IRVING, Texas — Louisiana Tech’s early schedule is absolutely brutal. The Bulldogs were 4-8 overall (3-5 Conference USA) in 2013, the first season under coach Skip Holtz. This season, they play four of their first five games against bowl teams from last season in Oklahoma, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, North Texas and Auburn.
Not only were these teams a combined 41-12 last season, but each of these games will be away from Ruston, with Tech’s first three games being played in a 12-day span.
This schedule was made before Holtz’s hiring in December 2012, and he realizes what a daunting task this early gauntlet represents for a team breaking in new starters at key positions like quarterback, wide receiver and on the offensive line.
“You’ve got to look at the big picture. In a lot of respects, it’s unfair to our football team, to ask them to play three bowl teams on the road in the first 12 days of the season,” Holtz said during the Conference USA media day Wednesday. “I don’t know that there’s another team in the country that has that challenge.”
Like playing games in Norman, Oklahoma; Lafayette; Denton, Texas; and Auburn, Alabama; isn’t tough enough, the Bulldogs will also have a number of new starters, many of whom haven’t taken a college snap.
“You’re going to have a quarterback that hasn’t taken a snap playing against Oklahoma. You’re going to have three new offensive linemen that haven’t taken a snap. You’re going to have three new wide receivers that haven’t taken a snap,” Holtz said. “So those are some of the challenges that we have. And I’m certainly not saying it’s impossible, but it’s certainly an uphill battle.”
Four of those five will be nonconference games. The Sept. 11 trip to North Texas will be Tech’s conference opener. The lone home game in this stretch comes Sept. 20 when the Bulldogs host Northwestern State at Joe Aillet Stadium the week before they finish this stretch with a Sept. 27 trip to Auburn.
Tech resumes league play at home Oct. 4 against UTEP.
Junior running back Kenneth Dixon, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season despite missing three games with a knee injury, said that if the Bulldogs can weather this storm, facing such high-caliber competition could put them in good position to be a factor in the C-USA race.
“We have a tough five games. Four out of our first five games are against people that had bowl games. Then you have to go to Louisiana-Lafayette, and that’s a tough team. They had eight wins last year,” Dixon said. “It’s going to be tough, but if we can make it through, I feel like we can make a good run through conference.”
Naturally, Holtz also is seeing this tough schedule for what it is, an opportunity for him and his staff to get a more accurate read about where the Bulldogs’ strengths and weaknesses are heading into the heart of conference play.
“We’re not going the easy route to get there. We will know a lot about our team, and it’s not just from a win-loss standpoint. We’re going to find out how we’re going to be able to compete on the road. We’re going to find out how close we’re going to be as a football team,” Holtz said. “We’re going to find out how we’re going to handle adversity, because we’re going to have it.”