Dooley noted: Louisiana Tech WAC football preview

Part 5 of our WAC football preview is here. Today, I am examining the down-but-not-out Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have been down in recent years, but they are always capable of killing WAC title hopes for any number of WAC teams. With a new coach and a new outlook, the Bulldogs might surprise some teams this season. Then again...maybe they won't.

Ruston, Louisiana's motto is "a city planning for the future"—and while a more fitting motto for the city may have been "only 5 hours from New Orleans" or "no worse than Moscow"...2nd year La Tech coach Derek Dooley is taking the city's mantra to heart and planning for the future of the Bulldogs. Louisiana Tech hasn't won a WAC championship since 2001 (at the expense of the Broncos, no less) and has only been on the good side of .500 once since then...but the Bulldogs seem to have renewed vigor under Dooley and are hoping that this year may be the year that they get over the hump.

And to think you could have known only victory on the blue turf
Quarterback Taylor Bennett at one point looked destined to become a Bronco. Things changed... Taylor fell out of love with the blue and went on to a so-so career at Georgia Tech. In a ironic twist of fate Bennett was still able to experience the blue turf in a Humanitarian Bowl loss to Fresno State last year. Now, through the magic of NCAA loopholes, Bennett has departed Georgia Tech and enrolled at Louisiana Tech...where he will likely become the starter. Now, Bennett will again get to experience what playing on the blue turf feels like when the Bulldogs visit Boise on October 1st and thanks to Ryan Winterswyk and Mike T. Williams will also get to find out what blue turf tastes like.

Lookin' for bright spots
The Bulldogs should be better in the quarterback department after the departure of the not-so-aptly named Zac Champion. Champion threw for a mere 13 TDs last season while throwing 10 INTs...he was also sacked 29 times. Obviously the passing stats weren't great during the Champion era...but the 54 quarterback sacks in the last two seasons certainly point to another underperforming unit: the O-line. The O-line performed adequately enough to spring senior running back Patrick Jackson for nearly 1,000 yards last season...but clearly their pass blocking must improve. Thankfully for the Bulldogs...Jackson is back and they have junior RB Daniel Porter to lean on as well. Porter and Jackson may be the third best running back tandem in the WAC behind Boise State's Johnson and Whoever and Fresno State's Matthews and Miller. With consistency in the running game and better play from the Offensive Line, Tech should improve upon last year's 99th ranking in scoring offense...and they must if they want to finish higher than 5th in the WAC. Oh...here's a bit of good news—Bennett was 27 of 44 for 370 yards and 3 scores in Sunday's Fall Scrimmage. Good news for the offense, anyway—which leads us to...

Shrewish Defense League
The Bulldogs were ranked 91st in total defense last season, giving up an average of 424 yards/game. While not the worst defensive team in the WAC...they are far from the best—and their offense was not strong enough to allow for that kind of defensive production. By contrast, the top 2 teams in the WAC last year, Hawaii and Boise State, had national defensive rankings of 34 and 25, respectively. On a better note for the dogs' D, they nearly cut in half the amount of rushing yardage allowed from 2006 to 2007. Also, free safety Antonio Baker returns after putting together an all-WAC season and making 118 tackles. Baker is a solid player for the dogs and will lead their defense again this season...whenever your free safety leads the team in tackles, however, there are problems with the line. CB Weldon Brown will help Baker keep offenses from getting too deep into the La Tech secondary...but both, I'm sure, would appreciate a bit more help from the boys up front.

Dog Days
I truly believe that Derek Dooley is going to be a great coach...I just don't know if it is going to be at Louisiana Tech. Dooley's first year in Ruston saw his team go 5-7, which was a modest improvement over 2006's 3-10 campaign with Jack Bicknell at the helm, but Dooley can prove the worth of his contract this season if the Dogs can go above .500. That said, the Bulldogs face no easy task this year as their schedule is not a friendly one sending them to play at Kansas, Boise State, Hawaii, Army and San Jose State. Throw in tough home games against Mississippi State, Fresno State and a Nevada finale and the it appears that the dogs could replicate last season's record. I am going to go ahead and give Dooley the benefit of the doubt and say that the dogs will go 6-6 this season—I doubt that they'll get by Nevada, Fresno, Hawaii or Boise State in conference and the Kansas and Mississippi games will be toughies...but they should distinguish themselves as better than the bottom of the WAC and will be knocking on the door in another year or two. Though they are a terrible geographical fit for the WAC, I like Louisiana Tech and their fanbase...and I think that Derek Dooley will run a tight ship—whether that will translate into wins or a shot at the WAC title remains to be seen. Maybe next year?

Previous previews:
Utah State preview
Idaho preview
New Mexico State preview
San Jose State preview

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