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Everything lined up for Louisiana Tech to win the C-USA West last year and make it to the title game for a rematch against Western Kentucky. However, the Bulldogs faltered in their final home game and finished second to Southern Miss. Still, a 9-4 overall record is nothing to complain about with a bowl win. Skip Holtz enters his fourth year as head coach and once again has to work in a new quarterback, which is the main reason to halt optimism for this team.
Without quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Kenneth Dixon, this offense is going to look a bit different, at least from a personnel stand point. Ryan Higgins is set to take over the starting quarterback role after having to wait his turn since starting most of his freshman season in 2013. Higgins' limited career numbers are lackluster (7 TDs, 16 INTs), but there is hope after he went off in the spring game for 469 yards and five touchdowns. Of course, that game finished 62-49 as the defense was almost non-existent.
The running game will be split between a likely trio of Boston Scott (275 yards), Jarred Craft (230 yards) and Jaqwis Dancy. Their main goal is to fill what Dixon did last year in rushing and receiving out of the backfield. To help Higgins, the wide receivers are some of the best in the conference with Trent Taylor (99 receptions, 1,282 yards, 9 TDs) and Carlos Henderson (774 yards, 5 TDs) still there to go with Kam McKnight (268 yards) among others.
The offensive line won't take much of a step back either with only the right tackle providing inexperience as guard Kirby Wilson returns to the mix after missing 2015 due to injury. This offense probably won't be as good without Driskel, but as long as interceptions don't become a common occurrence, Higgins will do just fine.
Defensively, it's another story with eight starters gone from a group that was in the upper echelon of C-USA defenses. Their issues were highlighted in the spring game that saw 111 points put on the board. They lost talent at every level and that starts up front with tackle Vernon Butler gone after being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Ends Jaylon Ferguson and Deldrick Canty have a lot on their shoulders as well as an entirely new set of linebackers with a couple redshirt freshmen expected to fight for time. The secondary, which was the weak spot in last year's group, returns just one starter in all-conference safety Xavier Woods and he's only a sophomore.
This defense got the job done in conference play last year, but could have some trouble doing the same this season. It'll still be a question of how good they are no matter what happens in the first few weeks as the Bulldogs travel to Arkansas and Texas Tech early on. Both teams could easily drop 50 points on them and it wouldn't be surprising. Getting a road game at Middle Tennessee to open C-USA play isn't too favorable, even though Tech destroyed them last year. This is a different group. And to make matters tougher at winning the West division, they get to travel to Southern Miss in the season finale.
Louisiana Tech's over/under is 7.5 wins at 5Dimes with the over a surprising -185 in July. However, nine wins don't seem likely this time around with a new quarterback and weaker defense in tow. The Bulldogs can definitely reach eight wins, but betting on them to do so is tough and that final total may fall to a home result against Western Kentucky, something that isn't a given.
2016 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Football Schedule
Sept. 3 at Arkansas
Sept. 10 vs. South Carolina State
Sept. 17 at Texas Tech
Sept. 24 at Middle Tennessee
Oct. 1 vs. UTEP
Oct. 6 vs. Western Kentucky
Oct. 15 at Massachusetts
Oct. 22 at Florida International
Oct. 29 vs. Rice
Nov. 5 at North Texas
Nov. 12 vs. UTSA
Nov. 25 at Southern Miss
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