Coach: Skip Holtz (13-13, entering third season; 9-16 overall)
2014 record: 9-5, 7-1 in Conference USA; first in C-USA West
Look back: Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon helped lead the Bulldogs’ dramatic transformation into a Conference USA title contender, recording 22 rushing and six receiving touchdowns. He set a Louisiana Tech record for career rushing yards, rumbling for 1,299 yards during the 2014 season and 3,410 during his career.
Louisiana Tech’s defense slowed Marshall’s potent offense in the Conference USA title game, but the Thundering Herd escaped with a 26-23 win. All three of the Bulldog’s C-USA losses were by a margin of three points. Louisiana Tech bounced back with a 35-18 win over Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. It was the team’s first bowl win since 2008.
Offensive starters returning: 5
Offensive starters lost: 6
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: QB Cody Sokol, WR Sterling Griffin, LG Tre Carter, RT Mitchell Bell, DE Houston Bates, LB Mitch Villemez, LB Tony Johnson, LB Terrell Pinson, CB Le’Vander Higgins
Top returnees: RB Kenneth Dixon, WR Trent Taylor, WR Paul Turner, WR Carlos Henderson, LT Darrell Brown, C Kirby Watson, RG Joseph Brunson, DT Aaron Brown, DT Vernon Butler, DE Vontarrius Dora, CB Adarius Barnes, S Kentrell Brice, S Xavier Woods, K Kyle Fischer, P Logan McPherson
Strengths: Dixon returns at running back to help anchor an offense that ranked No. 5 nationally in most improved scoring, with Louisiana Tech jumping from 19.2 points per game in 2003 to 37.4 points per game in 2014 — a 94.8 percent improvement.
Former UF quarterback Jeff Driskel joined Louisiana Tech in the spring and battled junior Ryan Higgins for the starting job. While coach Skip Holtz has yet to name a starter, he seems to be favoring the former Gator, who is a strong run threat and has much to prove after a disappointing run in Gainesville.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive tackle Vernon Butler and defensive end Vontarrius Dora bring leadership to the front line, while cornerback Adarius Barnes and safety Xavier Woods anchor a strong secondary.
Weaknesses: While Driskel was an elite prospect coming out of Hagerty High, he posted more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine) during his final season running at UF and was benched after struggling to lead the offense. Louisiana Tech is hoping Driskel can follow in the footsteps of Cody Sokol, who bounced back from a rough time at Iowa to earn 2014 C-USA newcomer of the year honors during his sole season leading the Bulldogs’ offense.
Despite scoring at a rapid clip, Louisiana Tech wasn’t especially strong at racking up yards on the ground. The team ranked No. 85 nationally in rushing (148.6 yards per game).
The team loses six starters on offense and five starters on defense, with first-team All-Conference USA offensive lineman Mitchell Bell and second team All-C-USA defensive lineman Houston Bates among the toughest to replace.
Outlook: Holtz has Louisiana Tech on track to make another run at the Conference USA championship. The Bulldogs face a big test early, playing at fellow division title contender Western Kentucky Sept. 10.
Sept. 5 Southern
Sept. 10 at Western Kentucky
Sept. 19 at Kansas State
Sept. 26 FIU
Oct. 3 UL-Lafayette
Oct. 10 at Texas-San Antonio
Oct. 17 at Mississippi State
Oct. 24 Middle Tennessee
Oct. 30 at Rice
Nov. 7 North Texas
Nov. 21 at UTEP
Nov. 28 Southern Miss
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com