In the lead-up to the upcoming college football season, Sports Unbiassed is taking a look at the top 20 teams with a chance to win the Access Bowl bid in 2015. You can find the full list of the Top 20, links to other team previews, and read more about the methodology behind the rankings here.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
2014 Record: 9-5 (7-1 in C-USA)
Head Coach: Skip Holtz (.543)
Returning Starters: 14/24 (7 OFF/5 DEF/2 SP)
5-Year Recruiting Ranking Composite: 81st
FIVE POSSIBLE STATEMENT GAMES
- Sept. 10 @ Western Kentucky
- Sept. 19 @ Kansas State
- Oct. 3 @ UL-Lafayette
- Oct. 17 @ Mississippi State
- Oct. 30 @ Rice
WHAT YOU REMEMBER/SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT THE BULLDOGS
Last year Louisiana Tech went bowling for the first time since 2011, but it didn’t have to be that way. Back in 2012, after finishing 9-3 in the final season in the WAC, the athletic department bungled the postseason invitation process — holding out too long for a Liberty Bowl berth and allowing a spot in the Independence Bowl to evaporate — and were shut out of any bowl game in the process. Instead they had to wait until last December to return to the postseason, where they made the most of the opportunity by defeating Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl:
With Conference USA having been completely reconfigured by the process of realignment that took place over the past few years in college football, Louisiana Tech is a clear favorite to reach the conference title game out of its division. After missing out on the opportunity in 2012, this could be the year when the Bulldogs finally achieve the first 10-win season since they reached the I-AA championship game in 1984 and the first as an FBS program. Whether that would be enough to claim a New Year’s Six bowl spot remains to be seen.
THE KEY REASON FOR HOPE FOR THE BULLDOGS IN 2015
Louisiana Tech has a clear path to a conference championship. C-USA West has lost teams like Houston and Tulsa, who combined to play in seven of the first eight C-USA championship games from 2005 to 2012. The main teams that have any chance of challenging the Bulldogs, Rice and UTEP, will be equally affected by the loss of talent that is inevitable to college football. Their schedule also contains several statement games that, even if they fail to win both, will bolster the strength of schedule in a way that will be noticed by the selection committee when weighing Louisiana Tech’s case against the other Group of Five winners.
Louisiana Tech also plays an opportunistic defensive style that is predicated on generating turnovers; no team was better at stealing the ball from opponents than the Bulldogs last season, and three of the four players from the starting secondary in 2014 return after nabbing 26 interceptions. The Bulldogs are great at stopping opposition momentum not only with a timely turnover, but also by preventing opponents from keeping drives alive — Tech was a top-20 team in third-down defense and had the 26th-best pass efficiency defense. Against most opponents on their schedule, the Bulldogs will have a decided advantage on defense.
WHAT COULD COST THE BULLDOGS THE ACCESS BOWL SLOT
The same thing that makes it so easy for Louisiana Tech to reach the Conference USA championship game — the lack of any significant competition — is also going to be detrimental when it comes to comparing the Bulldogs to mid-major contenders for the Access Bowl slot. After the dust of realignment has begun to settle, the clear perception is that C-USA is essentially another Sun Belt, a cut below the Mountain Wests and AACs of the mid-major landscape. That makes the margin for error that much lower for teams like Louisiana Tech; while they play a tougher schedule overall than Marshall last year, the Bulldogs will likely be held to similar standards as the Herd were last year.
Also notable is the fact that, while the offense returns seven starters, they lose a critical cog in quarterback Cody Sokol. In his place will step Florida graduate transfer Jeff Driskel; the former four-star recruit washed out during the Will Muschamp regime, and there is no guarantee that Skip Holtz will be able to utilize the redshirt senior more effectively. A lack of continuity in coaching staffs was a large part of Driskel’s lack of success in Gainesville, and he now has to adjust to another offensive staff upon moving to Ruston. If they can’t generate a more effective game plan to take advantage of his skills under center, everything else will be academic.
OFFERING A POTENTIAL OUTCOME FOR 2015
FCS Southern should not cause many problems for the Bulldogs, allowing Louisiana Tech to get up to speed immediately ahead of a short break and a Thursday game against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers will provide a stern test, but the Bulldogs should be able to prevail and move to 2-0 ahead of the trip to Manhattan to face Kansas State. Nine days probably won’t be enough time to prepare a successful upset, though Louisiana Tech will keep it below the point spread. FIU will be feisty as the month comes to a conclusion, but the Bulldogs should be 3-1 and 2-0 in C-USA play heading into October.
State rivals Louisiana-Lafayette will head to Ruston on the first weekend of October, and the Sun Belt hopefuls will return home vanquished and virtually eliminated from the Access Bowl race after a Tech victory. The trip to the Alamodome to face UTSA should likewise conclude with another Bulldog win, and they will take a 5-1 record into Starkville to face Mississippi State. The Bulldog-on-Bulldog clash will be decided by the superior quarterback, Dak Prescott, and thus a second statement opportunity will evaporate in defeat for Louisiana Tech. Rebounding against Middle Tennessee and Rice, the Bulldogs will remain undefeated in conference play and 7-2 in the standings at the end of the month.
North Texas, UTEP, and Southern Miss round out November for the Bulldogs. Among that trio, the road trip to El Paso presents the best chance for an upset, though it is more likely that Louisiana Tech is securing its spot in the C-USA championship game with a victory in the Sun Bowl. In the title game, the Bulldogs will face Western Kentucky in a rematch of their September encounter. The result of their December matchup should be much the same, as Louisiana Tech claims its first C-USA championship and inserts itself into the Access Bowl discussion. Their resume will be lacking compared to other Group of Five champions, though, and the Bulldogs will have to settle for a December bowl appearance. Nevertheless, 2015 will still end successfully for Skip Holtz and crew in Ruston as they return home with a bowl trophy and the first 12-win season since winning the Division II national championship in 1973.
PREDICTED RECORD: 12-2 (8-0 in C-USA)