One would be hard pressed to find a matchup of two programs in more similar positions heading into 2013 than N. C. State and Louisiana Tech. The Wolfpack, despite a veteran team that was expected to challenge for at least an ACC division title, limped through an underwhelming 7-6 season that resulted in the ouster of head coach Tom O'Brien. The Bulldogs were looking like a BCS buster at 9-1 but went from first to third in the WAC, and from ranked to unranked, by finishing the season on a two-game slide. To make matters worse, La. Tech fumbled away a bowl invitation and 32 seniors missed out on the post season. Though 9-3 is no small feat for Tech, ultimately both teams ended 2012 with a collective bad taste in their mouths.
Like N. C. State, La. Tech is breaking in a new coach. Despite the disappointing finish, Bulldogs' coach Sonny Dykes did big things at the little school in Ruston, resulting in Dykes getting lured away to a bigger opportunity at Cal. Given the aforementioned loss of 32 seniors, the son of legendary Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes probably picked a good time to jump ship. Dykes will be replaced by the once-promising Skip Holtz (himself the son of a coaching legend, Lou). Holtz the junior had a reasonable amount of success as daddy's offensive coordinator at Notre Dame and as the head man at East Carolina, but he was fired at South Florida after taking that program from the lofty heights of middling Big East school to Big East bottom dweller. After Holtz went a miserable 1-6 in the weak Big East in 2012, La. Tech fans had to be less than overwhelmed by his hire, and given the abnormal amount of attrition the Bulldogs suffered in terms of personnel loss, Holtz could not be more poised for failure.
Like N. C. State, La. Tech will be breaking in a new quarterback in 2013, as chief among the departed is Colby Cameron, whose 345.6 yards passing per game ranked second at the FBS level. Cameron, the WAC Offensive POY, completed 68.8% of his throws for 4,147 yards and 31 touchdowns. Cameron's two favorite targets, Quinton Patton (1,392 yards/13 TDs) and Myles White (712 yards/6 TDs) have also exhausted their eligibility.
Like N. C. State, La. Tech relied on a true freshman running back in 2012. Kenneth Dixon ran for 1,194 yards, averaging six yards per carry and scoring an FBS-leading 27 times on the ground. And Dixon played second fiddle early in the season to another true freshman, Tevin King, who average 123 yards per game on eight yards per carry over the Bulldogs' first three games before going down with an ACL injury. While he cannot realistically expect to replicate the success of Dykes' air raid offense with fresh faces at QB and WR, at least Holtz should have an impressive stable in the backfield.
Like N. C. State, La. Tech is turning over the majority of its offensive line. Given its inability to open rushing lanes or protect the quarterback, the Wolfpack's transition on the OL could turn out to be addition by subtraction, but the Bulldog boys up front will be missed. The La. Tech OL paved the way to 47 rushing touchdowns, one shy of tying Georgia Tech and Oregon for the national lead, and La. Tech led the nation in scoring offense with 51.5 points per game. La. Tech quarterbacks attempted 533 passes and were sacked just 10 times. In a similar number of attempts (569), Wolfpack signal callers were dropped 39 times.
Like N. C. State, La. Tech will not return its two leading tacklers from 2012. Senior Jamel Johnson led the team with 79 stops and tied for the team lead with two interceptions. Fellow senior Antonio Mitchum made 76 tackles. Leading sacker IK Enemkpali, who dragged down six quarterbacks, should return for his senior season if he can stay out of the hoosegow.
Like N. C. State, La. Tech's problems in losses last year stemmed from defensive shortcomings. The Pack surrendered an ugly 42.5 points per game in losses, but the Bulldogs really outdid them, giving up 53 points per game in their setbacks. Tech was 119th in scoring defense (38.5), 116th in yards per play allowed (6.54), 113th in yards per pass attempt allowed (8.3), and 108th in opponents' QB rating (149.23), just to name a few stats that must have State's new offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, salivating.
After the 2013 slate of opponents was released, I hoped State would open with Richmond. At first blush, an FCS opponent, even a very good one, seemed to be the ideal matchup to allow Dave Doeren and whomever his quarterback will be to dip their toes into this unchartered water. However, the Tech defense is probably worse than Richmond's unit that surrendered 21.6 ppg at the FCS level, Manti Te'o has more imaginary girlfriends than Tech's offense has returning starters, and Richmond's rising coaching star, Danny Rocco, has a much more impressive record of late than Holtz, so the first ever meeting between the Pack and La. Tech may well be the best-case scenario for CDD's Pack. Not only can the new coach potentially open the season with a win, he can do so against what will be perceived as a strong opponent, giving the Pack faithful plenty of water cooler material when they return from their Labor Day weekend hangovers.