Staying in the Upper Half

Louisiana Tech is nearly always a factor in the Western Athletic Conference race. Coach Jack Bicknell finds himself in a rebuilding process, trying to mold his young players into champions.

Louisiana Tech is coming off a 7-4 season and with wins over Fresno State and Hawai'i, a streak of five victories in their last six games, should have been selected for a bowl game. Their only losses came to Florida, Kansas, Boise State and Nevada. Unfortunately for Tech, that was their year. Now Coach Jack Bicknell and staff must build from the ground up. Only eight starters return, including just two on defense. No less than 17 underclassmen are on the two-deep roster for the Bulldogs. Quarterback Zac Champion (6-1, 215, Jr.) looks to be the guy to pull the trigger this fall, hoping to follow in the footsteps of other great Louisiana Tech quarterbacks like Terry Bradshaw, Tim Rattay and Luke McCown. Freddie Franklin (6-0, 178, Jr.) was the team's second leading rusher with 448 yards and a nice 4.9 average. He'll be pushed by sophomore Patrick Jackson (5-10, 192) who rushed for 367 yards as a true freshman. Incoming recruit Michael Griffin didn't come to Ruston to sit on the bench either. He turned down Michigan, Nebraska, Arkansas and LSU to sign with the Bulldogs. Seniors Eric Newman (30 catches for 566 yards and eight touchdowns) and Jonathan Holland (29-421, 2 TD's) will be counted on to run crisp routes and make plays to help bring Champion along. Holland is speedy by inconsistent. After making a splash last season as a freshman (7 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown), Josh Wheeler is set to be the other starting wideout for Coach Bicknell. Up front, center Jacob Peeler (6-3, 261) and right guard Marcus Lindsey (6-7, 386) will provide leadership for the offensive line. The coaching staff would love to move Lindsey to tackle but he's been unable to lose the weight. Returning starters Ryan Considine (6-5, 297 left tackle) and right tackle and Tyler Miller (6-7, 309) join them in the lineup at the tackle positions with left guard David Accardo (6-5, 316, So.) rounding out the group. The strength of the Tech dfense will be their secondary, with three seniors. Dez Abrams (6-0, 189) will start again at free safety, joined in the defensive backfield by freshman strong safety Deon Young (5-11, 191) and senior cornerbacks Sandy Ray Collins (5-10, 187, Sr.) and Anthony Moss (5-10, 183, Sr.). Former running back Weldon Brown very likely could secure himself a starting role somewhere in the Tech secondary. The entire defensive line must be replaced as Bicknell and Defensive Coordinator Randy Bates turn to defensive end Sammie Collins (6-3, 249, Sr.), nose guard Josh Muse (6-3, 310) and tackle Wes Day (6-4, 249, So.) to do the job. Muse is an emerging star and the coaches hope he will be dominant this fall. D'Anthony Smith (6-2, 305) and Eric Harris (6-2, 295) are two members of a freshman class that many felt was the best during Bicknell's tenure in Ruston, and they will come in and play this fall. Brannon Jackson (6-2, 263, Jr.) returns as a starter at middle linebacker, teaming with Sam linebacker Quin Harris (6-3, 221, So.), Will linebacker Marquis Spurgon (6-0, 187, Sr.) and B linebacker Anthony Crosby (6-0, 227, Jr.) in the Tech 3-4 defense. Junior Danny Horwedel (18-26 field goals) led the Western Athletic Conference in scoring with 88 points and enters his second season as the Bulldog placekicker. Sophomore Chris Keagle is set to to the punting and aims to improve on his 37.4 average. Brown will head the kickoff return team with Franklin expected to line up to return punts for Tech. The schedule is once again murdurous, with Tech's nonconference tilts against Nebraska, Texas A & M, Clemson and North Texas State ranking as the 25th toughest in the nation. In the WAC, they will travel to play Boise State, Hawai'i, San Jose State and New Mexico State while hosting Nevada, Fresno State, Idaho and Utah State. That's a pretty even league schedule--not too tough and not easy.

EA Sports forecasts La Tech to defeat San Jose State, Utah State, Idaho and New Mexico State. For the non-conference schedule, they seem to be heeding the league's call to "Play Up", even if it does mean getting beat badly. Tech has a 10 percent chance of beating Nebraska, A & M and Clemson, winning one out of ten simulations against each. The Bulldogs are also forecast to lose to North Texas State. If those non-conference predictions bear out, it will be difficult for the Bulldogs to become bowl eligible since they'd head into league play with a mark of 0-4, needing to win 7 of 8 games in the WAC. The simulations show that both the Fresno State and North Texas games could go either way.

With little experience to draw on, Bicknell's team has very little chance to win the WAC. But with bottom dwellers San Jose State, Idaho, New Mexico State and Utah State vowing to improve, it's important for Louisiana Tech to hold those four teams down for this year while their young team rebuilds for the future.

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