Coach: Jack Bicknell III (7th season, 33–38) 2004 record: 6-6 WAC finish: 5-3 (t-3rd) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 19th (200.3 ypg) Passing: 92nd (179.8 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 78th (176.6 ypg) Passing: 80th (231.3 ypg)
New Mexico State
San Jose State
at Utah State
at Fresno State
Depth Chart: Offense
5 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
4 returning starters in red
Sandy Ray Collins
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Jack Bicknell beat the rap last season. Coming off of a 5-7 record in 2003, Bicknell was operating under a win-or-else decree and staring at a daunting schedule that included Miami, Auburn, Tennessee and Western Athletic Conference standouts Boise State, Fresno State and Hawaii.
Bicknell also had to break in a new starting quarterback and a first-year defensive coordinator to take over the nation's worst defense (at least statistically), and he had true freshmen manning the punter and kicker slots.
To say the least, the odds weren't in his favor. But the Bulldogs jumped out to a 2-0 start, and after losses to Miami and Tennessee, they stunned No. 17 Fresno State 28-21 at home. Tech also won two of its final three, including a 51-14 drubbing of Rice to finish 6-6, which was enough to buy Bicknell at least one more season in Ruston.
However, nothing comes easy for Bicknell. After the season, junior running back Ryan Moats, who set a school single-season rushing record, declared for the NFL Draft. Bicknell also lost three assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Tim Rose, who worked wonders in his only season with the Bulldogs.
So once again, Bicknell finds himself on coaching's bed of coals.
After trading in its pass-happy ways for a double-tight end rushing attack last season, Tech's offense will undergo yet another metamorphosis.
The Bulldogs leaned heavily on Moats last year, and he produced a school-record 1,774 yards and 18 touchdowns. Now that Moats has declared for the NFL Draft, Bicknell envisions a more balanced attack that will incorporate the option.
Freddie Franklin and Mark Dillard will be adequate replacements for Moats, but the key will be whether quarterbacks Matt Kubik and Donald Allen can make plays through the air.
A great help would be the emergence of junior receiver Johnathan Holland, a player with world-class speed who is ready to blossom. Holland finished fourth at the Texas Relays in the 100 meters and led the Bulldogs in yards per catch last season at 22.2.
"We've got to open up the offense more," Bicknell said. "We're going to look to run the quarterback more and see what helps us there."
Tech must replace eight starters, including its entire defensive front and three-fourths of its secondary.
The Bulldogs also must break in their fifth defensive coordinator in Bicknell's seventh season. The good news is that new coordinator John Lovett will run Tech's 3-4 defense that was installed last year by Tim Rose.
The biggest key for the defense is rebuilding the secondary. Only senior cornerback Tramon Williams has starting experience.
Tech's defensive front may be new, but the coaches believe there is more talent at that position than last season. The key will be the play of senior nosetackle Ladarius Love, who is finally healthy.
The strength of the team is at linebacker, where All-WAC outside backer Byron Santiago, Jeremy Hamilton and Barry Robertson lead the way. Those three give Tech one of the most athletic, if not best, linebacking units in the WAC.
Bicknell suffered with true freshmen last year handling the kicking duties. Matt Butler did an admirable job punting, ranking fourth in the WAC. But the kicking chores were split between Danny Horwedel and Brad Oestriecher. Horwedel handled most of the field goal duties, while Oestriecher took care of kickoffs.
Bicknell would like for one to be able to handle both duties, freeing up a spot on the travel roster. Horwedel would seem to have the upper hand, but it remains an open competition heading into fall.
There is a great opportunity for the Bulldogs to have a winning season. Although they still have a tough schedule, it is nothing like last year. Tech only plays two "money" games -- at Florida and at Kansas -- and also loses Tulsa, SMU, UTEP and Rice in WAC play in favor of new league members Utah State, Idaho and New Mexico State. The Bulldogs also get Hawaii and Boise State in Ruston, which should help.
The key for Tech will be whether its offense, once one of the most prolific passing attacks in the nation, can rebound from the loss of Moats and create more big plays.