Last year's 7-6 finish for Louisiana Tech was a minor step back for a program coming off three consecutive nine-win campaigns. But that wasn't unexpected following an exodus of star power from the '16 team, and the gap was arguably narrower than the records indicate: Tech went 1-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less. The season ended on the high note of a three-game winning streak, capped by a stunning, 51-10 bowl romp over SMU.
Previewing Louisiana Tech Football's Offense for 2018
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J'Mar Smith didn't exactly engrave his name in the annals of school history in 2017 -- the Bulldogs' scoring average declined by 14 points per game compared to 2016 -- but his presence alone this fall will make him something of a curiosity at Louisiana Tech: a real, live returning starter at quarterback. Barring injury, Smith will be the first Tech signal caller to top the depth chart in consecutive seasons since 2010.
It didn't help Smith's cause last year that he was working with an almost entirely revamped receiving corps. But four of the top five targets in that group will be back, including slot specialist Teddy Veal, who finished among C-USA's leaders in receptions (74), yards (950) and touchdowns (seven) en route to a second-team all-conference nod. Smith should also benefit from the return of Utah transfer Alfred Smith, who missed all of 2017 with a knee injury. The offensive line is largely intact as well, led by interior mainstays O'Shea Dugas and Ethan Reed.
Contrary to its pass-happy reputation, Tech has produced a 1,000-yard rusher each of the past four years. And while the outlook on the ground is less certain with the departures of 1K Club members Boston Scott and Jarred Craft, there are viable veteran candidates to continue the streak in Jaqwis Dancy and converted wide receiver Kam McKnight.
Previewing Louisiana Tech Football's Defense for 2018
Statistically speaking, the defense was nondescript in 2017, finishing in the middle of the pack in C-USA in every almost every major category. Still, compared to 2016 it was a step in the right direction: The Bulldogs improved significantly in terms of both yards and points per game, and with a number of regulars back there's every reason to expect the upward trajectory under coordinator Blake Baker to continue.
The most decorated of the holdovers is senior end Jaylon Ferguson, a two-time All-C-USA pick with more career sacks (27.5) and tackles for a loss (40.5) to his credit than any other active FBS player. But the most intriguing playmaker may be the youngest, sophomore cornerback Amik Robertson, a Freshman All-American who started every game and picked off five passes. There is a glaring void behind him with the graduation of All-C-USA safety Secdrick Cooper, but between Robertson, fellow corner L'Jarius Sneed and safety Darryl Lewis, there's very little danger of the secondary reverting to its highly flammable 2016 form.
Previewing Louisiana Tech Football's Specialists for 2018
Departed kicker Jonathan Barnes set nearly every school record. In his place, the Bulldogs will likely turn to Brady Farlow, who handled most of the punting duties in 2017 but has yet to attempt a field goal or extra point in his career. As a punter, Farlow split time with Australian Davan Dyer, who also returns.
The lineup boasts as much top-to-bottom experience as any in Conference USA. This may not be Skip Holtz's most talented outfit, and the conference schedule doesn't do it any favors. But in a wide-open C-USA West race, the Bulldogs have the pieces in place to return to the top.