The wait is nearly over…
College football has already kicked off, sure, but it becomes as real as it gets for northeast Louisiana this weekend. Both Louisiana Tech and ULM are back in action, but to take it one step further, both schools step onto huge platforms to open their respective seasons.
Before we go any further, go ahead and call your spouse and make sure your Saturday morning is clear for some one-on-one time with your beloved recliner. Because at 11 a.m., it’s going down. FOX is giving the Bulldogs their big-game treatment with Louisiana Tech vs. Baylor. In recent years, FOX has reserved its biggest matchup of the day for the 11 a.m. kickoff, while CBS has the SEC at 2:30 p.m. and ABC has the primetime matchup at 7 p.m. That means FOX’s top college football announce team, Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt, will call the Bulldogs and Bears this Saturday.
That alone should fire you up, but if you’re not sold on this showdown yet, take a peak inside the matchup. For starters, Louisiana Tech gets a Baylor team that’s coming off of an 11-3 season, where it ranked No. 11th in the country with a +11 turnover margin. The matchup on paper features a Louisiana Tech team fresh off of a shutout victory against Miami vs. a Baylor squad that played for the Big 12 Championship just one season ago.
As you go deeper into the matchup, though, hardcore fans understand Baylor has to replace most of its starters on a defense that allowed the fewest points per game in the Big 12. So in truth, there is an opportunity here for a major upset by the Bulldogs.
The Bears had that defensive success in 2019 with All-American James Lynch at defensive end and safety Grayland Arnold picking off quarterbacks on a regular basis. Now that Matt Rhule has joined the Carolina Panthers as its new head coach, former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda takes on his first head-coaching gig. What will his defense look like with new starters all over the field? For as many questions as we have about the Bears entering the season, Louisiana Tech fans understand they have a few questions of their own.
The biggest question, of course, is who will be running the offense under the gun. The J’Mar Smith era ended in more of a thud than a bang. In anticlimactic fashion, Smith was unavailable in losses to Marshall and UAB and his 13-of-28 showing against Miami didn’t exactly tear the house down in Shreveport. Aaron Allen, who filled in for Smith in those losses, graduate transfer Luke Anthony and Westin Elliott all battled for the starting job this summer.
Growing pains at the position should be expected, though the Bulldogs will be pretty stout upfront and absolutely loaded at running back and receiver. That should help with the process Saturday morning.
About an hour and a half after the Bulldogs kickoff, ULM will be in action against an Army team that took a significant step back in 2019. The Black Knights limped to the finish with double-digit losses to Hawaii and Navy, but if last Saturday was any indicator of how good Army will be in 2020, look out. I don’t think Middle Tennessee has stopped the fullback dive yet…
And I know a lot of hardcore football fans in the area have true admiration for Army’s triple-option style of play. Army, by the way, executed a 19-play, 99-yard scoring drive without attempting a single pass in its 42-0 victory against Middle Tennessee last weekend. I know a lot of coaches in the area who probably gestured a chef’s kiss after watching a drive like that.
With defensive coordinator Mike Collins resigning just 10 days ahead of the matchup, is ULM’s defense equipped to slow down that dangerous run game? What will the offense look like without Caleb Evans and all those veteran offensive linemen that graced the field for the Warhawks last fall? And how big of an advantage was it for Army to get a game under its belt, while ULM plays catchup after missing several days of practice due to a COVID-19 outbreak? Let’s leave that headache for head coach Matt Viator.
It’s not an exaggeration to say a Louisiana Tech or ULM victory Saturday would be huge upsets. The Bulldogs are +18.5 underdogs, while the Warhawks are +15.5 dogs. So this is a prime opportunity to make some noise.
And even if our local teams fall short, they’ll at least get to perform under the bright lights of FOX and the CBS Sports Network. That’s good enough to get someone like me fired up.
Hold my calls Saturday morning. I’ve got some catching up to do with a lovely recliner and big-screen television.