Larry Coker knew what he was talking about back in October. "Yeah, it's a tough place to play," UTSA head coach Larry Coker said of Joe Aillet Stadium. "I think it's like a mini-SEC school where the fans are really into it and enjoy the experience."
The Bulldogs won their four conference games at home in 2014 against UTEP, UTSA, WKU, and Rice by a combined 217 to 64.
With so much success last season, it's easy to see why the Bulldogs would be confident, but Head Coach Skip Holtz is warning his team not to take anyone lightly. "The actual schedule will be a challenge for us, explained Holtz. "We have to be playing at a high level early. Southern ended up being a 9-4 football team last year. They won their last seven games of the season. It will be a great challenge for us. We are certainly not in a position with a new football team to overlook anyone. We will have to play well there."
Tech's biggest issue last season was putting teams away, and it did come back to bite them more than once. In the first home game of the season, the Bulldogs led Northwestern State 27-17 with 10:35 to play after Kenneth Dixon scored on a five yard run. Aided by two late turnovers that put them in great field position, Northwestern State won the game 30-27.
The Bulldogs held on to beat UTSA 27-20 after taking a 27-10 lead into the fourth quarter. On the road against Old Dominion, Tech lead 24-14 at half time but ended up losing 30-27 in OT.
Holtz has been around long enough that college football is not always smooth sailing. "No matter how talented you are, not everything is going to go your way." he pointed out. "You are going to need that leadership and we are going to have adversity a number of times this year."
This season sets up for Tech to be successful this season, Southern, FIU, ULL, MTSU, UNT, and Southern Miss all come to Ruston in 2015. MTSU comes to town on October 24th and that might be Tech's biggest home test. The Bulldogs did not meet the Blue Raiders last season, so there is a bit of an unknown on both sides.
Despite the optimism on campus, Holtz warned there is still a long way to go. "So many things have to happen that when you look at [on paper] then yeah, it's going to be a special year, he added. "But we have a long way to go for everything to go right, we have a lot of work to do, a lot of camp to go through."
Holtz added that it's going to be different now that his team is no longer the underdog. "I promise you the expectations in that locker room are a lot higher than they are outside," he added, "As you build a program, you have to learn how to win. When you are the underdog it is easy to have desire and hunger. The key to this season is how mature we are and how do we handle winning. Once you learn how to win, you have to learn how to handle winning. You have to learn how to be the favorite and learn how to carry that swag with you. We will learn a lot about this football team, but it will definitely be a different season than we had a year ago. I would imagine we went into games more as underdogs than as favorite, or as my daughter calls it, over-dogs. I think this year we will be favored in a few more games. It will be interesting to see how we handle it when you have the bulls-eye on your chest."
Southern comes to town in just over three weeks, and the Bulldogs get their first chance to show how far they have come. The hunters have become the hunted in Ruston.