Adv00

Updated: August 8, 2003, 4:18 PM ET

RUSTON, La. -- Louisiana Tech knows a lot about good times.

Under coach Jack Bicknell the Bulldogs earned their first Associated Press ranking ever, upset Southeastern Conference champion Alabama, won the Western Athletic Conference championship and went to a bowl game for the first time in a decade.

Those seem distant memories after last year's 4-8 season.

"We're coming off a bad year and the mind-set is especially determined," Bicknell said. "There's a little extra edge in the offseason."

Spring practice went well, but everyone is eager to get back on the field and prove that what happened last year was a fluke.

"Last year was a disappointment," said Tech quarterback Luke McCown. "We weren't as hungry. There wasn't the urgency that we had the year we won the WAC. This summer I've already seen a difference. The senior leadership is there. We're coming into this year a little under the radar."

Tech won't be invisible for long. The Bulldogs open the season with perennial power Miami on Aug. 28.

McCown, who has started 31 games at Tech, is one of the most prolific passers in school history. He returns for this season with something to prove however.

Last season McCown passed for 3,539 yards and 19 touchdown. He also threw 19 interceptions and took a lot of the heat for the four-win season.

The offensive line will have new starters at both tackle spots and at center. Clarence Casey takes over at left tackle, while Jordan Lang is will be at right tackle.

Marcus Stewart is the starter at center, but he missed all but one week of spring practice with a broken leg and ankle injury.

"The offensive line is critical," Bicknell said. "We need to find out if we're going to be able to come together and perform because we've got three new starters."

Another area that will draw scrutiny is running back where Tech is looking for a replacement for Joe Smith, who rushed for 1,216 yards and 16 touchdowns last year.

The candidates are two unproven backs in senior Ralph Davis and Moats. Davis has 11 career carries and Moats just 12. They combined for 92 yards last season.

Louisiana Tech's defense surrendered 50 plays that covered 20 or more yards last season.

The Bulldogs are looking for more production from the defensive ends. Last year, Tech's ends produced just 4.5 sacks.

Linebacker was the area hardest hit by graduation. Tech lost all three starters and a backup.

Defensive backs struggled, but three of the four starters were in that position for the first time.

"Our secondary will be a lot better," said defensive coordinator Randy Bates. "We had three starters that literally had never started a game before."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index