The Orlando Sentinel's college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 102: Louisiana Tech
Coach: Skip Holtz (4-8, entering 2nd season; 92-79 overall)
2013 record: 4-8 (3-5 in Conference-USA, 5th in C-USA West)
Look back: After a 9-3 campaign, Louisiana Tech saw Sonny Dykes head to Cal and Skip Holtz was hired to oversee the Bulldogs' transition to Conference USA. Expectations were relatively high despite some major roster turnover — La. Tech lost 35 players from the previous season.
The Bulldogs showed some issues early in the season as they adjusted from Dykes' systems to Holtz's game plan. After a 40-14 season-opening loss to NC State and a 27-14 win over Lamar, Louisiana Tech lost its next two games by a total of 12 points before a 35-16 loss to Army. The Bulldogs won three of their last seven games, but offensive struggles hampered any hopes for a strong first season in Conference USA.
Offensive starters returning: 5
Offensive starters lost: 6
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: DT Justin Ellis, OL Vince Cano, OL Jeremy Graffree, OL Matt Shepperd, WR D.J. Banks, DE IK Enemkpali, LB Daniel Cobb
Top returnees: RB Kenneth Dixon, OL Mitchell Bell, DB Adairius Barnes, DB Xavier Woods, K Kyle Fischer, WR Sterling Griffin
Strengths: The Bulldogs will be boosted by a running game that returns junior Kenneth Dixon. He struggled through knee injuries that limited him to essentially eight games yet still managed 917 yards on 151 carries with four touchdowns.
On defense, seven starters back should provide some stability after giving up more than 400 yards per game in 2013. The Bulldogs were actually relatively stout in the secondary, allowing just 213.5 passing yards per game, and they bring back the strength of that defensive backfield, with three starters returning including corner Adairius Barnes. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz brought several assistants from Texas and could give the unit a boost.
Weaknesses: The offense averaged just 19.2 points per game despite running a pass-heavy offense, and no receiver logged more than 36 receptions, 357 yards or two touchdowns. The issue: quarterback. Ryan Higgins and Scotty Young rotated at the position, and while Higgins struggled with interceptions (13), Young completed just 53 percent of his passes for 733 yards. Both passers are back and must be much-improved in order for the Bulldogs to turn it around in 2014, though it was worrisome that the pair combined for five interceptions in the spring game. Cody Sokol, a transfer from Iowa, may be an answer, and the Bulldogs also signed two high-school quarterbacks.
Louisiana Tech will also be replacing three starters on the offensive line. The team must develop quickly on offense to take a step forward from last season.
Outlook: Louisiana Tech must identify a reliable starting quarterback or it could be a very difficult year for the Bulldogs. The team opens with four of its first five games on the road — all against teams that went to bowls last season.
Aug. 30: at Oklahoma
Sept. 6: at UL-Lafayette
Sept. 13: at North Texas
Sept. 20: Northwestern State
Sept. 27: at Auburn
Oct. 4: UTEP
Oct. 18: UTSA
Oct. 25: at Southern Miss
Nov. 1: Western Kentucky
Nov. 8: at UAB
Nov. 22: at Old Dominion
Nov. 29: Rice
Previously revealed on the countdown: