Hotard: Stories to watch in Louisiana college ranks

The state of Louisiana had three college teams reach bowl games last year for the second straight season.

Louisiana-Monroe made headlines early with an upset of Arkansas, then advanced to the Independence Bowl. Louisiana-Lafayette reached the New Orleans Bowl — then won it — for the second year in a row.

LSU flirted with an upset of Alabama in Tiger Stadium but couldn’t muster that same kind of effort on a weekly basis and blew a late lead against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Even so, the Tigers finished with double-digit wins for the sixth time in the Les Miles era.

With the start of another season creeping ever closer, fans from Ruston to New Orleans should once again have a number of stories to follow. A few of them:

Can Tech rebound ? Truth be told, Louisiana should have had four bowl teams last year. La. Tech finished the regular season 9-3 and lost to Texas A&M in a barn-burner. But Tech struggled down the stretch and finished third in the Western Athletic Conference. The Bulldogs said “no thanks” to the Indy Bowl and a matchup with UL-Monroe, believing a better bowl bid may await. It did not.

Nabbing Skip Holtz as its coach when Sonny Dykes left for Cal was a good start. But Tech will enter its first year in Conference USA returning just six starters.

Warhawks targeted: UL-Monroe can make the monumental win against Arkansas seem like small potatoes with a win at Oklahoma in their season opener. That’s highly unlikely. The real challenge for the Warhawks is trying to remain a Sun Belt title contender when, unlike last season, they know the rest of the league will be gunning for them.

Star quarterback Kolton Browning is back to lead a list of 17 returning starters.

If they need inspiration, the Warhawks can look to UL-Lafayette, which transitioned from the hunter to the hunted last year and had virtually the same results.

Spotlight on transfers: Two state schools, Tulane and Southeastern, have far-flung transfers who will likely line up at quarterback on college football’s opening weekend.

Nick Montana began his career at Washington, then transferred to Mount San Antonio Junior College fore one season. Joe’s kid hopes to rally a Tulane program that has one more season in C-USA before transitioning to the American Athletic Conference.

The idea that Bryan Bennett would one day run the Southeastern offense seemed even more unlikely. He was in line to replace Darron Thomas as the Oregon quarterback last year but couldn’t beat out freshman phenom Marcus Mariota for the starting job.

Back to the future? For the first time in a while, Southern enters the fall seen as a legitimate contender in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which the Jaguars won five times from 1993-2003. Five players were named to the preseason all-conference team. First-year coach Dawson Odums ran things for the final nine games last year, so he won’t have to spend much time getting acclimated.