Louisiana Tech fans couldn’t puff their chests out enough after humiliating Miami in last year’s Independence Bowl. In suffocating fashion, the Bulldogs frustrated Miami in a 14-0 victory, and simultaneously accomplished these three things:
1. Extended a bowl win streak to six. (Louisiana Tech was tied with Wisconsin for five consecutive bowl victories entering the bowl season, and after the Badgers lost to Oregon in the Rose Bowl, the Bulldogs now have sole possession of the nation’s longest streak.)
2. Embarrassed a college football power the media seems to overrate just about ever year. Don’t fret. Miami will find a way back into a preseason Top 25 poll before you know it.
3. Erased any lingering doubt about the continued trajectory of the program after a 10-win season. No doubt, things are still looking mighty good over there in Ruston.
The question now becomes whether or not the Bulldogs can keep that momentum in 2020. Las Vegas doesn't seem to think so. If you check the over/under win totals online, Vegas Insiders has the Bulldogs at 7.5. That begs the question: could we possibly see a seven-win season in 2020?
Over the next three weeks we’ll take a look at Louisiana Tech, ULM and LSU heading into the 2020 season, and funny enough, they each face the same concerning question entering the season. That question? How much of a disadvantage is it for teams that do not return starting quarterbacks or continuity up front? This question, of course, spawns from COVID-19 shutting down spring practice and adding a few new hurdles over the offseason.
So up first we have those Bulldogs, and yes, they have to replace the often-criticized J’Mar Smith. Say what you will about Smith, and plenty has been said after a suspension sidelined Smith during the two biggest weeks of the season last year, but no one can deny the numbers he produced in 2019 (most yards per game in Conference-USA). The problem is he wasn’t available for two crucial games, which led to losses. But did those contests give Tech fans a glimpse of the not so distant future? In losses to Marshall and UAB, Aaron Allen completed a combined 53 percent of his passes. Allen threw for less than 175 yards in each loss, but how fair is to judge his performance when he competed against two of the best teams in the conference? Furthermore, will COVID-19 stunt his growth at quarterback? Or will Westin Elliott get his shot under center? Time will tell.
Returning backs Justin Henderson, who topped the 1,000-yard mark, and Israel Tucker should help smooth the transition process on offense. Those two quality backs, along with talented wide outs like Adrian Hardy, gives this Bulldog offense some nice offensive weapons heading into 2020. So the offense is a bit of a mystery heading into the season, but what about the defense?
Well, that unit is tasked with replacing with replacing two fourth-round selections in the secondary. In the same way the defense took a hit on the pass rush front without Baltimore Ravens pass rusher Jaylon Ferguson (also known as sack daddy), one might wonder whether the secondary gives up more big plays without Amik Robertson and L’Jarius Sneed around. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility when you picture two draft picks exiting.
The Bulldogs also lose eight of their top 11 tacklers on that side of the ball, so even with a new quarterback at the helm behind an offensive line that has to replace three starters, one could argue the defense has just as many questions heading into the season as the offense.
But that doesn’t mean Louisiana Tech will take a step backwards this season.
Positioning in the conference is a muddled prediction this year. But here’s the reality — Louisiana Tech has been one of the best teams in the conference year in and year out and that’s without winning a conference title since joining C-USA.
That 0-2 showing in conference title games still rub Tech fans the wrong way, and maybe with a little luck, the Bulldogs could find their way back in that title game for the first time since 2016.
If the offense has growing pains, like they realistically should, Louisiana Tech will still find a way to remain relevant.