State making the trek from StarkVegas to RusVegas, Tech has a strong chance at a win over a big name school. This is a game they need to win.
In case you weren’t aware, Tech and WKU are NOT in the same division. But if you weren’t paying attention, you might think they were, since they’ve played literally every year since WKU joined C-USA, including twice in 2016. As it stands, this will continue for at least 2017 and 2018. It would appear C-USA is trying to push these two into some form of rivalry, especially as these two have been top tier programs in the current version of C-USA, with the two standing alone atop the conference in 2016.
Both lose playmakers post-2016 (the two Taylors, Henderson, Wales, etc.), and WKU will enter 2017 with an entirely new coaching staff. Still, whether or not the C-USA preseason poll lists these two as the favorites, they will certainly be in the conversation until proven they shouldn’t be. The 2016 meeting in Ruston was an instant classic, and the 2017 edition should be entertaining, as well. This game could have major implications on the site of the 2017 C-USA title game. It’s currently scheduled for Saturday, but don’t be surprised if it’s moved to Thursday or Friday for TV purposes.
at South Carolina
Although this is a road game, it’s still good scheduling. Tech will face an SEC team that has struggled recently. Although winning in Columbia will still be a challenge, it’s much better than facing the Alabamas of the world. Even if Tech loses, it probably won’t be a blowout, and Tech will pick up a nice paycheck either way.
Tech will complete its non-conference schedule by hosting South Alabama as part of a home-and-home series to be completed in 2018. These two have never met, and it’s always nice to play a new team. It feels like this should be a very winnable game, but we can’t overlook USA’s road wins over Mississippi State and San Diego State in 2016. Tech needs to make sure to be ready.
It’s nice to have the Blazers back. No one is really sure what to expect in year one of #theReturn. This could be a blowout of an inexperienced team, or it could be a struggle against a talented one. This was expected to be a home game, especially with their last matchup in 2014 being in Birmingham. However, the Dawgs will have to travel to Alabama again in 2017. UAB hasn’t played in Ruston since 1998.
Apparently C-USA decided having this game in rivalry week (it’s rightful place) wasn’t working, so it will be played midseason. But regardless of when it’s played, the Rivalry in Dixie is as big a game as any on the schedule. After two straight embarrassing losses to the Golden Eagles, Tech players and fans alike will be eager for another shot at revenge against that hated school from Hattiesburg.
It’s unclear what to expect of Southern Miss next year with Nick Mullens gone, but as the 2016 game showed, you can throw out the records when these two meet, and you can be sure both sides will fight it out to the bitter end. With the Eagles coming to Ruston in 2017, it will be critical that Skip Holtz gets the team over the hump this time around.
Rice has gone from C-USA champ in 2013 to 3-9 in 2016. Hopefully they can get this turned around, but if they don’t, this could be a fourth straight blowout.
The Mean Green improved considerably in Seth Littrell’s first year and should improve again in 2017, but I don’t expect the improvement to be fast enough to win in Ruston this year.
FINALLY. Despite 2017 being the fifth year Tech and FAU have shared a conference, this will be the first ever meeting between the Owls and the Bulldogs. It’s hard to know what to expect of them in Lane Kiffin’s first year, but with the game being in Ruston, this game feels winnable.
UTEP has been going steadily downhill under Sean Kugler, and there’s no signs of that changing. Playing in El Paso could cause some minor issues, but Tech should be able to win here.
Is it way too early to say UTSA could be a dark horse in the west? Probably. Am I going to do it anyway? Yep. This was supposed to be a road game in the Alamodome, where UTSA played pretty well in 2016. Tech will instead get a second straight senior day against the Roadrunners. Could be a decent game, but attendance will suffer due to Thanksgiving.
- After two years with very late bye weeks, this year’s comes at the midpoint of the season, which will be a nice change. Tech’s big rivalry game is no longer in rivalry week, but given the results of the last two maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. However, Southern Miss once again comes right after the bye week, a time where Tech struggled the past two years.
- UAB and UTSA were swapped in the divisional home vs away rotation. This means Tech will alternate between hosting UTSA, North Texas, and Southern Miss in odd years, with Rice, UTEP, and UAB in even years.
- The long trek to UTEP comes at the end of finals week for Tech, which made an obvious impact when they made that trip in 2015. I also found it odd that a crossover game (Florida Atlantic) is being played so late. Those are usually played earlier.
- Tech will get two sets of back-to-back home games, with one set of back-to-back road games.
Way-too-early Season Prediction
With this schedule, I can see Louisiana Tech going anywhere from 6-6 (way worse case scenario) to 11-1. Seven home games will be a huge boost, and maybe that’s what it will take to get the Bulldogs over the 10-win hump.
If you consider a bowl game and a potential berth to the C-USA Championship Game, 10 wins seems plausible for 2017. The biggest challenges will be Mississippi State, WKU, South Carolina, Southern Miss, and UTEP (only because of finals week on the road).
September 2nd can’t come quickly enough.