- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

RUSTON, La. (AP) - Jeff Driskel has one last season to add a chapter of triumph and redemption to a largely disappointing college career.

The former Florida quarterback is confident that he gave himself an excellent shot at doing just that by joining Conference USA favorite Louisiana Tech.

“I knew I wanted to get to 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 where I could come in and play … somewhere where I could put up some big numbers.”

So Driskel has joined a Bulldogs squad which fell just short of upending Marshall for the 2014 league title before ending last season with a bowl victory. Louisiana Tech also has top skill players returning, headlined by prolific running back Kenneth Dixon, as well as receivers Trent Taylor and Paul Turner.

Coach Skip Holtz, now entering his third season, is confident the 6-foot-4 Driskel, who started six games for the Gators last season, can be brilliant with a fresh start in a new offense.

“He’s got great athleticism in the way that he can run,” Holtz said. “What’s really impressed me … is the way that he’s come in and earned this team’s respect.

“He’s a great talent,” Holtz added. “I’m really looking forward to watching him play.”

Driskel said he has also been careful to demonstrate that he wouldn’t be strutting around Ruston projecting some kind of superiority complex simply because started for one of the most reputable programs in the mighty Southeastern Conference.

“Being a fifth-year senior quarterback, you’re going to be thrust into a leadership role,” Driskel said. “When I got to campus, I just wanted to show everybody that I was going to work hard for this season. What’s in the past doesn’t matter.”

Here are some of the more significant story lines heading into Louisiana Tech’s 2015 season, which opens Sept. 5 at home against Southern:

FIFTH-YEAR TRANSFERS: The Bulldogs under Holtz already have a record of success integrating fifth-year senior transfers at quarterback. Just last season they had one in Cody Sokol, who completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,436 yards and 30 TDs.

DETERMINED DIXON: Dixon, who elected to return for his senior year instead of leaving for the NFL, enters the season as the NCAA’s active career rushing leader with 3,410 yards. He could become the 18th player in NCAA history to reach 5,000 career yards rushing.

“You can measure Kenneth and look at height, weight, speed and those things, but the things that really make him special are those intangible things,” Holtz said. “He’s coming back with a mission and I think he’s been working really hard.”

BIG-PLAY DEFENSE: Louisiana Tech led nation in interceptions, turnovers gained and passes defended last year. Now the unit will try to keep the big plays coming despite 2014 defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s departure for Mississippi State. New coordinator Blake Baker also has to cope with the loss of five starters, including all three linebackers, defensive end Houston Bates and cornerback Le’Vander Liggins. But Baker was promoted from within Holtz’s defensive staff, so he knows the scheme and the strengths of his unit.

“The system stays the same, which is a big thing that I think Blake brings to us,” Holtz said. “He brings some stability to a group of young men that I think want to be in the same system.”

BULL’S EYE: Last season, expectations were far lower for Louisiana Tech, which had gone 4-8 in 2013 and were picked to finish fourth in Conference USA’s West Division last year. This year, the Bulldogs must show they can handle being a league favorite as well as they handled being underdogs in 2014. They’ll also have to be mindful of the revenge factor; Tech embarrassed several league opponents last season, including UTEP (55-3), Western Kentucky (59-10), Rice (76-31) and North Texas (42-21).

SPECIALISTS: All of Tech’s 2014 specialists are back, though Holtz will demand improvement in the kicking game. Jonathan Barnes missed five of 17 field goal attempts and Kylee Fischer missed half of his 10 attempts. Logan McPherson averaged an unspectacular 36.8 yards per punt.


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