In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
[divider]RANKINGS: Top 100 FBS Teams for 2018
TRIVIA: Daily CFB Trivia Question
MORE: Best FBS Player for Each Jersey Number
MORE: Best FCS Player for Each Jersey Number[divider]
No. 72 Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech's run of nine-win seasons ended but they still won seven games and made (and won) a fourth consecutive bowl game for the first time in program history.
An improved defense returns two of the best players in the conference in corner Amik Robertson and end Jaylon Ferguson, and they finally have a returning quarterback in junior J'Mar Smith. The pieces are there for a conference title and return to nine wins if they can be better vs. the run and keep their turnover margin high.
2017 Record: 7-6 (4-4, Conference USA)
Louisiana Tech won the fewest games (and conference games) and finished worse than second in the C-USA West for the first time since 2013.
They squandered a last-minute lead vs. South Carolina in what would've been one of the better wins in program history, had a game-winning field-goal attempt blocked vs. UAB, gave up a game-tying touchdown in the final seconds of an eventual overtime loss to Southern Miss, and missed a long field goal in the final minutes vs. North Texas.
There were silver linings in a frustrating, injury-filled season, among them quarterback J'Mar Smith taking a big step forward and the defense becoming more balanced.
Head Coach: Skip Holtz (6th Year, 38-28)
Entering his sixth season, this is the longest Skip Holtz has ever remained at the same job. The 2016 Conference USA Coach of the Year and winner of 126 career games is leading Louisiana Tech through the most stable period in program history.
He signed a five-year extension last spring that came with a $200,000 annual pay raise and, from all accounts, is extremely happy in Ruston.
RB Boston Scott, RB Jarred Craft, OT Joshua Outlaw, DE Deldrick Canty, LB Russell Farris, S Secdrick Cooper, K Jonathan Barnes
Boston Scott — whom I profiled for our NFL Draft Diary series — was their only player selected in the 2018 draft but they lost some other high-end talent, including Scott's longtime backfield mate Jarred Craft and All-C-USA First-Team safety Secdrick Cooper.
Elsewhere, Deldrick Canty had 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in his career, Joshua Outlaw was a two-year starter at tackle who earned all-conference honors last year and four-year Jonathan Barnes graduated after hitting nearly 80 percent of his career field-goal attempts.
Returning Offensive Players
QB J'Mar Smith, RB Jaqwis Dancy, RB Kam McKnight, RB Israel Tucker, WR Teddy Veal, WR Rashid Bonnette, G O'Shea Dugas, G Ethan Reed
For the first time under Holtz (and the first time since 2010), Louisiana Tech has a returning starting quarterback in redshirt junior J'Mar Smith. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Smith wasn't flawless — routinely holding the ball too long and misreading coverages — but he did flash impressive escape ability and arm strength while throwing for 2,974 yards (and running for another 371) while throwing only one interception every 82 attempts.
"I think J'Mar is in command of the offense . . . I think he's very comfortable in the offense," Holtz said during spring ball, while failing to contain a smile as he discussed having a returning quarterback for the first time.
Jaqwis Dancy averaged 6.7 yards per carry (39 attempts for 262 yards) in his first back after beating stage 3 Hodgkin's lympoma. He'll be the lead back following the departures of Scott and Craft.
“My strength has definitely come back, especially with my legs,” Dancy said last year. “My legs are probably stronger than they were before the cancer. I am squatting probably 100 pounds more than I was before. My bench press is almost back. I am about five or 10 pounds short of it. My weight is back. Everything is good.”
Kam McKnight played running back in high school and had a couple carries in his first three seasons at Louisiana Tech but was still primarily a receiver. The 6-foot-2, 232-pounder was moved to the backfield before spring practice and will get snaps behind Dancy. Add in redshirt sophomore Israel Tucker and this group is in shockingly good shape given the losses.
Louisiana Tech's inexperienced receiving corps was OK in a transition year after losing 1,500-yard receivers Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson. It didn't help that most regulars were hit with injuries. Tulane transfer Teddy Veal started on the outside but was moved inside as they battled absences and led the team with 74 receptions. Rhashid Bonnette was their big-play man, averaging nearly 18 yards despite injuries.
Look for the offensive line to improve after the group was shuffled around a lot last year. Guard Ethan Reed is one of the best linemen in the conference and sophomore center Kody Russey is primed for a huge year.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Jaylon Ferguson, DE Matthew Ydarraga, DT Jordan Bradford, DT Keonatye Garner, LB Dae'Von Washington, CB Amik Robertson, CB L'Jarius Sneed, S Darryl Lewis
The defense forced an averaged of 2.2 turnovers per game and finished ninth nationally with 28 takeaways, the most in three seasons under coordinator Blake Baker. Five players had at least two interceptions and seven guys forced at least one fumble. They need more balance and consistency from the pass rush and — after strong run defenses the last couple years — weren't great against the run (4.7 yards per carry) but it was still an improved unit.
The line is in great shape. All-conference end Jaylon Ferguson is back after leading the team in tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (seven) and though he's one of only two returning players who had more than two sacks last year, the unit has both high-end talent and depth.
The rising star is Amik Robertson (below), a 2017 three-star recruit who had offers from LSU, Oklahoma State, Texas and others. He was a major coup for the Bulldogs and proved it immediately, intercepting five passes and adding another six pass breakups. The 5-foot-9 corner was spectacular in coverage and at the line, registering 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, and a huge reason why their pass defense wasn't atrocious like it was in 2016.
“I love his attitude, I love the way he loves the game, the way he plays the game. I thought he was a tremendous bright spot," Holtz said after Robertson earned Freshman All-America honors from the FWAA. "There’s some that come in like a Xavier Woods, like an Amik Robertson that are incredibly mature, that love the game, that have an understanding of the game, that are ready to contribute right away. I can’t tell you I saw all of that, but we saw his talent and athleticism."
Baker runs a 4-2-5 defense, so when you play seven linebackers in a season, that's not great. The group was hit by injuries and only four linebackers played in all 13 games. Former walk-on Dae'Von Washington played extremely well in his move from reserve to starter. He led the team with 71 tackles.
QB Elijah Walker, WR Griffin Hebert, WR Tahj Magee, LB Connor Taylor, S Brandon Floyd
This is J'Mar Smith's team but keep an eye on redshirt freshman Elijah Walker. He was terrific in the spring game (4-for-5, 97 yards, one touchdown) before injuring his shoulder.
JUCO transfer Connor Taylor and Brandon Floyd ran with both the first- and second-team defenses during the spring and will get snaps immediately. Freshman receivers Griffin Hebert (redshirt) and Tahj Magee (true) made some nice plays during spring ball.
Louisiana Tech visits LSU in Week 4, their 19th all-time meeting with the Tigers but first since an eight-point loss in Baton Route in 2009.
They don't play an FBS team at home until Week 6 when they host UAB in their conference opener. And they continue their semi-regular series with Mississippi State with a November visit to Starkville.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||at South Alabama|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||vs. Southern|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||at LSU|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||at North Texas|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||vs. UAB|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||at UTSA|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. UTEP|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||at FAU|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||at Mississippi State|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||vs. Rice|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||at Southern Miss|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||vs. Western Kentucky|