Louisiana Tech blitzed through the majority of their conference schedule in 2014 with only a 30-27 overtime loss at Old Dominion staining what would have been a perfect record. Still a 7-1 conference record is nothing to sneeze at and you can't overlook the fact that Tech blew out bowl teams WKU, UTEP, and Rice by an average of 48.33 point per game!
Most of the preseason rankings have Western Kentucky and Marshall as the teams to beat in CUSA in 2015, with Louisiana Tech a little behind them. Is this because the Hilltoppers return Brandon Doughty and LA Tech will be replacing Cody Sokol? Surely quarterbacks, while important, aren't the only measuring stick for a team going from pretty good to really good.
WKU began their first campaign in CUSA last season, with losses to UAB, FAU, and MTSU. One of those losses was at home and none of those teams finished with a winning record. If the Hilltoppers are going to make the jump from a good team to a CUSA frontrunner, they are going to have to beat the teams in the middle of the pack.
WKU did finish the 2014 season strong, but three of their late season wins were all at home and they were against UTEP, UTSA, and Army. The Hilltoppers beat UTEP by 8 points in Bowling Green. Beating Marshall on the road was impressive, however, as they upset the previously undefeated Herd 67-66 in overtime. The pattern for the Hilltoppers has been to try to get into a gunfight and air it out - defense be damned.
LA Tech beat Rice 76-31 and they also beat WKU 59-10. The Bulldogs weren't just beating the top teams in the conference, they were hammering them. Now Skip Holtz and company have to take their show on the road and try to beat those same two teams in unfriendly territory.
Tech gets their chance to turn C-USA upside down early, facing off in Bowling Green, KY with the Hilltoppers in Week Two on Thursday night, September 10th on Fox Sports 1.
WKU wants to get in a shoot-out with Tech because if they do, they stand a great chance of winning. They beat Central Michigan 49-48 in the Bahamas Bowl in dramatic fashion.
Just like they did against Marshall, the Hilltoppers beat Central Michigan by scoring quick, getting scored on, and scoring again as fast as possible. Louisiana Tech had this same strategy under Sonny Dykes in 2011 and 2012, and there can be success - to a degree.
For Louisiana Tech, the main competition in the west will once again be Rice. Tech gets MTSU and FIU at home from the east side, and the west side will set up pretty well for the Bulldogs. UTEP and Rice will both host Holtz and Co. late in the season, hoping to knock them off their pedestal.
While the Bulldogs will certainly miss Sokol, who passed for 335 yards and five touchdowns in the win over WKU, it was the Bulldogs' defense that set the tone. Tech intercepted Doughty four times, and they added three sacks and four quarterback hits. Returning on that defense are Vontarrius Dora, Vernon Butler, as well as Kentrell Brice, Adarius Barnes, and Xavier Woods. Barnes had two of the interceptions against Western Kentucky.
LA Tech has a chance to make a statement in Week Two on the road. Jeff Driskel, a Florida transfer, is likely to be under center. The Bulldogs return Kenneth Dixon at running back, as well as receivers Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson. Holtz is likely to pound the ball more with the 234-pound Driskel and the wrecking ball known as Kenneth Dixon.
SBNation's Bill Connelly has LA Tech rated just behind Marshall and WKU in his Conference USA Preview. While Tech lost Sokol, Levander Liggins, Houston Bates, and Terrell Pinson; Holtz has enough firepower to flex his muscles again in 2015.
Louisiana Tech was a Cody Sokol shoulder injury away from finishing the season undefeated in conference and nationally ranked. Once Marshall figured out Sokol was unable to throw the ball, the conference champsionship game changed completely. Marshall outscored Tech 10-0 in the fourth quarter to win the game 26-23.
Two losses on the road by three points each is very, very respectable for Holtz's squad. Louisiana Tech has more first team selections and overall selections on the preseason All-Conference USA Team put out last week by Athlon. Holtz has his team back loaded and ready to finish what they started in 2014.