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LA Tech: Scheduling For Success

Boise State gives us the blueprint. The Broncos showed you build a winning program by winning you conference and by knocking off the big boys on occasion. From 2002 to 2006, Boise State was 58-7 culminating in their 2006 season where they famously went 13-0 and beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

Kenneth Dixon runs past Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl
Kenneth Dixon runs past Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In those seasons, and most of the seasons since then; the Broncos have scheduled just one team (occasionally two) from a major conference. This was a different approach from their fellow WAC mates Fresno State and Louisiana Tech. Both Fresno and LA Tech would schedule three and sometimes four teams from what is now referred to as the P5.

In 2002, Fresno lost to Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State. LA Tech lost to Clemson, Penn State, and Texas A&M, while knocking off Oklahoma State in Shreveport. Both programs would get the occasional upset in those years, but they were few and far between. Their reputations of "anybody, anywhere" were built on playing several "body bag" games while winning the occasional game. Fresno might have done it because of Pat Hill's bravado; who really knows? Louisiana Tech did it to pay the bills.

During that same time, Boise State scheduled only Arkansas in 2002 (loss), Oregon State in 2003 (loss), Oregon State in 2004 (win), Oregon State and Georgia in 2005 (both losses), and Oregon State in 2006 (win).

So Boise was 2-4 in those games, but they won most of the rest of their games and they made it to bowl games where they got another shot at the big boys and finished 3-2 in that five year stretch.

Scheduling for success is exactly what it sounds like. Getting your brains beat in the early part of the season usually leads to more losses later on. Conversely, winning early can build momentum and help a team go on a nice run. Winning leads to more winning.

Learning a lesson from those old WAC days, Louisiana Tech has started to figure out the equation. Surviving on body bag games only goes so far. Winning brings in more fans, who have to buy more tickets, and that also creates more sponsorship opportunities. Winning also brings opportunities to play in bowl games.

Skip Holtz has been here before. He won two Conference USA titles at East Carolina and the Pirates were always another program that never shied away from playing the big boys. They beat their share of them too.

LA Tech started figuring things out back in 2008. The Bulldogs scheduled home and home agreements with Army and Navy in order to scale down the P5 games to just two per year. LA Tech beat Mississippi State in 2008, and they beat Ole Miss in 2011. In 2012, the Bulldogs beat both Illinois and Virginia. In 2013, they lost to Kansas and N.C. State, but the Kansas game was there to be taken (Tech lost 13-10 after committing untimely turnovers).

LA Tech also figured out how to not schedule so many games against Top 15 powerhouses and they won a good share of the games from 2008 to 2013. In 2014, Tech lost badly to both Oklahoma and Auburn when they got away from their more recent strategy. In 2015, Kansas State and Mississippi State are on the schedule.

This leads us to the 2016 schedule, where new LA Tech A.D. Tommy McClelland inherited a mess. Mississippi State was booked to come back to Ruston, while LA Tech also scheduled to go to Texas A&M and Arkansas.

According to the Monroe News-Star, the Mississippi State game was pushed back to 2017. Now Tech will play UMASS as part of a home and home agreement. Also in the article, we learn that Texas A&M approached LA Tech about buying out their game and that Texas Tech would pay more to get the Bulldogs in Lubbock.

McClelland took the lemon he inherited and made lemonade. Holtz has to be happy for sure. He has Kenneth Dixon, Vernon Butler, Jeff Driskel, Vontarrius Dora, both starting cornerbacks, and a couple of key offensive linemen all playing their senior seasons in 2015. Holtz did not want to go through basically half the SEC West in 2016 with an unproven quarterback and an extremely young roster.

Texas Tech and Arkansas will be tough enough games in 2015, but UMASS is certainly winnable as well as whichever FCS team comes to Ruston. Pushing Mississippi State's visit back a year allows Holtz to get his 2015 and 2016 signing classes, filled with high school recruits, a year or two under their belts in the meantime. Also, Holtz will likely have a quarterback in 2017 that has some experience from the year before.

If LA Tech wants to pull off another home win against Mississippi State like they did in 2008, 2017 gives them a better chance to make it happen. The Bulldogs get very few chances to get a P5 team in Joe Aillet Stadium, so it's important to make it count.

The UMASS home and home agreement, as well as future agreements with Bowling Green and South Alabama, show that Louisiana Tech is committed to playing just two P5 games a year. That's the blue print. We've seen it before and we know the other way doesn't work.