The 2017 football season is almost upon us. What would any new football season be without a bunch of semi-informed homers giving their takes on what’s to come? Not to be left out, gtpdd has produced this comprehensive dive into the most important questions facing Bulldog fans entering the season. Let’s dive right in.
1) What are Tech’s best and worst case scenarios this year?
Evan S: The best we can realistically hope for would be to split the SEC matchups and run the table in the conference. That would put Tech at 11-1 going into the conference championship game. Win that game and we’re in a New Years’ Day bowl game. We’d finish the season against an Actually Good Power 5 school, and end up ranked in the top 15. As for worst case? I’d say we start out 1-3 again and then struggle in conference. It’s hard for me to not find 6 wins on the schedule unless things get really ugly. Honestly I think the floor is 7-5.
Daniel A: The dream of a ten-win season should be attainable with the schedule Tech is playing this year (ranked 122 out of 130 per ESPN’s FPI). A best-case scenario would obviously be an undefeated season but a 10-2 regular season is where I see the ceiling. Tech’s worst case scenario would be struggling in conference play and falling short of the conference championship game. I think the floor would be 6-6.
Matt:The best case scenario: Running the table in the conference and putting up a good fight against the SEC schools, ending up 10-2 and going into the C-USA title game as the favorites, winning the big one against WKU/MTSU in said title game, winning a fourth consecutive bowl game, and finally having “Hey Bulldog” play at a home game.
The worst case scenario: Starting 1-3, losing to So. Miss., losing inexplicably to another mediocre team, ending the season 7-5, missing the big one, losing the bowl game to go 7-6, and giving another Robertson family member a Distinguished Alumnus award at Spring Commencement.
Nathan R: I don’t see a game on the schedule that I don’t think we can win. The toughest game should be WKU, but Tech isn’t favored against Moo State and South Carolina. With the way the two SEC schools are projected to play this year, I fully expect Tech to win one (or probably two) of these games. I honestly think the ceiling is at 12-0. I don’t expect this to happen, but I wouldn’t say it is unobtainable. The floor is losing both SEC games, WKU, USM, UTSA, and a baffling loss to someone like UAB. That would still put us at 6-6 and bowl eligible, but I wouldn’t see it as a successful season. I don’t see this happening unless J’Mar goes down for a few games. A Baffling Conference Loss™ has become the norm under Holtz (2016 MTSU, 2015 USM, 2014 ODU, 2013 Pretty Much All of Them), so it’s not unreasonable to think Tech would drop one to a team they are heavily favored against.
Josh F: Alright so the best case is going 13-0, winning the conference championship, and getting into the natty, right? But on a more serious note, the best I see is a 10-2 regular season, splitting the SEC games and dropping one to WKU (probably). Hopefully we snag the conference championship and a bowl game win to bring us to 12-2 in January. Worst case is we go 6-6 because the offense is bad and the defense remains the same. I am hoping this doesn’t happen. Really hoping.
Daniel S: Best case is that Tech upsets one or both of the SEC teams we play early in the season, then storms through conference play to dominate the West and win our first CUSA championship. There is not a game on the schedule this year that I believe is already written off as a loss. On the other side, the worst case scenario is that we once again find a way to lose to Northwestern State and follow up with losses against MSU South Carolina and WKU. Starting off the season at 0-4 would put Tech in a bind that would be difficult to get out of. Despite that the Bulldogs would probably finish off the season at 6-6 and bowl eligible. Tech’s first game of the season could be a good indicator of where the season will head if we perform poorly.
2) What is the most likely chance for Tech to not go and also die?
Evan: The most likely scenario for Tech to have a Baffling Conference Loss™ is probably the penultimate game of the season. Tech travels to UTEP, which shouldn’t be a difficult game. The Miners have struggled as of late, and shouldn’t be anywhere close to contention for the West. Despite this, Tech has struggled in El Paso since joining the CUSA. Is it the dry climate? The altitude? The wind? I don’t know, but Tech’s last two games out in the desert have seen two victories by a combined five points. When UTEP comes to Ruston… that’s not the case. Tech has won both matchups in Ruston by a combined 73 points! Tech shouldn’t have a problem with the Miners, but I wouldn’t put money on this one.
Daniel A: I think this may finally be the year UTSA gets the better of Tech, though it helps that game is at The Joe. The Rivalry in Dixie is also always an interesting one so I am going to go with one of those, excluding the out of conference games.
Matt: I see someone has already used the word “penultimate” in this thread. Pity. Anyways, my pick is UTSA. Depending on how the season goes, which I will delve into shortly, this game will either be meaningless or vital. My prediction is it will be vital, and Tech will not go and they will die a most painful death. More specifically, I can see a situation like this unfolding, followed by this and ending with this. (Which would of course be one of these).
Nathan: MasseyRatings.com has two games on Tech’s schedule right now that Tech has a 99% chance of winning: Northwestern State and UAB. Losing the NSU game has been done before, so I won’t be cliche and pick that one. UAB has a completely new team, so they won’t be good, but they will get better as the season goes by. Even though the game comes right before a bye week, I can see Tech looking past them. Plus, with the way the two teams have played in basketball the past few years, I can see Bill Clark circling Tech on their schedule.
Josh: The Baffling Conference Loss™ is absolutely going to be a baffling one this year. My guess is UTEP. We always seem to play poorly against them–on offense especially–despite how well we may be doing in the weeks beforehand. As Evan stated, we’ve only won by a combined 5 points out in El Paso, and something about the Sun Bowl makes me uneasy.
Daniel S: Tech is known for our Baffling Conference Losses™. Honestly the game it could be is UTSA in week 13. In recent years we have struggled in the final week of regular season play as seen by blowout losses to USM in 2015 and 2016. UTSA being at the very end of the season could cause Tech to keep up the tradition of losing in the final week especially if we are looking towards a conference championship game.
3) Where will Tech finish in RPI standings? (2016 finish: 41st overall; 11th Offense, 91st Defense, 58th Special Teams)
Evan: Offensively, Tech is poised to have another top 15 season. While production might drop initially in the September gauntlet, Tech will recover enough during conference play to end up as the 9th best offense in the country. Defensively, we should (hopefully…??????) see an improvement, although not much of one. We’ll rise up to 80th. Last year’s special teams were apparently a shade over average (FPI of 52.1, with 50 being “average”). I’ll say this year Tech treads water here and ends up ranked 59th. That would be good enough to have Tech scoot up in the overall rankings to 34th.
Daniel A: I am prepared for Tech’s offense to take a step back as they lost quite a lot of excellent skill position players. I’m anticipating some growing pains as the new offense figures itself out. I think they’ll end up ranking around 30. I’m hoping the defense takes a step forward (because a step backwards would be a disaster). They have enough continuity that I think there will be some improvement but I don’t have a enough faith in Blake Baker as a play caller or schemer to say they’ll improve a whole lot. I’ll put the D around 70. Special teams is a toss up: Barnes coming back is good and hey maybe that new punter is good but both the kick and punt returner are gone and the kick coverage was never particularly good. I’ll put them at 60.
Matt: I do not know what RPI is, but it sounds like another ridiculous statistic used by nerds to show people what I can see with own eyes: bad vs. good. Tech’s offense is loaded with talent, and a dual threat QB will add another dimension to the fold a la Notorious H.I.G. but with more agility. Nonetheless, I’m placing Tech’s Offense at 33rd simply because the inexperience at QB will be enough to cost Tech some ground, but not enough to pull the rug out from underneath them. Defensively, Tech’s line is more promising than it has been in a very long time. And with a schedule loaded with jabronis and an occasional “high-octane offense”, I’d say only a slight change will happen here. Defense at 78th this upcoming year, because WKU and MTSU exist and won’t allow for a more dramatic climb. Special teams is interesting, because Barnes is pretty darn good, but what about punting? What happens there? I don’t know, but my guess is the recruiting department probably didn’t deliver us the next Ryan Allen. STs at 65th.
Nathan: Like others have said, losing Henderson and Taylor will have an effect on the offense. Even if J’Mar ends up being a better QB than Higgins was, it is hard to imagine having a Top 15 offense again. In 2015, the Driskel offense ranked 30th. Sokol’s 2014 squad ranked 46th. So if we are looking at trends, we should have a top 5 offense (like we had in 2012). Realistically, I expect this offense to be similar to the Driskel year, and end with a rank around 28. In Baker’s first year as a DC (2015), his group ranked 80th in the league, much better than the 113th in 2016 and 91st in 2017. I attribute to a carryover from Diaz, who led Tech defense to a ranking of 35 in 2014. The 22 ranking jump from 2016 to 2017 is promising for a young DC, and I expect him to keep up this slow, but steady progress. The team did not lose too many important pieces to graduation, so I expect the defense to take another step up. At a minimum, I expect the team to improve to a rank of 80, which Baker has already proven he can do. Special Teams will take a step back, if only because of the loss of Henderson as a returner. Kicking and punting should not be anything to worry about, so I’ll put them at 65 – 70.
Josh: I’m expecting the offense to see some sort or drop off due to losing a 4000+ yard QB and a record breaking receiving duo. Current S&P+ predictions have the offense at #41 overall, which seems like an awfully steep decline. My bet is that the offense will end up somewhere in the high 20s, taking a slight step back. Defensively, I think we’ll improve a slight bit, but I am worried after losing Woods on that side of the ball. Ideally, I’m hoping we can be in at least the 70-80 range in S&P+. Now, I’m no advanced stats guy, but I think with that combination we can be at around 40 or better overall. At least I think that’s how this works.
Daniel S: Tech has made a name for themselves as an offensive powerhouse in recent years. Despite the loss of Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson, we are still in good hands at receiver. If J’Mar Smith lives up to his hype, we will still be in the top 20 offenses. On the other side the defense has many questions with the secondary. If those questions are answered, I believe the defense will be better because we still have one of the best D-lines in the CUSA. Prepare to see a slight decrease in offensive production but a potential large increase in defensive production.
4) Who is your candidate for breakout player of the year?
Evan: Teddy Veal. The RS Junior WR transferred from Tulane after the 2015 season. With Trent and Carlos gone, new WRs like Veal and Adrian Hardy have to step up to fill in the gaps. I chose Veal over Hardy because Veal has previous experience at the collegiate level. In 2015, Veal led all Tulane receivers with 48 receptions for 688 yards and 5 touchdowns. These aren’t exactly Louisiana Tech numbers, but they’re serviceable. I’m looking for Veal to plug in nicely as one of J’Mar’s top targets this season.
Daniel A: I’m looking forward to seeing what Amik Robertson brings to the defensive backfield. On the offensive side, I’m interested to see who steps up and fills the holes left by Henderson and Taylor. I think Rhashid Bonnette will have a nice year.
Matt: Prepare for the glorious outbreaking play of Alfred Smith, WR. He’s a 5’9″ slot man who has a chance to tear it up on opponents’ inside linebackers and has the potential to make a name for himself in the return game. Could be a gamebreaker on two sides of ball. He is talented in both areas. I’m trying to say he is a good player.
I’ll go with Ephraim Kitchen, the redshirt sophomore CB. He was one of Tech’s bigger “gets” in the 2015 class, but has yet to really put it all together. He broke up 4 passes last year, good for 5th best on the team, but because of injury he did so in 8 games instead of 14. He also had the lone interception in the Spring Game back in April. I expect him to replace Xavier Woods and become the defensive back that the casual Tech fan recognizes the name of.
UPDATE: Turns out Kitchen may be out for the year with an injury. My backup breakout player is Champ, the mascot. If enough players get hurt, he may be asked to sub in. And I think he has some eligibility left.
Josh: Adrian Hardy, WR. I’m excited to see what he can do this year since the receiving corps has lost 2 huge pieces. That means we have 2 holes to fill and I’m expecting someone as highly recruited as he was to produce.
Daniel Spencer: L’jarius Sneed at cornerback has the potential to make a name for himself this year. As a freshman last year he appeared in every game of the season, starting twice. If he is named the starter this year, prepare to see him terrorize offenses.
5) Make an off the wall prediction for the season.
Evan: Jaqwis Dancy will do something that earns national headlines. He’ll break off a huge kickoff return or a razzle-dazzle 90 yard TD run against Mississippi State or South Carolina, and national news outlets will have their feel good story of the day. People love a comeback story, and we’re certainly rooting for Jaqwis to have a fantastic return!
Daniel A: Jaylon Ferguson will be Top-5 in the nation in sacks.
Matt: J’Mar will come close to breaking the record for most rushing TDs by a LaTech player in a single game when playing against….NSU. That seems vague, but let me say it more definitively: J’Mar will have 5 rushing TDs against NSU, placing him 2nd on the most rushing TDs scored in a game by a Tech player, behind KD’s 6 TD performance in 2015 against North Texas.
Nathan: Tech has a good year, and the defense has a few good games. An AAC team (umm… let’s say UCONN) has a bad year and wants to replace their Defensive Coordinator with an “up and comer.” They hire Blake Baker to fill the position, making the BBB very happy.
Josh: Off the wall? Tech has a stellar defence, top of the nation stellar, but the offense middles and is mostly serviceable.
Daniel S: Tech will beat both MSU and South Carolina and handily win most other games, causing Tech to make an appearance in the top 25 for the first time in several years.
6) What is your final prediction for the season?
Evan: I am extremely hopeful about where this season could go. Tech legitimately has a shot to impress early and get into the Top 25 with wins over WKU and one of the SEC schools. My prediction for this season is that Tech will be ranked in the top 25 at some point, but will end the regular season at 9-3. That should be good enough for a spot in the conference title game, which I’ll say Tech finally wins. We’ll play a middling P5 program in the Okay Bowl Game and end up 11-3, which somehow feels like a disappointment here in August.
Daniel A: Tech breezes by NWST due to talent disparity but the new offensive skill position players suffer growing pains against MSST, WKU, and USC. Tech will be 1-3 by the time South Alabama comes to Ruston. After that, they get it figured out and finish the season with 9 wins and a berth in the C-USA championship game, which they lose to WKU. Tech goes to a bowl game against a middling Power-5 team and picks up its tenth win.
Matt: I am going with my gut here, 8-4. The season will start off with a familiar 1-3 record, and then pick back up with an out-of-conference game against South Alabama and a couple W’s against weak CUSA teams. So. Miss. will be an L, and from there it’ll be W’s until the title game. If Tech makes the title game, which I expect them to, they will go down to either WKU or MTSU away. The legend continues. Ugh. 8-5 and stumble into another easily winnable bowl game against a weak Sun Belt school – ULL perhaps? At least it’ll be another fun win against an under-performing program. Tech will not take the next step. Tech will not be able to ascend the CFB ladder of prestige. They won’t live up to expectations. It’ll be the same thing we are all used to I guess is the general idea of this paragraph. Here’s hoping I will not become an alcoholic come this winter!
Nathan: I’ll be a homer here and say 11-1 with a regular season loss to WKU. Tech wins the C-USA Championship, but misses out on an access bowl to an Appalachian State team that beats Georgia in their opener and continues to go 12-0 against mostly weak Sun Belt teams.
Josh: My honest thoughts are that we end the regular season around 9-3 with losses to one of the SEC teams, WKU, and the Baffling Loss™. I’m optimistic and I think we’ll finally win the conference and hopefully a nice bowl game showing giving us an 11-3 record on the year.
Daniel S: This is finally the year Tech will break our standard of 9 win seasons. My prediction is we will finish off the regular season at 10-2 with our first CUSA conference championship win .