PRESENTED BY 669248957_logo

The big 2014 Louisiana Tech football preview: New life with new pieces

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Fortunes change quickly in Ruston, LA, and after an awful first season as Louisiana Tech's head coach, Skip Holtz looks to some new blood on defense (on both the field and sideline) and in the receiving corps to liven up a team didn't have much life in 2013.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. That wasn't very much fun

The last six seasons for Louisiana Tech have been ... confusing. We use recent history to determine the health of a program; it tells us a lot more than simply looking at last year's results. But what do you make of a program that...

  • Went 8-5 in 2008, winning as many games as it had in 2006-07 combined and reaching its first bowl game in seven years.
  • Fell to 4-8 in 2009 and lost its coach (Derek Dooley) to a bigger school (Tennessee) anyway.
  • Brought in Air Raid gunny sergeant Sonny Dykes, laid low for a year (5-7 in 2010), then broke through with an 8-5 season and a Poinsettia Bowl bid in 2011.
  • Started 9-1 in 2012, with only a last-second loss to Texas A&M, and reached 19th in the country before late losses to Utah State and San Jose State, then failed to secure a bowl bid at 9-3.
  • Lost Dykes to Cal and brought in Dykes' opposite (in terms of background, offensive prowess, defensive prowess, you name it), Skip Holtz.
  • Played terribly for a good portion of 2013 but went 3-1 in the middle.

That's a confusing résumé right there. In the end, Tech has done well enough recently to rank first in Conference USA in the five-year F/+ rankings (which is why the Bulldogs are the last C-USA team getting previewed here). But among current CUSA teams, they ranked ahead of only FIU, Southern Miss, UTEP, and UAB last year. The 2013 Bulldogs were inexperienced up front, unstable behind center, and glitchy on defense.

With a new, familiar name leading the defense and perhaps more stability at quarterback, can the Bulldogs bounce into the top half of their league? Your guess is as good as mine. I know this isn't a particularly good look:

... but I know that fortunes change rapidly in Conference USA, too.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 112
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug at N.C. State 92 14-40 L 24.4 - 44.2 L
7-Sep Lamar N/A 27-14 W 19.0 - 37.5 L
12-Sep Tulane 70 15-24 L 17.6 - 24.1 L
21-Sep at Kansas 101 10-13 L 26.1 - 32.2 L
28-Sep Army 100 16-35 L 23.0 - 31.1 L -11.8
5-Oct at UTEP 119 38-35 W 23.4 - 35.3 L -10.2
19-Oct North Texas 51 13-28 L 32.9 - 28.5 W -5.6
26-Oct at Florida International 125 23-7 W 15.3 - 26.3 L -6.6
9-Nov Southern Miss 120 36-13 W 23.2 - 31.9 L -7.1
16-Nov at Rice 69 14-52 L 28.1 - 41.1 L -8.1
23-Nov Tulsa 94 14-24 L 16.7 - 31.0 L -8.5
30-Nov at UTSA 67 10-30 L 11.1 - 31.4 L -13.5
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -15.1% 116 -11.0% 104 -0.3% 73
Points Per Game 20.8 105 24.7 47
Adj. Points Per Game 21.7 107 32.9 103

2. It wasn't that bad in the middle

The start and finish of the season for Louisiana Tech were absolutely dreadful. In the first two games, the Bulldogs were outgained by 221 yards by an N.C. State team that turned out to be quite poor, then crept by undermanned Lamar squad. At the end of the season, against Rice, Tulsa, and UTSA, they averaged 4.4 yards per play while allowing 5.9 and were outscored by a combined 106-38. In these five games, Tech was one of the worst teams in FBS.

In the middle seven, they weren't particularly good, but they were respectable.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 2 games): Opponent 40.9, Tech 21.7 (minus-19.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 7 games): Opponent 29.9, Tech 23.1 (minus-6.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 3 games): Opponent 34.5, Tech 18.6 (minus-15.9)

From October 5 to November 9, Tech went 3-1; yes, the Bulldogs only beat three teams ranked 100th or worse, but they also put up a strong fight against a good North Texas team. By no definition was Tech good at really any point in 2013, but you can draw hope from the Bulldogs' level of play in the midsection of the season.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.12 75 IsoPPP+ 89.8 111
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.9% 107 Succ. Rt. + 84.2 113
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.7 87 Def. FP+ 95.4 103
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.1 120 Redzone S&P+ 70.4 122
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.0 ACTUAL 29 +3.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 95 119 114 102
RUSHING 74 83 87 89
PASSING 89 125 118 100
Standard Downs 120 110 122
Passing Downs 104 107 56
Q1 Rk 125 1st Down Rk 118
Q2 Rk 99 2nd Down Rk 109
Q3 Rk 121 3rd Down Rk 96
Q4 Rk 62

3. A pass-first offense that couldn't pass

My biggest concern for Louisiana Tech in 2013 was the extreme stylistic dissonance that was going to occur in moving from Dykes' pass-heavy offense to the slow, run-first offense Skip Holtz has espoused through much of his head coaching career. But then Holtz brought in Marshall offensive co-coordinator Tony Petersen to run his offense; Marshall's 2012 offense was insanely pass-heavy and fast-paced, and Petersen said he wanted to bring something similar to Ruston. This was a bit of a departure for Holtz, but with the personnel that Dykes required, it seemed like it might be a decent fit.

For one reason or another, it wasn't. With two new quarterbacks (redshirt freshman Ryan Higgins and former Texas Tech Red Raider Scotty Young) splitting snaps, with a pretty new offensive line, and with a receiving corps that featured no go-to receivers (seven players were targeted between 2.5 and 5.0 times per game in 2013, and only two averaged better than 6.2 yards per target). As it had under Dykes, Tech's offense was pass-first, but the Bulldogs couldn't pass.

Unless a true freshman seizes control of the job this August, this year's quarterbacks are last year's quarterbacks. Higgins struggled with both injuries and interceptions in 2013, while Young was ultra-conservative in his decision-making (8.4 yards per completion, only two interceptions) but still only completed 53 percent of his passes.

The receiving corps loses five of its top eight targets, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. New blood might be a good idea for this unit, and in LSU transfer Paul Turner, redshirt freshman Carlos Henderson, and JUCO transfer Sanford Seay, that new blood might be pretty good. Turner adds an element of speed that Tech didn't really have in 2013, and really, as long as the pass protection doesn't completely fall apart with a revamped line, the passing game should improve. Considering the numbers -- under five yards per pass attempt, 30 sacks, 10 touchdowns to 15 picks, No. 125 Passing S&P+ ranking -- it probably can't get worse.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Ryan Higgins 6'1, 206 So. 3 stars (5.5) 166 281 1715 6 13 59.1% 25 8.2% 5.0
Scotty Young 6'2, 221 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 87 165 733 4 2 52.7% 5 2.9% 4.1
Price Wilson 6'1, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Alex Woodall 6'3, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Kenneth Dixon RB 5'10, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 151 917 4 6.1 6.6 45.0%
Tevin King RB 5'6, 158 So. 2 stars (5.2) 93 539 1 5.8 7.2 41.9%
Blake Martin RB 5'10, 197 Jr. NR 54 267 2 4.9 6.3 33.3%
Ryan Higgins QB 6'1, 206 So. 3 stars (5.5) 37 195 3 5.3 4.7 45.9%
Marlon Seets RB 5'9, 215 Jr. NR 12 65 1 5.4 2.6 58.3%
Paul Harris QB 8 28 0 3.5 5.5 62.5%
D.J. Banks WR 7 46 0 6.6 4.7 57.1%
Scotty Young QB 6'2, 221 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 7 35 0 5.0 7.0 42.9%
Andrew Guillot WR 4 29 2 7.3 4.2 75.0%
Jarred Craft RB 6'0, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)




4. Talent in the backfield

A pass-first predilection hurt Tech in a couple of different ways in 2013. The most obvious was that Tech stunk at passing. Beyond that, though, is that the running game wasn't that bad. Tech's top three backs all averaged at least 6.3 highlight yards per opportunity, and both Kenneth Dixon and Tevin King were solid in creating such opportunities. In 20 carries per game, Dixon and King averaged 6.0 yards per carry; that's better than Tech's passing averages, and without the interception risk.

King is out this spring with a dislocated ankle -- actually, injuries have been such an issue this spring that the Bulldogs haven't been able to scrimmage yet, but hey, better now than in the fall -- but if he's healthy, he will be part of a pretty exciting backfield.

Of course, the runners will still need blocks.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Richie Casey WR 60 29 313 48.3% 14.2% 58.9% 5.2 -97 4.6 26.9
Sterling Griffin WR 6'0, 194 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 58 33 357 56.9% 13.7% 69.4% 6.2 -69 5.5 30.7
D.J. Banks WR 57 36 262 63.2% 13.4% 54.0% 4.6 -178 4.8 22.5
Trent Taylor WR 5'8, 181 So. 3 stars (5.5) 43 28 260 65.1% 10.1% 44.7% 6.0 -77 5.3 22.4
Jon Greenwalt WR 40 26 227 65.0% 9.4% 55.6% 5.7 -86 5.8 19.5
Andrew Guillot WR 34 26 320 76.5% 8.0% 33.3% 9.4 30 9.2 27.5
Hunter Lee WR 5'9, 195 Sr. NR 31 16 228 51.6% 7.3% 50.0% 7.4 10 7.8 19.6
Jaydrick DeClouette WR


22 12 130 54.5% 5.2% 61.9% 5.9 -29 4.9 11.2
Kenneth Dixon RB 5'10, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 20 14 85 70.0% 4.7% 57.9% 4.3 -78 4.4 7.3
Blake Martin RB 5'10, 197 Jr. NR 17 14 74 82.4% 4.0% 47.1% 4.4 -77 4.3 6.4
Eddie Johnson WR 6'3, 236 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 14 4 65 28.6% 3.3% 36.4% 4.6 -14 3.4 5.6
Tevin King RB 5'6, 158 So. 2 stars (5.2) 13 8 56 61.5% 3.1% 38.5% 4.3 -43 4.3 4.8
Jacarri Jackson WR 9 4 63 44.4% 2.1% 100.0% 7.0 4 5.0 5.4
Kevin Gary WR 6'1, 178 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Paul Turner (LSU) WR 5'11, 194 So. 3 stars (5.7)
Carlos Henderson WR 5'11, 188 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Sanford Seay WR 6'2, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Brodrick Jefferson WR 5'8, 161 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Kameron McKnight WR 6'2, 217 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 92.5 2.67 4 44.0% 64.5% 23.2% 85.4 3.6% 9.7%
Rank 95 100 14 17 87 116 84 37 102
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Matthew Shepperd RG 23
Vince Cano C 12
Jeremy Graffree LT 9
Tre Carter LG 6'1, 306 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 9
Mitchell Bell RT 6'3, 348 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 8
Larry Banks LG 8
Jens Danielsen RT 6'4, 286 Sr. NR 7
Darrell Brown LT 6'4, 288 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0
Alec Davis C 0
Richard Greenwalt RG 6'4, 298 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0
Cam Manning OL 6'2, 268 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Chris Aye OL 6'4, 293 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Kirby Wison OL 6'4, 320 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Blake Sharp OL 6'4, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Michael Rodriguez OL 6'6, 250 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Shane Carpenter OL 6'6, 290 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

5. Another rebuilt line

Rebuilding once is difficult enough, but line coach Matt Moore now has to do it all over again.

For the second straight year, the Tech line is getting revamped. The Bulldogs returned only 16 career starts heading into 2013, and they return only 24 this year. Call it a double-dip recession -- not only do you have to replace starters, but the odds are good that you're replacing them with guys who haven't even been on the second string for very long. With almost no proven depth, the line is a huge question mark, and it would be quite beneficial for Tech if JUCO transfers Kirby Wilson and Blake Sharp were both ready to shine immediately.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.08 33 IsoPPP+ 92.8 102
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.0% 49 Succ. Rt. + 82.1 118
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.5 81 Off. FP+ 94.6 111
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 30 Redzone S&P+ 80.6 118
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.6 ACTUAL 26.0 +4.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 70 117 118 125
RUSHING 92 103 112 111
PASSING 31 121 120 124
Standard Downs 110 107 104
Passing Downs 122 124 83
Q1 Rk 120 1st Down Rk 102
Q2 Rk 101 2nd Down Rk 120
Q3 Rk 122 3rd Down Rk 126
Q4 Rk 123

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 90.3 2.89 3.24 38.9% 79.2% 18.3% 81.7 7.5% 4.8%
Rank 106 55 59 60 114 77 99 8 107
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
IK Enemkpali DE 12 34.0 4.6% 11.0 5.5 2 1 0 0
Justin Ellis DT 12 31.5 4.2% 5.5 1.5 0 1 0 0
Vernon Butler DT 6'3, 321 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 11 29.5 4.0% 4.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Shakeil Lucas DT 12 25.5 3.4% 3.0 0.0 0 3 0 0
Kendrick James DE 12 24.0 3.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Vontarrius Dora DE 6'4, 243 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 10 22.0 3.0% 6.5 2.5 0 1 0 0
Malcolm Pichon DT 6'3, 343 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 11 18.0 2.4% 2.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
DeAngelo Brooks DT 6'0, 303 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 8 18.0 2.4% 4.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Kevin Kisseberth DE 6'2, 249 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 12.5 1.7% 1.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Andre Taylor DL 6'4, 257 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 10 7.5 1.0% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Devon McKinney DT 6'0, 277 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 2 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Hakim Gray DE 6'3, 269 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Cedric Johnson DT 6'2, 302 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Jaylon Ferguson DE 6'5, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Deldrick Canty DE 6'2, 250 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)






6. A rebuilt line and coaching staff

With three defensive assistants leaving for other jobs, Holtz had the opportunity to bring some new energy into the staff, and he did just that. Oscar Giles is the new line coach, Blake Baker is the new safeties coach, and most notably, former Texas and Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is the new coordinator and linebackers coach.

Diaz's reputation has been pulled in a couple of different directions in recent years. Not even two full years ago, he was regarded as one of the top young defensive minds in football. His final defense as coordinator at MTSU ranked 33rd in Def. F/+, and in the four years since he left, the Blue Raiders' average ranking has been 95.3. He coached for one year at Mississippi State and improved the Bulldogs' defense from 50th to 20th, and it dropped to 30th, then 54th, after he left. And in his first year at Texas, he improved the Longhorns' defense from 31st to sixth.

Of course, Texas dropped from sixth to 40th in 2012, and after one poor performance in 2013, Diaz was scapegoated and fired by Mack Brown.

The Diaz rehabilitation project begins in Ruston. He inherits personnel that is suitably aggressive -- three returning linemen had at least four tackles for loss, three linebackers had at least two, and four defensive backs defensed at least five passes -- but lacked in consistency in 2013 and lacks in depth in 2014. Star pass rusher IK Enemkpali and linebacker (and TFLs leader) Daniel Cobb. Throw in the loss of two of the top three tackles, and you've got some potential depth issues here.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Daniel Cobb MLB 12 59.5 8.0% 13.0 2.5 1 2 2 1
Mitch Villemez SLB 6'2, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 52.5 7.0% 3.0 2.0 0 2 3 0
Beau Fitte SLB 6'0, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 33.0 4.4% 3.5 1.0 2 0 0 0
Terrell Pinson SLB 6'2, 209 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 23.0 3.1% 2 1 0 6 0 0
Tony Johnson MLB 6'2, 255 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 16.5 2.2% 0.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Mike Schrang LB 6'1, 239 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 10 7.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Andre Wiggins MLB 6'2, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 6 6.5 0.9% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nick Thomason LB 6'0, 246 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Solomon Hunter LB 6'2, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Quanta Moore LB 6'1, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Thomas McDonald S 6'4, 180 Sr. NR 12 57.0 7.7% 0.5 0 3 5 1 0
Xavier Woods S 5'11, 194 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12 46.5 6.2% 3 0 0 2 0 0
Kentrell Brice S 5'11, 187 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 44.5 6.0% 1.5 0 0 0 0 1
Adairius Barnes CB 5'11, 183 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 40.0 5.4% 1 1 4 7 1 0
Le'Vander Liggins CB 5'10, 193 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 10 37.0 5.0% 1 0 1 10 1 0
Lloyd Grogan S 6'0, 207 So. 3 stars (5.5) 12 27.5 3.7% 2 1 0 0 0 0
Bryson Abraham CB 5'9, 177 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 19.5 2.6% 0 0 3 2 0 0
Josh Ross CB 11 18.5 2.5% 2.5 0 0 0 0 0
Kendall Hayes DB


12 6.0 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jabari Prewitt DB 5'9, 185 Sr. NR 11 2.5 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
C.J. Cleveland DB


7 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Colby Brown CB 5'9, 169 Sr. NR 10 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ahmad Wallace CB 6 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Jacob DB 5'11, 166 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)






7. An active, glitchy backfield

At least the sketchy Tech offense had the good sense not to move very quickly. The Bulldogs operated at a pretty slow pace, which helped to keep the defense off the field a bit. At the same time, however, the offense offered minimal threat, and opponents were happy to go with a run-heavy approach despite a shaky Tech pass defense. That led to quite a dichotomy between Tech's passing yards allowed (31st in the country!) and actual quality (121st in Passing S&P+).

The secondary should improve in 2014, however. First, Diaz's oft-exotic blitzing could help with a pass rush that was almost non-existant in blitzing situations. A pass rush is a secondary's best friend, and despite Enemkpali, Tech's pass rush just wasn't good enough in 2013. Beyond that, the top three corners and top four safeties all return. Adairius Barnes, Le'Vander Liggins, and Bryson Abraham combined to defense 27 passes last fall, and Thomas McDonald is a big play-maker at safety. As you can tell from the numbers above, big plays were certainly an issue here, but the defense at least made some big plays of its own.

There is reason to believe both that the run defense will regress and the pass defense will surge this fall.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Logan McPherson 5'10, 174 So. 63 38.0 0 17 21 60.3%
Gerald Shouse 6'1, 165 Jr. 5 40.4 0 3 2 100.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Kyle Fischer 5'11, 201 Jr. 41 60.1 11 3 26.8%
Logan McPherson 5'10, 174 So. 12 57.3 0 1 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Kyle Fischer 5'11, 201 Jr. 22-23 14-17 82.4% 4-6 66.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Lyle Fitte KR 20 20.7 0
Tevin King KR 5'6, 158 So. 5 28.8 0
D.J. Banks PR 9 0.3 0
Andrew Guillot PR 8 5.9 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 74
Field Goal Efficiency 60
Punt Return Efficiency 85
Kick Return Efficiency 63
Punt Efficiency 75
Kickoff Efficiency 56
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 86

8. Solid legs

Poor offense and defense ruined what could have been a field position advantage generated by special teams. Logan McPherson wasn't much of a distance punter as a freshman, but he generated a lot of fair catches and downed a lot of balls inside the 20. Kick and punt coverage were decent and should be again this fall, and some new blood in the return game might not be a bad thing. This should at least be a decent special teams unit, one that won't hurt Tech and could help out in close games if the offense and defense show any sort of improvement.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug at Oklahoma 9
6-Sep at UL-Lafayette 79
13-Sep at North Texas 94
20-Sep Northwestern State NR
27-Sep at Auburn 12
4-Oct UTEP 117
18-Oct UTSA 75
25-Oct at Southern Miss 110
1-Nov Western Kentucky 91
8-Nov at UAB 115
22-Nov at Old Dominion NR
29-Nov Rice 88
Five-Year F/+ Rk -6.5% (79)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 80
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -3 / -4.5
TO Luck/Game +0.6
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (6, 7)

9. Survive September

The two biggest weaknesses on this team -- pass offense and pass defense -- should both improve, perhaps by quite a bit, in 2014. If the line isn't awful, the running game could be a strength as well. Louisiana Tech fell from 52nd in the F/+ rankings to 112th in a single season, and while a similar bounce back isn't going to happen, I would expect this team to improve at least to the No. 95-105 range this fall.

That's the good news. The bad news comes with that September schedule. Even a dramatically improved Tech team is likely to start 1-4.

If the Bulldogs can survive a gauntlet of trips to Oklahoma, Louisiana-Lafayette (the Sun Belt favorite), North Texas (a potential C-USA West favorite), and Auburn with some semblance of confidence intact, the last seven games on the schedule could produce five wins and bowl eligibility. But that's a pretty significant "if."

Really, the goal for 2014 should probably just be improvement and about five wins. That would likely put a lot of pressure on Holtz to succeed in 2015, but he'll have an experienced enough team at that point to meet the demand of more wins.

10. Conference USA balance of power

At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing 4,000 or so words about each of them.

Tier 1
1. Marshall

I've set the bar really, really high for Rakeem Cato and the Herd this year.

Tier 2
2. UTSA
3. Rice
4. Florida Atlantic
5. North Texas
6. Middle Tennessee
7. Western Kentucky

Four teams doing a little bit of rebuilding and two teams (UTSA, FAU) with a lot of continuity and promise. I might be expecting a bit too much out of UTSA this fall, but frankly, they've dramatically exceeded expectations for two straight years. It's been impossible to expect too much out of the Roadrunners so far.

Tier 3
8. Old Dominion
9. Louisiana Tech
10. UAB
11. Southern Miss
12. UTEP

These teams could really go in any order. I think they're easily a step behind the top seven teams, but good luck figuring out who's better than one another.

Tier 4
13. Florida International

To put it politely, FIU has a lot of work to do.

More from SBNation.com

In This Article

Teams
Players
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.