Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Head Coach: Skip Holtz
2014 record: 9-5 overall, 7-1 Conference USA West
2014 Postseason results: Beat Illinois 35-18 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl
2015 returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 1500/1
Odds to win 2015 Conference USA Championship Game: +280
Regular season wins: over 8 -125 /under 8 -105
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Last year, the Lousiana Tech Bulldogs went 9-5 including 7-1 in the Conference USA West Division. The Bulldogs went 2-3 to start the season, including losses to Oklahoma and Auburn. Those losses can be excused but losing to FCS Northwestern State was embarrassing. Louisiana Tech would then win 5 straight games before another head scratching loss to Old Dominion. Still, the Bulldogs crushed Rice 76-31 in the regular season finale with the West title on the line. Louisiana Tech would lose to one loss Marshall 26-23 in the Conference USA Championship game. The Bulldogs beat Illinois 35-18 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
With 13 starters back for coach Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech is again favored to win the West Division. The Bulldogs have won at least 8 games in three of the last four seasons.
Louisiana Tech averaged 401 yards per game on offense, including 252 passing and 149 rushing yards. Louisiana Tech averaged 37 points a game last season. Seven starters are back for coordinator Tony Peterson.
The Bulldogs lose quarterback Cody Sokol. Sokol, who was a graduate transfer from Iowa, threw for 3,436 yards with 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also had 2 rushing touchdowns. Louisiana Tech will go back to the graduate transfer well in 2015 as former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel joins the program. He had an up and down career with the Gators. Last year, he threw for 1,140 yards with 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while rushing for 180 yards with 4 touchdowns. Driskel split time with Treon Harris last season for Florida. In spring practice, Driskel distanced himself from last year’s back up Ryan Higgins for the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs.
Senior running back Kenneth Dixon is back after rushing for 1,299 yards on 253 carries with 22 touchdowns, along with 30 catches for 385 yards and 6 touchdowns. Sophomore Jarred Craft will also get plenty of carries after he had 83 carries for 294 yards and 4 touchdowns. Blake Martin and Driskel will also get some carries.
The top three receivers are back for the Bulldogs. Trent Taylor had 64 catches for 834 yards and 9 touchdowns. Carlos Henderson had 29 catches for 569 yards and 4 touchdowns, and also rushed for 70 yards with a touchdown. Paul Turner, a onetime LSU receiver, had 42 catches for 514 yards and 4 touchdowns. Besides Dixon, none of the other returning receivers had more than 9 catches last year.
Three starters are back on the offensive line for the Bulldogs. Center Kirby Wixson, right guard Joseph Brunson and right tackle Darrell Brown all return. The left side of the line must be replaced but tackle Jens Danielsen and guard David Mahaffrey are both experienced even though they haven’t started much.
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Last year, Louisiana Tech allowed 363 yards per game on defense, including 244 passing and 118 rushing yards per game. The Bulldogs were #34 in total defense and #17 in rush defense nationally. Louisiana Tech allowed 25 points per game. The Bulldogs forced 42 turnovers last season to lead the nation and were +16 in turnover margin.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz left to take the same position at Mississippi State. Holtz promoted safeties coach Blake Baker as his replacement. Six starters are back on defense.
Three starters are back on the defensive line including tackles Vernon Butler and Aaron Brown, and end Vontarrius Dora. Butler had 13.5 tackles for loss. Dora was a frequent explorer in opposing backfields with 6.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Deldrick Canty will start at the other end.
All three linebackers must be replaced. Nick Thomason will start in the middle, while Beau Fitte will start at one of the outside positions. C.J. Cleveland and Russell Farris are competing for the other starting spot. There isn’t much depth behind those three though.
Three starters are back in the secondary. Safety Xavier Woods had six interceptions including two pick sixes, and forced 3 fumbles. Safety Kentrell Brice led the team with 86 tackles last year. Cornerback Adairius Barnes had five interceptions last year. Bryson Abraham will start at the other corner.
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Johnathan Barnes and Kyle Fischer split the place kicking duties last season. However, the two were only 17/27 on field goals and missed 3 extra points. Both are back but need to improve. Punter Logan McPherson is also back but like the kickers must be more consistent. Henderson averaged 26 yards per kick return last year and returned one for a touchdown. Taylor will return punts.
In September, Louisiana Tech hosts Southern and Florida International, with road games at Western Kentucky and Kansas State. October includes home games against UL-Lafayette and Middle Tennessee, along with road games at UTSA, Mississippi State and Rice. November includes home games against North Texas and Southern Miss, and a road game at UTEP.
The schedule is difficult with road games at some good teams. The Bulldogs do catch Kansas State and Mississippi State in rebuilding years, but it will still be tough to win on the road in those games. Driskel needs to be more consistent than he was at Florida, but ironically he might have better weapons this year than he did in Gainesville. There are questions in the linebackers but the rest of the defense should be solid. I think the Bulldogs win 8 games in the regular season and return to the Conference USA Championship game and a bowl.
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