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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 104: Louisiana Tech

This lovable bulldog, like all Louisiana Tech fans, is not happy about Tech's high ranking.

I thought the draw of holding the title of athletic director — the only coach in the F.B.S. to do so — would be enough to keep Derek Dooley from entertaining offers from higher-tier B.C.S. programs, though Louisiana Tech fans must have known that such schools were certainly due to come calling. Yet you can’t underestimate the pull of the SEC, where Dooley’s father excelled, the region where he made his name as a college assistant, a conference where you might not do more than just coach football, but where if you succeed, they’ll name stadiums after you. Now that he’s gone, Louisiana Tech must rebuild. Is it better to have loved and lost or to never have loved at all?

Conference
WAC

Location
Ruston, La.

Nickname
Bulldogs

Returning starters
13 (7 offense, 6 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 67

2009 record
(4-8, 3-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 82

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    Grambling St.
  • Sept. 11
    at Texas A&M
  • Sept. 18
    Navy
  • Sept. 25
    Southern Miss
  • Oct. 2
    at Hawaii
  • Oct. 9
    Utah St.
  • Oct. 16
    Idaho
  • Oct. 26
    at Boise St.
  • Nov. 6
    Fresno St.
  • Nov. 13
    at New Mexico St.
  • Nov. 27
    at San Jose St.
  • Dec. 4
    Nevada

Last year’s prediction

If the offense can carry over the momentum it developed down the stretch of 2008, this team could very well finish second behind Boise in the WAC. I think Nevada is better, and I think Fresno State’s home game (Tech is 1-5 all-time in Fresno) gives it the edge in the standings. So while I like the Bulldogs, and think very highly of their coach, I don’t predict any improvement in the win column: 7-5, 5-3 in conference play. Nothing wrong with making a second consecutive bowl appearance.

2009 recap

In a nutshell Score more points — in one less game — allow roughly the same number of points per game, yet finish with four fewer losses than in 2008, when the Bulldogs returned to bowl play after a seven-year absence. What happened? After winning five games by eight points or less in 2008, Tech dropped five games by 10 points or less, all in a row and all in WAC play, effectively ending its season. To be fair, there’s something to be said for winning close games; it illustrates solid coaching, effective preparation and a sense of confidence — we’ll win, just stay close. Yet as the numbers show, last year’s Bulldogs were just as good as the 2008 version. One break here, one break there, and Tech goes bowling for a second consecutive season.

High point When Louisiana Tech won, it won convincingly. The team’s three victories against F.B.S. competition came by 21 points (Hawaii), 38 points (New Mexico State) and 35 points (San Jose State).

Low point Dooley’s departure for Tennessee marks the low point of the 2009 season for the Bulldogs. As for on the field, Louisiana Tech’s bowl hopes evaporated during that late-season five-game losing streak. The season turned following a two-point loss at Utah State, which was the first of those consecutive setbacks.

Tidbit The Bulldogs went 0-7 on the road last fall, with four road losses coming in a five-game span from Oct. 24 through Nov. 21. It marked the first time Louisiana Tech had not won a game away from Ruston since 1993, when the Joe Peace-led Bulldogs went an identical 0-7 on the road. However, Tech did receive credit that year for a win against Alabama, as the Crimson Tide — due to N.C.A.A. sanctions — were forced to forfeit a 56-3 victory. If we’re to count that “win” as a road victory, we’ve have to go all the way back to 1979 to find the last time Louisiana Tech went without a win away from home. Or do we? The road win in 1979 against New Mexico came due to — you guessed it — a forfeit. I mean it this time: Tech last finished winless on the road in 1966, when it went 0-8 away from Ruston. I swear.

Former players in the N.F.L.

8 FS Hiram Eugene (Oakland), CB Jonathan Holland (Oakland), QB Luke McCown (Jacksonville), RB Ryan Moats (Houston), TE Dennis Morris (Washington), RB Daniel Porter (Carolina), K Josh Scobee (Jacksonville), DT D’Anthony Smith (Jacksonville).

Arbitrary top five list

Most athletically successful schools with Bulldog mascots
1. Yale.
2. Georgia.
3. Mississippi State.
4. Louisiana Tech.
5. Fresno State.

Coaching

Sonny Dykes (Texas Tech ’90), entering his first season at Louisiana Tech. The spread-offense specialist was tabbed for his first head coach opportunity after a half-decade as a B.C.S. conference offensive coordinator, first at his alma mater before spending the last three seasons at Arizona. The majority of his assistant experience has come at Texas Tech, where he was first hired as the receivers coach in 2000 after a single season at Kentucky. Dykes served as in that capacity for five years before being named co-offensive coordinator for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. While then-Texas Tech coach Mike Leach remained an important figure when it came to philosophy and in-game play calling, Dykes remained responsible for a large portion of the offensive game planning while continuing to coach the Tech receivers. Of course, his experience under Leach helped form his offensive mindset, both in terms of his spread philosophy and the tempo with which his offense gets into and out of the huddle, preventing the opposition from rapidly alternating its personnel to match the offensive alignment. It was at Arizona that Dykes was given his first opportunity to run an offense on his own, as well as his first shot as a quarterbacks coach. His three-year stint with the Wildcats was a successful one: his first protege, Willie Tuitama, set numerous program records, and his offense continued to flourish with a new quarterback under center last fall, when Arizona came a game within landing its first Rose Bowl birth in program history. Despite this success — and Tech’s consistent play from 2000-6 — Dykes remains somewhat unknown on the coaching ranks; he was overshadowed at Texas Tech by Mike Leach, and at Arizona by both Mike and, to a lesser degree, Mark Stoops. Yet he has a very solid reputation, both as a coordinator and a recruiter. Dooley’s loss stings, but landing a young coach like Dykes may allow Louisiana Tech to build upon the foundation laid over the last three seasons.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Tony Franklin. Remember that name? The spread guru — and published author on the subject — most recently was the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, where his one season in charge of the Blue Raiders offense saw the team land 10 wins and a second-place finish in the Sun Belt. Unfortunately, Franklin is most remembered for the one coaching gig that went awry: his short tenure as the coordinator at Auburn ended abruptly, with Tommy Tuberville relinquishing Franklin of his duties only six games into his first full season. Franklin has been nothing but successful as an assistant outside the B.C.S. conferences, however, and is a good fit at Louisiana Tech, especially under a coach like Dykes.

Players to watch

This new offense will need receivers… and then some. There is some talent at receiver on this roster, though the depth chart needs to be deeper, and will get deeper over the next handful of seasons. In terms of what Dykes has to work with in 2010, the Bulldogs will need a big senior season from Phillip Livas, who has shown himself to be dangerous in space but has yet to prove himself capable of serving as a No. 1 receiver. He’ll need to do so this fall. His 2009 numbers — 20 receptions for 208 yards — will take a major jump in his final season. Sophomore Richie Casey’s terrific spring pushed him up the depth chart, and he’ll battle Livas for playing time. Keep an eye on a pair of former transfer out of the SEC: Tim Molton (L.S.U.) and Ahmad Paige (Tennessee) certainly have the skill set to excel in this new attack. While there will not be a traditional tight end in this offense, juniors R.P. Stuart (17 receptions for 249 yards and a touchdown) and Eric Harper give Dykes two big-bodied receivers to work with.

No group will suffer as large a culture shock in this new offense than the offensive line. From the physical — widening its splits — to the mental — from run-first to nearly all pass, all the time — it will take time for this front to get its bearings. For the third consecutive season, the line will be led by senior left tackle Rob McGill, who has earned second-team all-WAC honors in each of the last two seasons. His talent on the blindside will be even more welcome in the new spread attack. Senior Cudahy Harmon will again start at right tackle, hoping to remain healthy after missing the final five games of 2009 due to injury. Tech also returns senior Lon Roberts, who will start at center for the third consecutive season. The situation is a bit murkier at guard, though the Bulldogs return three players with starting experience on either the left or right side: senior Jared Miles and sophomores Stephen Warner and Kevin Saia. Though young, both Warner and Saia ended last season in the starting lineup.

The offensive transition has earned all the headlines, overshadowing the issues on the defensive side of the ball. The concerns begin on the defensive line, where the Bulldogs must replace all-WAC tackle D’Anthony Smith, as well as starters Adrian Logan and Kwame Stewart. The lone returning starter up front is junior end Matt Broha, who as an undersized rush end lead the Bulldogs with four sacks a year ago. His size — or lack thereof — is a concern, but Broha makes up for his lack of bulk with a quick first step and the accompanying ability to get into the backfield, as illustrated by his five tackles for loss a season ago; that total was good for second on the team. Senior Randy Grigsby and junior Christian Lacey will battle to join Broha in the starting lineup at end, with Grisby, a top reserve as the position last fall, holding an edge heading into the summer. The line will have some size to work with inside, with seniors Ramone Randle and Mason Hill penciled as the replacements for Smith and Logan. The trio of Phillip Longino, John White and Justin Ellis — the latter a Buick-sized redshirt freshman — will push that above pair for playing time.

The Bulldogs return three cornerbacks with starting experience: junior Terry Carter and seniors Olajuwon Paige and Josh Victorian. Carter was a full-time starter last fall, while Paige and Victorian started four games apiece. Carter does not lack for speed, but the junior needs to both remain healthy and improve his consistency in order to live up to his full potential. As is, he’s the closest thing to an all-conference performer at cornerback. Paige and Victorian will fight for the starting job opposite Carter, with the loser serving as the top reserve at the position.

While Antonio Baker must be replaced at free safety, Tech hopes sophomore C.J. Broades, who played well in limited action in 2009, is ready to make the jump into the starting lineup. Expect some growing pains from the youngster, as Broades played in only four games as a true freshman. Senior strong safety Tank Calais will help solidify the back end of the secondary. Calais finished second on the team with 77 tackles last fall, adding a sack and a pair of interceptions.

Louisiana Tech looks to be in great shape at linebacker. The team returns first-team all-WAC pick Justin Cole, who led the Bulldogs with 93 tackles (4 for loss) a year ago. Cole could remain in the middle in 2010, though Tech might entertain the idea of moving him to the strong side. That move would open up the middle to sophomore Solomon Randle, whose solid rookie campaign and terrific spring might be too much to keep him off the field. Even if Cole remains at middle linebacker, look for Randle to see plenty of snaps in his sophomore season. Let’s say Cole stays in the middle: who will start on the outside? Junior Jay Dudley has the weak side spot locked up after a stellar year last fall (75 tackles, 2.5 sacks). Kiamni Washington and Dusty Rust are options on the strong side, with Rust the more experienced of the pair. In my mind, Tech would be best suited inserting Randle into the starting lineup, pushing Cole to the strong side and leaving Dudley on the weak side. Dykes might be wary of moving a first-team all-conference pick out of his more natural position, however, which is understandable.

Position battles to watch

Quarterback The arrival of a new coaching regime typically spells a shake-up along the depth chart, especially at the key skill positions. This is doubly true at Tech, as the new offense will put far more stress upon the quarterback than Dooley’s more staid offensive system. The Bulldogs return senior Ross Jenkins, who had a sterling 16-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio a year ago, but Dykes — as expected — opened the competition at the position. Not to say Jenkins is not the leader in the clubhouse: he is, due partly to his game experience, as well as the relative success he’s had in the passing game. Yet there are other options. His most notable competition is senior Steve Ensminger, a former Auburn transfer who has yet to earn any playing time since joining the program. While he has yet had the opportunity to illustrate it on the college level, Ensminger might have the polished passing skills to blossom in this new system. Sophomore Colby Cameron, like Ensminger a prolific passer on the high school ranks, is a third option under center. Both Cameron and Ensminger have the higher upside than Jenkins as passers, though Jenkins, as noted, might be difficult to unseat because of his experience.

Game(s) to watch

No real lulls in the schedule; even when the Bulldogs get New Mexico State and San Jose State in back-to-back weeks, both games come on the road. Let’s see how Louisiana Tech fares over its first seven games of the year, as though the schedule is not easy, five games come at home.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Louisiana Tech is not untalented; in terms of the talent level of the roster, the Bulldogs are easily ahead of programs like New Mexico State and San Jose State, teams I’ve already previewed on the Countdown, and potentially ahead of WAC brethren Idaho and Utah State. My main concern is in the coaching change in philosophy, which is sizable — especially on offense, obviously. Does Tech have the personnel to run the Air Raid offense at full tilt in 2010? No, not yet. And the defense, though strong at linebacker, does not look up to the task of handling the high-powered offenses in conference play; forget about Boise State and Nevada, what about Hawaii, or those Vandals? Really, with such a wholesale change in coaching philosophy, slight growing pains are to be expected. Not to say there are not things to like about the Bulldogs: the offensive line is solid, the offense as a whole will at least have flashes of explosiveness, and the back seven of the defense is not terrible; the linebacker corps is in the top half of the WAC. Still, I predict Louisiana Tech to finish in the bottom third of the conference in 2010, ahead of New Mexico State and San Jose State and slightly behind Utah State. The top half of the WAC is strong, and ahead of the Bulldogs in terms of their development. In good news, thanks to Dooley’s foundation, Dykes could have this team turned around in a single season.

Dream season The Bulldogs score, and score again. Tech goes 8-4, 6-2 in the WAC.

Nightmare season Dykes simply does not have the horses, at least in 2010. The Bulldogs struggle in the transition, dropping another win off last year’s total to finish 3-9, 1-7 in conference play.

In case you were wondering

Where do Louisiana Tech fans congregate? Bulldog Barks & Bytes contains one of my favorite fan-run message boards in the country: the site gets bonus points for keeping a running tally of each day’s team during last year’s Countdown. Ah, those heady days when I had a dedicated readership. Bleed Tech Blue does not have near the level of chatter you’ll find at BB&B, though the site does give in-depth coverage of Louisiana Tech recruiting.

Up Next

Who is No. 103? Our next program has been a part of three conferences since 1994, but has not won an outright conference championship since 1957.

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Comments

  1. Paul,

    Thank you for the kind words about Bulldog Barks & Bytes – we strive to be fan friendly and accessible and remain a NO COST board to our patrons. When we see a post like yours, it verifies that we are on the right track with our board. Stop by any time and be sure to check out Dawgdoms views on food, music and pawlatics…

    Thanks

    Dwayne

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