Louisiana Tech fans can’t complain about the preseason voting. As much as they’d like to throw their arms up with abhorrence over being ranked third in the division, the rationale is admittedly clear.
It’s hard to get upset about North Texas being picked to win the division. Veteran quarterback Mason Fine once again leads an offense that averaged 35 points per game last season. It could be argued Fine is the best player returning among Group 5 schools.
Picked behind North Texas was Southern Miss, and while that’s like pouring salt in the wound, even the diehard loyalists can admit to the Bulldogs shortcomings against Southern Miss in recent years. From the 58-24 drumming in Ruston in 2015 to last year’s heartbreaking 21-20 loss in Hattiesburg (no need to mention Southern Miss’ unorthodox comeback a couple years back), Louisiana Tech’s rival has gotten the best of the Bulldogs in the Skip Holtz era.
Southern Miss returns a strong defense that should be good enough to compete for a title. If anything, Louisiana Tech fans might consider it a win to be ranked ahead of a UAB team that went 7-1 in conference last season.
I suppose the point here is preseason conference rankings matter less than they ever did given the current landscape. Because mark my words, one thing is certain: this is a wide-open four-team race. And don’t count Louisiana Tech out of it based off of the preseason perception.
While talented, most of the Bulldogs talent is unproven. But we know better than to write off Louisiana Tech in the conference.
The No. 1 storyline for the Bulldogs entering the season can be summed up in two words — J’Mar Smith. Smith’s career at Louisiana Tech hasn’t been as glamorous as many hoped. His introduction to the fanbase was a 212-yard performance against Arkansas that had most Louisiana Tech fans lobbying for him to become the full-time starter. Ryan Higgins, of course, returned to the team after his one-game suspension and went on to throw for more than 4,600 yards and 41 touchdowns with 8 interceptions that season.
In the two seasons that have followed, Smith has wowed in instances (think LSU last year) and frustrated fans with inconsistent throws in the intermediate passing game.
Smith has thrown for a combined 6,134 yards, 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He’s also completing less than 58 percent of his passes.
It should go without saying, but he has to be more consistent if Louisiana Tech is going to make a push for that ever-elusive conference title.
And the fans are tired of hearing about Smith’s “rock star” potential and want to see him reach it in 2019. The fans let that be known with a chorus of boos to end the regular season. But the fact remains; he’s still a question mark, much like the rest of this team.
And they aren’t all bad. Like, what will the Bulldogs look like on defense under new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco? Is Willie Baker destined to be the new star on defense without Jaylon Ferguson around?
Can the offensive line find solid answers at the tackle positions?
Will the Bulldogs get back to producing another 1,000-yard rusher (last year broke a four-year streak)?
If it’s one thing we’re sure of it’s the Bulldogs will be loaded in the secondary with Amik Robertson headlining that unit.
Robertson has a chance to make the case he’s the best player among Group 5 schools with another stellar year. He led the team with four interceptions last season.
Realistically, Louisiana Tech fans should view the questions entering this season and temper expectations.
Easier said than done with the offensive inconsistencies over the last two years compounded with the head-scratching losses to Southern Miss.
Thus, the pressure is on, and fair or not, the Bulldogs need to provide immediate results to regain the Bulldog faithful’s confidence in the trajectory of a proud program.