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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 38: Texas Tech

For the last time (hopefully), a person mentions Mike Leach's obsession with pirates.

Even at a pivotal juncture in the history of the program, Texas Tech had no compunction about ridding itself of Mike Leach when it had the chance. And make no mistake: this was a dump job, pure and simple, with the university using Leach’s improper handling of a player’s injury as an excuse for his dismissal, but not the excuse. The long story is that Leach and the Texas Tech brass had long had a difficult relationship, one exacerbated by the acrimonious contract negotiations following the 2008 season. In no way am I declaring that Leach should have kept his job; if completely true — who knows, to be honest — his behavior was inexcusable. Unfortunately, with him goes the architect of the finest decade in program history. In comes a proven winner, one more than capable of not just matching Leach’s success, but reaching even greater heights.

Big 12, South

Lubbock, Tex.

Red Raiders

Returning starters
13 (8 offense, 5 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 29

2009 record
(9-4, 5-3)

Last year’s

No. 29

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 5
  • Sept. 11
    at New Mexico
  • Sept. 18
  • Oct. 2
    at Iowa St.
  • Oct. 9
  • Oct. 16
    Oklahoma St.
  • Oct. 23
    at Colorado
  • Oct. 30
    at Texas A&M
  • Nov. 6
  • Nov. 13
    at Oklahoma
  • Nov. 20
    Weber St.
  • Nov. 27

Last year’s prediction

I have no doubt that the offense – which I don’t think will miss a beat – will hang with this talented opponents, but I’m unsure if the defense has what it takes to lift Tech above eight regular-season wins. Not that victories aren’t there for the taking: North Dakota, Rice, New Mexico, Kansas State, A&M, Kansas and Baylor should all be victories. But there are two clear favorites in the South this year, Oklahoma and Texas. I’m not predicting any major drop-off for the Raiders, but I doubt this team’s ability to again finish atop the division. My prediction: 8-4, 4-4 in the Big 12.

2009 recap

In a nutshell Another nine-win finish for Texas Tech, its third consecutive and fourth in five years. In a somewhat rare turn, the Tech defense stepped up in a season when the offense, believe it or not, struggled — by the program’s recent standards, I should add. Only once did this defense lay an egg: on Oct. 24, the Red Raiders allowed 52 points and 559 yards of total offense to Texas A&M in a surprising 22-point loss. The defense put forth solid efforts against high-powered Texas and Houston while holding Oklahoma — coming off a 65-point outburst over the Aggies — to 13 points in a late-season victory. On the other hand, due to some musical chairs at quarterback, the Tech offense scored roughly a touchdown less per game than in 2008, when it scored a school-record 569 points. Not that scoring 481 points is anything to sneeze at.

High point A tie for first. Tech did what no one else in the country could do: score on Nebraska. The Red Raiders dropped 31 points against one of the nation’s best defenses, though that total is aided by Nebraska turnovers and penalties. Tech also beat Oklahoma by 28 points, the largest margin in victory for the program in the 18-game series.

Low point A 52-30 loss at home to Texas A&M. Leading by 14-7 at the end of the first quarter, Tech allowed 38 unanswered points to a team coming off a 62-14 loss to Kansas State. Nothing to quibble about with Tech’s other three losses: at Texas, at Houston and at Oklahoma State.

Tidbit Tuberville is the third coach since 1990 to bring head coach experience in the SEC to the Big 12. He joins Guy Morris, who spent two seasons at Kentucky before going 18-40 at Baylor from 2003-7; and Dennis Franchione, who went from Alabama to Texas A&M, where he went 32-28 from 2003-7. A few coaches have made the reverse move, like Gene Chizik, who went from Iowa State to Auburn, and Les Miles, who went from Oklahoma State to a national title winner at L.S.U.

Tidbit (winning edition) Tech has posted 15 consecutive winning seasons, a period that traces back through the Mike Leach era and into the program’s final five seasons under Spike Dykes. In comparison, Texas has posted 12 consecutive winning seasons, Oklahoma 11.

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) Today’s guest writer is loyal reader Freakville, whose correct answer to a quiz in the Florida International preview earned him the opportunity to write a 100-word preview of his favorite team. His team? Texas Tech. Take it away, Freakville:

It seems like Tech used about 10 different Quarterbacks in 2009.  That’s what happens when your top two guys are Taylor Potts, who prefers massive head trauma to running for his life, and Stephen Sheffield, who is made of porcelain.  Sheffield seems to be the fan favorite even though all of his four interceptions were pick sixes last year.  Potts needs to have his back foot amputated so that he cannot throw off of it. The Defense will shift from a base 4-3 to 3-4 to counteract the spread.  They’ve also promised that it will be a more aggressive scheme.  So long as they don’t give up 8 minute drives when the game is on the line (Houston and OSU come to mind) I don’t care how they line up.

Former players in the N.F.L.

17 WR Danny Amendola (St. Louis), OG Brandon Carter (New Orleans), WR Michael Crabtree (San Francisco), DE Keyunta Dawson (Indianapolis), C Dylan Gandy (Detroit), CB Joselio Hanson (Philadelphia), QB Graham Harrell (Green Bay), DT Rajon Henley (Atlanta), OG Daniel Loper (Oakland), S Darcel McBath (Denver), RB Sammy Morris (New England), DE Brandon Sharpe (New Orleans), OG Louis Vasquez (San Diego), CB Jamar Wall (Dallas), WR Wes Welker (New England), LB Brandon Williams (Dallas).

Arbitrary top five list

Musicians with Lubbock ties
1. Buddy Holly.
2. Bobby Keys.
3. Eddie Dean.
4. Terry Allen.
5. Delbert McClinton.


Tommy Tuberville (Southern Arkansas ’76), entering his first season at Texas Tech. Most famously, Tuberville posted an 85-40 mark over a decade at Auburn, where he served through the 2008 season before being relieved of his duties. In that season, his Tigers slipped to 5-7, out of bowl contention, and lost convincingly to in-state rival Alabama. Without question, it was the idea that Auburn had ceded the state to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide that eventually cost Tuberville his job. However, there is also no doubt that his relationship with the university was strained, and had been since the year prior to his greatest success, 2004. From 2000, his second year on the job, through 2008, Auburn tied for the best SEC record at 47-17. Tuberville won at least eight games in seven of his 10 seasons with the Tigers, including 11 victories in 2006 and a perfect 13-0 2004 campaign, and led the program to three consecutive January bowl games. The 2004 season saw Tuberville land both SEC and national coach of the year honors. Though he was largely underappreciated by both fans and his own administration early in his tenure – see the Bobby Petrino fiasco – Tuberville garnered praise for the his high level of success at Auburn, particularly from 2004-7 and, most importantly, against Alabama. From 2004-8, Auburn went 42-9 (.824), fifth-best in the nation. Prior to joining Auburn, Tuberville led Mississippi to a 25-20 record from 1995-98, including an 8-4 mark and a trip to the Motor City Bowl in 1997. As an assistant, Tuberville spent eight years at Miami (1986-93, the final season as defensive coordinator), helping the Hurricanes to an 87-9 mark and a pair of national titles. A one-year stint as the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M — the Agges went 10-0-1 in 1994 — gave Tuberville a 97-9-1 career record as an F.B.S. assistant. It also helps give him the most impressive resume of any new hire in the country heading into 2010. He’ll have his hands full, but thanks to his resume, Tuberville deserves our respect.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Two coaching moves to keep an eye on. One is the addition of Neal Brown, formerly the offensive coordinator at Troy, who will do his best to keep Tech’s no-huddle, spread passing attack running at full capacity. This is Tuberville’s biggest coaching decision, as well as his most difficult. Yet it was a wise one, deciding to maintain the Texas Tech status quo on offense. The decision to hire James Willis as defensive coordinator was an easy choice: Willis, a former Tuberville assistant at Auburn, most recently served as the associate head coach during Alabama’s national title run a year ago. Willis and Tuberville will implement a 3-4 base set on defense, which could cause a few growing pains in 2010 — especially on the defensive line.

Players to watch

Neither quarterback was able to put much distance from the other either during last fall or during the spring, leaving Texas Tech’s quarterback competition unsettled as the Red Raiders enter the fall. Part of the lack of separation is due to injuries: Taylor Potts suffered a hand injury, Steven Sheffield a freak foot injury during the spring. Both are experienced, Potts slightly more so, though Sheffield quickly showed an affinity for the Tech offense after stepping into the starting lineup in early October. In all honesty, the only thing that worries me about Sheffield is his lack of size: affectionately known as “Sticks,” his 190-pound frame might not be able to stand up to the Big 12 pounding. He holds a slight edge, however, due to his solid play last fall and his mobility, which is an added bonus when considering Potts’ tendency to hang in the pocket.

There are plenty of weapons to work with at the skill positions. Tech has terrific depth at running back, a group led by senior Baron Batch. Like most Red Raider backs, Batch is a terrific receiving option: he made 57 receptions for 395 yards last fall, serving as a safety valve for the Tech quarterbacks. Batch is also a formidable weapon on the ground, which might be surprising. He rushed for 884 yards and 14 scores a year ago despite starting slowly, due to an August arm injury, cracking the 100-yard mark four times. Sophomore running backs Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens chipped in with 217 and 254 yards rushing, respectively. Add in junior Aaron Crawford, who hopes to make an impact after a lost 2009 season, and Tech has options.

The offense returns its top five receiving targets — six, if you count Batch. Alex Torres (67 catches for 806 yards and 6 touchdowns), Detron Lewis (65 for 844 and 6 scores), Tramain Swindall (55 for 694), Lyle Leong (45 for 571 and a team-best 9 scores) and Austin Zouzalik (35 for 469) will continue to lead Tech’s four-receiver base set. The Red Raiders also return Jacoby Franks, who added 26 receptions, and picture redshirt freshman Eric Ward as a player very capable of earning significant action in his debut season. Look for Tech to place more emphasis on the tight end position, something rarely — never, in fact — used by Leach. The Red Raiders might not have a prototypical tight end, but there are a few bigger receivers able to step into the position in a pass-catching role.

The lone concern on this offense is its line, which lost three starters. The most noticeable — due to his play, as well as unique look — is right guard Brandon Carter, who earned my respect for the way he played against all-American Ndamukong Suh in Tech’s mid-season win over Nebraska. The lone returning starter assured of remaining in the lineup is left guard Lonnie Edwards; the second returning starter, former left tackle Chris Olson, moved to center during the spring and is currently battling Justin Keown for the starting role.

The Red Raiders do return some experience, such as in projected starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, but the group is a question mark. It helps that Tuberville retained offensive line coach Matt Moore, but he might face his stiffest challenge yet as a member of the Tech staff. Take note that this team will eschew the wide splits that typified the Leach-led teams, and will line up in a tighter formation while emphasizing agility over size. The latter is a sizable change.

With the offense remaining somewhat static — the Red Raiders will stay somewhat faithful to Leach’s offense — the defense will move from a 4-3 system to a 3-4 base set. I’ll touch on the line below; this move will test that group. However, it might immediately benefit this team to play four linebackers more than occasionally, as Tech features a talented linebacker corps.

Depth might be a concern, as the current second line is mainly composed of unproven first- and second-year players. The starting four, on the other hand, is in good shape. Senior Brian Duncan, entering his fourth season in the starting lineup, is the leader of the group. While Duncan might be used as a rush end in certain packages, he’s best fit at outside linebacker — especially given the youth of the second team. He led the team in tackles last fall with 88, 7 of which came for loss.

Another senior, Bront Bird, returns in the middle. He’s joined on the inside by junior Sam Fehoko, a reserve a season ago. The likely starter at the second outside spot is senior Julius Howard, who is poised to replace three-year starter Brandon Williams. This an athletic group, and if a few redshirt freshmen step up to serve as competent reserves, Tech will be better at linebacker in 2010 than it was a year ago.

The first step for the Tech secondary will be replacing cornerback Jamar Wall, a two-time all-Big 12 pick who finished his career in fine form during Tech’s bowl win over Michigan State. The Red Raiders do return cornerback LaRon Moore, but he’s mired in tough battle to maintain his starting role; sophomore Will Ford, thanks to his solid performance during the spring, made a solid case for significant playing time. Perhaps Ford, should Moore reclaim his hold on the starting role, could challenge redshirt freshman Jarvis Phillips in the race to supplant Walls.

Both safeties return: sophomore Cody Davis at strong, senior Franklin Mitchem at free. Davis was a pleasant surprise last fall, finishing second on the team with 81 tackles as a redshirt freshman. Mitchem added 57 stops and 2 interceptions, the latter total tying for the team lead. Junior Brett Dewhurst (26 tackles) returns in a secondary role, while Tech believes redshirt freshman Terrance Bullitt to be a future star. He’ll play behind Mitchem in 2010.

Position battles to watch

Defensive line All eyes are on the defensive line, which transitions to a three-man front while attempting to replace three of last season’s starters. It will help matters that the lone returning starter, senior tackle Colby Whitlock, is ready to play over center. He’s done so over the last few seasons with the Red Raiders, though this alignment was always alongside three fellow linemen, not merely a pair of ends. Nevertheless, his experience will come in handy, particularly at such an important position. The key to this line will be its new ends, most of whom bring very little game experience into the 2010 season. A few are redshirt freshmen, like Kerry Hyder, Christopher Knighton and Aundrey Barr. Tech will also have the use of a couple of transfers, such as junior Donald Langley, whose route to Lubbock included one season at Tennessee and another on the JUCO ranks. Langley could very easily move inside when the Red Raiders opt to go with a more traditional 4-3 look. Also supplying depth on the interior is mammoth junior Myles Wade, who figures to earn time both on the nose and alongside Whitlock when the team goes with four down linemen. Now, Texas Tech would receive a significant boost should Duncan alternate snaps between linebacker and end. Even if he does, however, the Red Raiders will have a very difficult time matching last season’s production in rushing the passer. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how this group’s athleticism is put to full use by the new coaching staff.

Game(s) to watch

While Oklahoma and Texas remain the top two teams in the Big 12 South, the Red Raiders will face a stiff challenge to their customary third-place spot: Texas A&M will be improved, and get Texas Tech in College Station. That game will go far towards dictating the final conference standings. Tech’s schedule features interesting games to begin and to end the year. First is S.M.U.; look for 100 passes combined between the two teams. The Red Raiders face Houston in the season finale. It’s very rare that such a non-conference matchup occurs outside of September, let alone in late November.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Now, I liked Mike Leach. He was a quote machine, for starters, and was an amusing antidote to many of college football’s dour, taciturn, boring leading men. As a football coach, he led the Red Raiders to their greatest heights during a decade of consistently strong play. If not for his strained relationship with the university administration, there’s no doubt that Leach would have been allowed to remain in Lubbock, commenting on his player’s girlfriends and guest-starring on local weather reports until he decided to call it a career. Yes, I like Mike Leach — and think someday, another program will be lucky to have him. Regardless, it’s difficult not to sit down, think about Tommy Tuberville running the show and get excited. Very excited, in fact. Here’s what this program lost: a terrific offensive mind. Here’s what the program has gained: a coach whose track record speaks for itself; one with a strong defensive background; a coach who has surrounded himself with a very impressive debut staff. Most importantly, Tuberville has shown an ability to win as an underdog. There’s no bigger underdog in the state of Alabama than the Auburn Tigers, of course, but Tuberville has also won at Ole Miss, which was mired in an extended down period prior to his arrival. As for 2010, there’s little reason to think this team incapable of again heading into bowl play with eight wins, even with the coaching changes and losses on defense. The big question, and one whose answer we’ll know more about come the end of 2010, is whether Tuberville can match — or even exceed — his predecessor’s success. Here’s what we know: he’s won before. Until proven otherwise, there’s no reason to believe he won’t do it again. How will an SEC mentality play in the Big 12?

Dream season Though unable to vault past Oklahoma to the top of the Big 12 South, the Red Raiders do finish in second place in the division, ahead of Texas.

Nightmare season For the first time since 2001 — Leach’s second year with the program — the Red Raiders fail to win at least eight games in a season.

In case you were wondering

Where do Texas Tech fans congregate? Message boards can be found at Texas Tech FansRed Raider Sports and Raider Power. For a Texas Tech blog, check out DoubleTNation.com. As always, let me know of any sites I might have missed. If you drop a line in the comment field below, I’ll link to it.

Up Next

Who is No. 37? Our next program has allowed at least 300 points in each of the last two seasons. Prior to 2008, it had never done so in school history.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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  1. Burnt Orange says:

    #37- Michigan.

  2. M Meyer says:

    Darn, I knew that one. I need to wake up earlier!

  3. Noefli says:

    Loved your 100-word preview, Freakville. Paul, I suppose yours was alright, too.

    As a Texas fan and alum out here in scenic Lubbock for a few weeks for work, I can attest that these people know how to support a football team. There’s little question whether they are excited about the Tuberville era.

  4. Freakville says:

    Damn it! I misspelled Steven. They refer to him as “sticks” btw.

    Also I would have put Mac Davis and Pat Green on the arbitrary top 5 but I’m nit picking. Great analysis.

  5. wildcat6 says:

    Those comments Mike Leach made last year about the Tech players’ “fat little girlfriends,” while completely inappropriate, had me spitting all over my computer with uproarious laughter. The guy had no compunction about speaking his mind, a condition probably incompatible with being a head football coach of a major school in a big conference. I’ll miss him, but he’ll probably land on his feet somewhere, with a few interview clauses in his new contract.

  6. Jim Narby says:

    #37 is nebraska

  7. Andy Reid says:

    the answer’s Michigan!

  8. Dr. Norris Camacho says:

    Props to you, sir, for listing Bobby Keys at #2.

  9. [...] the country heading into the season opener. Today’s team, No. 38, is Texas Tech. You can find a larger Texas Tech preview [...]

  10. elgrande says:

    On the top five musicians, you left of Dixie Chick’s (Natalie) and Lefty Frizzell. What about Waylon Jennings and Roy Orbison’s radio days?
    Seriously, good job.

  11. Whitepaladin says:

    Good Job overall Paul. You also left former Lonestar lead singer Ritchie McDonald and all three of the Flatlanders, Joe Ely, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock, as well as former Tech student Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr, better known as John Denver off you list. And former Lubbock Christian University student Meatloaf.

    Oh, and last year Brandon Williams was on the Dallas Cowboys injured reserve list.

  12. Bob Wills says:

    The King of Western Swing…Bob Wills, (does the pan handle count?)

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