Jack Bicknell III enters his sixth season at Louisiana Tech with little room for error. After leading the Bulldogs to the Western Athletic Conference title in 2001, Tech struggled with back-to-back losing seasons, including a disappointing 5-7 campaign in '03.
In this make-or-break season, Bicknell must hope that new defensive coordinator Tim Rose, known as a quick-fix artist, can work his magic on a Tech defense that surrendered 672 rushing yards to Rice in the '03 season finale.
Rose is ditching Tech's 4-3 alignment for a 3-4 look that promises to take advantage of the Bulldogs' speed and athleticism. MO<"We love the 3-4 defense," senior defensive end Jemelle Cage said. "It fits our personality and makes us play fast and not be the target. The offense is the target, not us."
Bicknell must also find a new starting quarterback and backup for the first time in four years. A quartet of unproven players must battle for the starting spot. None of them -- junior Matt Kubik, junior Donald Allen, redshirt freshman Zac Champion or junior Brent Rawls, an Oklahoma transfer -- has attempted a pass in college.
"It's challenging in a sense that we haven't seen any of these guys do anything," Bicknell said. "All of the quarterbacks are in different stages of development."
The spring battle was a three-man race after Rawls reported to camp with a broken hand that required surgery. He will join the competition in August but missed valuable playing time during the spring.
OffenseWith McCown and his gaudy offensive numbers no longer in town, tailback Ryan Moats will take on more of the offensive burden. And that could be good news. He rushed for 1,300 yards as a sophomore and averaged an impressive 6.5 yards per carry.
Tech must replace its two starting receivers in D.J. Curry and Chris Norwood, but Bicknell believes he has enough talent for the Bulldogs to have a dangerous receiving corps. Seniors Erick Franklin and Tramissian Davis are the leading returnees.
Bicknell believes the offensive line will be a strength, and it should be with the return of all five starters. Left guard Aaron Lips is entering his third season as a starter. The 6-foot-5, 309-pound junior is one of the top offensive linemen in the WAC and will be a future NFL player.
DefenseRose's new 3-4 front will give Tech a different look. Senior Chris Van Hoy, a 6-4, 308-pounder, will occupy the all-important nose spot. Van Hoy is a two-year starter who has showed promise in the past but is still waiting on that breakout season.
If there is a strength to a defense that finished last in the nation in '03, it is the linebackers. Jeremy Hamilton and Byron Santiago, a pair of speedy playmakers, will be turned loose on the edges. Santiago emerged as a starter midway through the season and was far and away Tech's best defensive player.
The Bulldogs return a seasoned secondary that gets a boost from the return of Corey Brazil, a two-year starter who gained another year of eligibility because as a partial qualifier, he is on target to graduate in four years.
SpecialistsKicker Josh Scobee, Tech's all-time leading scorer, left for the NFL. Redshirt freshman Zach Myatt will be given a chance to take over, but coaches aren't convinced he is ready. True freshman Danny Horwedel will be given a close look in August as well. The punting chores will be handled by one of two true freshmen, David Black, a walk-on, or Matt Butler, otherwise a safety.
Final AnalysisBicknell had to fight to keep his job and was forced to fire co-defensive coordinator Rick Smith, whose defense ranked last in Division I-A. Rose's new-look defense will get tested early. After opening with Louisiana-Lafayette at home, the Bulldogs hit the road and play at Miami, at Tennessee and at Auburn. That's the type of schedule that can get a coach fired.