RUSTON — After a pair of 3-9 seasons, the Louisiana Tech football team couldn’t wait to open its 121st season of play.
The Bulldogs start their second fall under coach Sonny Cumbie on “Week Zero,” getting a jump on the vast majority of college squads, tonight in an 8 o’clock Conference USA clash inside Joe Aillet Stadium against Florida International.
The game will be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network and broadcast on the LA Tech Sports Network that includes 101.1 FM KRMD in Shreveport.
FIU prevailed in Miami last year, 42-34 in double overtime.
The Bulldogs have a massively revamped roster with 65 newcomers, including 31 transfers in the offseason to complement their 48 returnees. Tech returns 13 total starters — seven offensive, four defensive, and two from special teams. A total of 54 lettermen did not return.
“Our football team is much improved,” said Cumbie. “A lot of transfers have done a good job of coming in and integrating themselves into what we have already established from last year and the foundation that we have built since they arrived in January.”
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier makes his Louisiana Tech debut after transferring from Boise State, where he threw for 6,605 yards and 41 touchdowns during his four seasons as a Bronco. Bachmeier’s career average of 227.8 passing yards a contest ranks 14th nationally and leads all CUSA quarterbacks.
Wide receivers Smoke Harris and Cyrus Allen are the Bulldogs’ top returning targets in the passing game.
Harris enters the season as one of the most decorated active FBS players in the country. Harris has tallied 224 career receptions for 2,112 yards and 19 touchdowns during his five years at Tech. The St. Francisville native’s streak of 32 games with a reception is the seventh-longest streak nationally. In the return game, he is one of two returning FBS players who tallied 500 kickoff return yards and 200 punt return yards in 2022. Harris was tabbed as the CUSA Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year, ahead of this season.
Allen is coming off a breakout 2023 season with 22 receptions for 500 yards and four touchdowns. His 500 receiving yards ranked sixth nationally among all FBS freshmen, while his 22.7 yards per reception ranked second among all FBS players.
Preseason Jim Thorpe Award Watch List selection Willie Roberts will be one of the leaders of the Tech secondary. Roberts made 11 starts a year ago while leading the Bulldogs and ranking 22nd nationally with four interceptions.
Defensive lineman Deshon Hall Jr. garnered preseason recognition from numerous media outlets. A 2023 Conference USA Preseason Watch List selection, Hall was named Third-team All-CUSA by Phil Steele and earned second-team honors from Athlon Sports. The senior had 29 tackles a year ago, including four for loss, two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries, and a blocked kick.
FIU is coming off a 4-8 campaign that featured a 2-6 mark in CUSA play during head coach Mike MacIntyre’s inaugural season in 2022. The Panthers return 15 starters from last season’s squad, with six offensive, five defensive, and four special teams starters returning in 2023. FIU has 57 lettermen returning and 55 newcomers (32 freshmen, 23 transfers).
MacIntyre is in his 11th year as a head coach with an overall record of 50-73, including a rough stretch as coach at Colorado (2013-28) following three impressive seasons at San Jose State (2010-12).