The best 2014 turnaround you haven’t noticed: Louisiana Tech


A year ago at this time, Louisiana Tech was 3-5 en route to a 4-8 finish under first-year head coach Skip Holtz. The Bulldogs beat Lamar, UTEP, Florida International and Southern Miss (combined FBS wins: four) and closed the season by losing 52-14 to Rice, 24-14 to Tulsa and 30-10 to UTSA.

Fast forward to today, and Louisiana Tech is 6-3 and 5-0 in Conference USA play – two wins away from clinching the Conference USA West Division championship in their second year in the league. Take away payday losses to Oklahoma and Auburn and Holtz’s Bulldogs are 6-1 in games they have a realistic chances of winning, the one loss an utterly inexplicable one to FCS Northwestern State.

Manny Diaz has proven to be a smart hire as defensive coordinator, boosting Louisiana Tech from ninth to first in scoring defense in Conference USA games, dropping the average from 26.6 to 14.8 points per game. In conference play only, the Bulldogs lead the league in total defense, yards per play allowed and pass efficiency defense while ranking second in rushing defense.

On the opposite side of the ball, Cody Sokol has proven to be an upgrade over Ryan Higgins at quarterback, flipping his predecessor’s touchdown-to-interception ratio from 6-to-13 to 22-to-9. La Tech trails only Marshall in scoring at 42.8 points per game in conference outings, more than double from a dreadful 20.4 scoring average last season.

Finally, Louisiana Tech has flipped its fate in terms of turnovers, jumping from turnover neutral (21 takeaways, 20 giveaways) to leading the pack (18 takeaways, nine giveaways, a league-best plus-1.8 per game) in five conference games this year.

Add it all up and you get a four-game winning streak in which Louisiana Tech has out-scored the competition by a combined 172-53, punctuated by Saturday’s 59-10 thumping of Western Kentucky where the Bulldogs held WKU 29 points and 103 yards below their next-worst outputs this season. This was the same team that had dropped 66 points and 601 yards on Old Dominion just a week earlier.

Two more wins (remaining schedule: at UAB, at Old Dominion, vs. Rice) guarantees a spot in the Conference USA championship, though the folks in Ruston aren’t the only ones hopping Holtz’s bunch finishes 9-3. A win over undefeated-in-conference-play Louisiana Tech may be Marshall’s only hope at securing a spot in a College Football Playoff access bowl, but the Thundering Herd should be careful what it wishes for. A team playing this good on both sides of the ball and turning the ball over at this rate may just sneak up and win the whole thing.

Star WR Michael Pittman confirms he’ll play in USC’s bowl game

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(Pardon us as we’ve been catching up on a few things due to some very significant technical difficulties.)

USC fans can assuage their anguish somewhat over the retention of Clay Helton with the knowledge that one of their school’s most explosive weapons on offense will be available during the postseason. There, feel better?

After some uncertainty and speculation, Michael Pittman announced on Twitter this week that he will be playing in the Trojans’ bowl game. USC will face Iowa in Holiday Bowl Dec. 27, the first meeting between the football programs since 2002.

Pittman led the Trojans this season in receptions (95), receiving yards (1,222) and receiving touchdowns (11). The catches and yards led the Pac-12, while the scores were second.

The fourth-year senior was named first-team all-conference and is a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award.

FAU makes hiring of Willie Taggart as Lane Kiffin’s replacement official

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A week ago, it was reported that Willie Taggartbadly wants a second act” at USF.  While that job ultimately went to a Clemson coordinator, Taggart still ended up landing yet another gig in the Sunshine State.

With rumors swirling throughout the day, Florida Atlantic confirmed Wednesday evening that Taggart has been named as the Owls’ new head football coach.  Taggart replaces Lane Kiffin, who left shortly after FAU won the Conference USA championship game Saturday for the Ole Miss job.

“I’m grateful to Brian White and President Kelly for their belief in me to lead the football program at Florida Atlantic University,” a statement from Taggart began. “I’m looking forward to long-term success here. I think our players and the university deserve that commitment. Family is extremely important to me. I couldn’t do what I do without their love and support and all of us are looking forward to being here in Paradise for the foreseeable future.”

After four years as the head coach at South Florida, Taggart left USF for Oregon — for one season as it turned out as he pulled up stakes from the Pac-12 school for the Florida State job in December of 2017.  Less than two full seasons later, though, Taggart was shown the door by the Seminoles in early November.

Taggart is a native of Bradenton, Fla. and has deep, extensive recruiting ties in the state, which will only aid him in taking over a football program that has won two conference championships the past three years.

Taggart has never won a conference crown during his 10 seasons as a head coach, although he did claim a division title at South Florida in 2016.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have Coach Taggart on board to lead our football program,” FAU athletic director Brian White said in his statement. “Coach Taggart is a proven program builder who will develop strong relationships with our student-athletes and develop them as future leaders. His deep relationships around the state of Florida and the nation will be vital in recruiting as well. The traits he brings to the table will allow us to continue building upon our recent success.”

FAU’s Harrison Bryant named Mackey Award winner as nation’s best TE

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In a change of pace, we come to an award that doesn’t involve either Joe Burrow or Chase Young.

The John Mackey Award winner was announced earlier in the day Wednesday, with Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant claiming this year’s honor.  The Mackey is handed out annually to the nation’s top tight end.

Established in 2000, the 2018 winner was Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson.

This past season, Bryant caught 65 passes for 1,0004 yards and seven touchdowns.  Bryant led all FBS tight ends in both catches and receiving yards.

Bryant beat out seven other tight ends for the 2019 Mackey.

  • Hunter Bryant, Washington
  • Brycen Hopkins, Purdue
  • Brevin Jordan, Miami
  • Charlie Kolar, Iowa State
  • Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
  • Colby Parkinson, Stanford
  • Giovanni Ricci, Western Michigan

Ole Miss announces future home-and-home with Oregon State

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With the 2019 regular season put to bed, there is some future scheduling news on which to hit — and some very rare news at that.

Wednesday afternoon, Ole Miss announced that it had reached an agreement on a future home-and-home series with Oregon State.  The Beavers will travel to Oxford Sept. 18, 2027, with the Rebels making the trek to Corvallis on Aug. 31, 2030.

The 2027 game will mark the first-ever between the football programs.

According to Ole Miss, they have played a current member of the Pac-12 just twice, with both of those games coming against Cal.  Those games, incidentally, came in the last three years, including this season.

Oregon State last played a team from the SEC in 1987 when they traveled to Georgia.  A team from that conference has never played in Corvallis.