SHREVEPORT, La. -- No matter how you look at Louisiana Tech football, the Bulldogs have come a long way in a short time.
An Independence Bowl date with Maryland here Saturday? The Louisiana Tech people can hardly believe that.
"This is a giant step for us," said Jerry Stovall, the school's athletic director for all of two months. "If I had the opportunity to script it, I couldn't have done better than to say three years ago we'd be in a bowl game now."
It was only two years ago that beleaguered Louisiana Tech, then still in NCAA Division I-AA, was battered on the road by bullies Houston, Texas A&M and Florida State by a combined score of 182-20.
The idea was to meet the NCAA criteria for the jump to Division I-A by playing a testy schedule that was rated the 11th toughest in the country. The Bulldogs took their lumps, finished 4-7 and moved up last year, going 5-4-1.
It was only three months ago that Tech started the season inauspiciously by dropping two of their first three games. The Bulldogs will take an 8-3 record and a five-game winning streak into the bowl game.
Their most recent loss got the attention of college coaches everywhere. It was on Oct. 6 to then fifth-ranked Auburn, 16-14.
"That was one of our better games," said Tech coach Joe Raymond Peace. "We lost in the last three seconds. No doubt the talent level isn't the same. I wonder if Auburn was totally there that day. But [Auburn coach] Pat Dye was right when he said it was another cornerstone for us."
Tech's most recent victory was over Freedom Bowl-bound Colorado State, 31-30. The Bulldogs rallied from a 16-point deficit to win in the final 2 1/2 minutes.
"You win a lot of games on talent," Stovall said, "but that game was won on character."
Two of the four Tech films that Maryland has studied are of the Auburn and Colorado State games.
"Just watching those two is motivation enough for us," said Maryland coach Joe Krivak. "They may not have our tough schedule, but they have the athletes who can beat Division I-A schools."
Still, Maryland-Louisiana Tech is an unlikely pairing. The teams have never met in football. About the only times the schools have met in anything were in women's basketball in recent years.
Common opponents? Are you kidding? The teams have met the same football opponent in the same season only once. That was last year when Maryland posted a 23-0 win over Western Michigan, which rebounded a week later to decision Tech, 24-20.
Aside from Auburn and maybe Colorado State, Tech's schedule was hardly loaded. The Bulldogs played people like McNeese State, Stephen F. Austin and Northeast Louisiana.
"Their schedule is much stronger than ours," Peace said. "I mean, there are some Division I-AA teams on ours. Maryland played a monster schedule. If you come away with six wins playing the seventh toughest schedule in the country, you've done something.
"We're a good team, but I don't think we're the caliber of Maryland. They're much bigger. In fact, everybody we play is bigger. We get by on quickness and speed."
Two of Peace's marquee players are Michael Richardson and Jason Davis, who missed by 71 yards becoming the 19th set of teammates in NCAA history to rush for more than 1,000 yards each in the same season.
Richardson's 168 yards in the finale against Colorado State represented a career high and boosted his season total to 1,114. Davis finished with 929.
The quarterback is Gene Johnson, who threw five interceptions in the first five quarters of the season, but only four thereafter. He passed for 13 touchdowns and his 2,129 yards are the fifth highest total in school history.
"Personnel-wise, we're not a great team," Peace said. "We don't have an abundance of power running around out there."
Peace is in his third year as head coach after arriving as an assistant from Northwestern State in 1983.
"I'm comfortable with this team," Peace said. "It's come a long way in a short time."