Editor's note: This is the fourth of a series previewing Western Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at Louisiana Tech.
By DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
If you have followed Western Athletic Conference football over the years, the one thing that stands out about Louisiana Tech is its willingness to play big-name opponents.
During Jack Bicknell's six-year tenure at Louisiana Tech, the Bulldogs have played 22 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) schools, 18 games against Top 25 teams and 26 games against bowl teams.
Whether it's been a money grab or not, the Bulldogs haven't shied away from anybody, and that list includes Miami, USC, Alabama, Kansas State, Clemson, Michigan State, Florida State, Texas A&M, Penn State, LSU and Oklahoma State.
Last year's schedule was a killer, and in the stretch of four weeks, the 'Dogs played Miami, Tennessee, Auburn and Fresno State. This year's is nearly as tough. Louisiana Tech opens at Florida and then plays at Kansas. Later in the year, the Bulldogs host perennial bowl participant North Texas from the Sun Belt Conference.
"It was a tough schedule (last year)," Bicknell said at the WAC Media Day recently in Reno. "To go 6-6, I think we had an excellent year. Auburn, Miami and Tennessee, that was tough. Once you play a team in the top 10 it's a big difference. I anticipate Florida will be a top 10 team. North Texas has proven they can win.
"I think so (feeling pressure). There has been a lot of pressure the last two years, but that's the way college football is It's inherent to the job. We're just going to play as hard as we can and see what happens."
The biggest questions are can the Bulldogs win without Ryan Moats and are quarterbacks Matt Kubik and Donald Allen capable of winning games throwing the football.
Moats, who was the WAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2004, gained 3,112 yards in his three-year career, including 1,774 and 18 rushing touchdowns last year. His ability has enabled Bicknell to control the ball on the ground, and Moats single-handedly was able to beat teams.
"He was a great player," Bicknell said. "We pretty much relied on him last year."
Freddie Franklin (204 yards rushing) and Mark Dillard (20 yards rushing) will compete to replace Moats. Franklin backed up Moats a year ago.
"We think Freddie is going to be an excellent player," Bicknell said. "He's deceptively fast. He can do a lot of things. He's almost like a receiver out of the backfield. Mark is a tough runner with a burst. He's got speed. He's more of a straight line guy, but he can make the first guy miss."
A year ago, neither Kubik or Allen had ever thrown a collegiate pass. Allen was hurt throughout much of the year, finishing with 317 yards and a score. Kubik passed for 1,818 yards and 10 scores.
"We have two guys that can definitely play and we can definitely win with," Bicknell said. "As a group our quarterbacks (Allen, Kubik and Zac Champion) can run. They have all shown they can be effective running the option out of our new offensive scheme.
"Donald and Matt are getting equal reps. They both deserve to play, and I really think they both will. We will go with who best gives us a chance to win that week. I wish one of them was clearly better, but that isn't the way it is."
Both Allen and Kubik will be trying to get the ball to speedy junior wide receiver Jon Holland, who ran a 10.26 at the Texas Relays recently. Holland averaged 22 yards a grab on his 19 receptions a year ago, and he's being counted on for bigger things this year.
"He can loosen up defenses," Bicknell said. "We really need to get him the ball. I really think this could be a year where he breaks out. He can run by any corner. We saw that against Miami, Tennessee and Auburn."
Seniors Eric Newman (19-265-3) and Seneca Chambers (12-147-0) also return. Anthony James (3-32-0) is penciled into the starting role at tight end.
Bicknell's concern on the offensive line is building depth. The 'Dogs return three starters - left guard Aaron Lips (6-5, 317), center Marcus Stewart (6-3, 300) and guard-tackle Marcus Lindsey (6-7, 375).
Ryan Considine (6-5, 290) takes over at right guard and Tyler Miller (6-7, 296) takes over at left tackle.
Things are a little more unsettled on the defensive side of the ball. The entire defensive line needs to be replaced and the Dogs will have three new starters in the secondary.
"We lost a lot of guys to graduation," Bicknell said. "No doubt that hurts from an experience standpoint. We need the younger guys to grow up in a hurry."
The linebacking corps of Byron Santiago (6-2, 222, 82 tackles), Jeremy Hamilton (5-11, 218), who had 75 tackles last season, Barry Robertson (6-3, 240), who finished with 71 stops, and Brannon Jackson (6-2, 220), who had 10 stops, is the most experienced group.
"The kid (Santiago) simply makes plays," Bicknell said. "He has great speed and a nose for being around the ball. Hamilton loves to hit, and I would be surprised if he doesn't have a big year."
Cornerback Tramon Williams (6-0, 180) is the only returning starter in the secondary. Cornerback Delone Williams (6-1, 191), strong safety Bo Cox (6-2, 200) and free safety) Dez Abrams (6-0, 186) are the starters heading into fall camp. Williams had 45 stops and four interceptions last year.
"It's a little scary when you are inexperienced in the secondary," Bicknell said. "We have a lot of speed back there. We'll see how they react in a game. You can't afford for those guys to make mistakes because it means seven for the other team."
Moqut Ruffins (6-5, 277), Ladarius Love (6-4, 330) and Quarvey Winbush (6-5, 255) are the starters up front heading into fall camp. Ruffins had 27 stops a year ago, Love 24 and Winbush 13.
Danny Horwedel, Brad Oestriecher and Zach Myatt will compete for the place-kicking spot. Horwedel connected on 27 of 28 extra points and 8 of 14 field goals. Oestriecher converted 2 for 5 on field goals and 9 of 10 on PATs.