Louisiana Tech football could be putting a new spin on the term one-and-done so prevalent in major college basketball.
For the second straight year, the Bulldogs will turn over their offense to a fifth-year senior who recently graduated from a “Power Five” school and landed in Ruston to play his final season of college football.
This time, the “rental” is former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel, who came out of high school in 2011 as the nation’s top passing prospect.
He follows Iowa transfer Cody Sokol, who led the Bulldogs to a five-win turnaround, a spot in the Conference USA championship game and the school’s first bowl win since 2008 in his one season.
“I knew I wanted to get into a different situation where I would have an opportunity to rebound and go out on a high note,” Driskel said. “I wanted to go somewhere I could go and play, somewhere I’d have a chance to put up some numbers and somewhere I could go and the guys were close.”
Sokol came to Tech after signing with Iowa out of the junior-college ranks and spending two seasons as a Hawkeyes backup. Driskel’s route to Ruston was far different.
In 2012, as a sophomore, he led Florida to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl berth.
In 2013, he started the first three games for the Gators before suffering a season-ending leg injury.
Driskel returned to the starting position for the first six games last season but was replaced by newcomer Treon Harris after struggling to get the Florida offense moving.
With a degree from Florida in hand, Driskel, like Sokol before him, was eligible to enroll in graduate classes at Tech and restart his college career without having to sit out.
“What’s in the past doesn’t matter,” Driskel said. “I’m just looking forward to growing together with a team that was already tightly knit.”
Driskel inherits three of Sokol’s favorite targets: speedsters Paul Turner and Carlos Henderson on the outside and preseason all-conference selection Trent Taylor in the slot.
But the new quarterback’s top weapon is the man with whom he’ll share the backfield.
Senior running back Kenneth Dixon is already Tech’s all-time leading rusher with 3,410 career rushing yards. He also has scored more points (366) than any player in school history.
“You can measure Kenneth and look at the height, weight and speed, but the things that make him special are the intangible things,” coach Skip Holtz said. “He plays the game with such a passion and energy.”
The defense is in transition mode after coordinator Manny Diaz returned to Mississippi State in the same capacity.
But the promotion of Blake Baker, who coached in the Tech secondary last season, brings some stability to a unit that led the nation in turnovers forced and tied for the FBS lead in interceptions.
The schemes and terminology mostly stay the same. So, too, does Tech’s aggressive nature.
“The ball is ours for the taking,” said safety Kentrell Brice, last year’s leading tackler. “We preach to each other: Be fearless when the ball’s in the air.”
The combination of an offense that averaged 37.4 points and the ball-hawking Tech defense helped the Bulldogs rebound from a 4-8 finish in Holtz’s debut season to wrack up nine wins last year, a run they culminated with their 35-18 victory over Illinois in the Heart of Texas Bowl.
But Holtz said losing to Marshall in the C-USA championship game still stings.
“It was still bittersweet,” Holtz said. “It’s been a great wave of momentum to ride, but it’s also been a great motivating factor for this team.”