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NCAA Football Conference USA Football

Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 70 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Rant Sports 100 in 100 series continues with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in their first season in Conference USA.

The Bulldogs went 9-3 in the final year of WAC football, but the team’s chance to be a BCS buster evaporated with back-to-back losses to end the season. Not only did the Bulldogs whiff on the BCS, they skipped bowl season altogether when the athletic department turned up its nose at the Independence Bowl

This year, things will be different. Head coach Sonny Dykes left for California, and 32 seniors are also gone. With so many new faces on the roster, new coach Skip Holtz will have his hands full trying to replicate 2012′s success.

Key Player

Running back Kenneth Dixon (pictured) is the roster’s biggest returning star, but quarterback Scotty Young may be a bigger factor for the Bulldogs in 2013.

Young, a transfer from Texas Tech, must replace 2012 WAC Offensive Player of the Year Colby Cameronwho threw for 4,157 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2013, set an NCAA record with 444 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, and won the Sammy Baugh Award as the nation’s top passer.

Young was a Parade All-American out of high school, but he has no college experience — and he won’t have the same offensive line protection as his predecessor.

Offense 

Only two starters return to an offense that was No. 1 in the nation in total offense and scoring (51.5 points per game) and No. 3 in passing in 2012. In addition to Cameron, the Bulldogs lose their top two receivers, Quinton Patton and Myles White, who combined for 159 catches and 2,101 yards, as well as four offensive linemen with 138 combined career starts.

WR D.J. Banks, a transfer from Tulane, had 33 catches, 434 yards and a touchdown last season. With no one in front of him, he’s poised to take advantage of increased playing time. If LSU transfer Paul Turner is eligible, he could make an impact, although he recorded no stats in nine appearances with the Tigers. And keep an eye on Sterling Griffin, who could transfer in after leaving USF. Griffin hasn’t announced a destination, but he played three seasons under Holtz and WR coach Joe Sloan at USF. As a graduate student, he would be immediately eligible.

Dixon should again be a force on offense. As a true freshman, he ran for 1,194 yards, set an NCAA freshman record of 27 touchdowns on 200 attempts, and averaged 14 points and 99.5 yards per game. A three-star recruit, Dixon was named Freshman All-America, WAC Freshman of the Year, First Team All-WAC and Louisiana Freshman of the Year. That’ll be tough to match without the experienced big men upfront and equally dangerous receivers downfield.

Dixon will have support from Brandon Davis and Tevin King, who was the team’s leading rusher before tearing his ACL in late September.

Defense

The Bulldogs’ defense was bad last season, but they had one heck of an offense to bail them out. Not anymore.

The defense is more experienced, with four redshirt seniors on the line, but after surrendering more than 500 yards and 38 points per game in 2012, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

First-team All-WAC defensive end IK Enemkpali had nearly as many sacks (6) as the rest of the line combined (7.5) last year. He’ll get backup from tackle Justin Ellis and end Kendrick James, both of whom missed time with injuries in 2012.

Three of last year’s top safeties are gone, but the Bulldogs hope the new young starters will form an even quicker, stronger unit in 2013.

Schedule

Louisiana Tech travels to North Carolina State to kick off the season. The Bulldogs upset Virginia last year and won their last three out of four against BCS opponents, but there are too many unknowns to bet on them in week one.

Other notable games include the Heart of Dallas Classic against Army in the Cotton Bowl on Sept. 28 and the team’s first trip to the Alamodome, to close out the season against Texas-San Antonio.

After the opener, the team plays six straight against teams projected to be among the bottom 25 in the nation. Even with a less-prolific offense, the Bulldogs should manage to become bowl eligible.