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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. 45: Texas Tech

New coach, same strengths. Texas Tech scored at least 400 points for the 10th consecutive season, scoring a tad less than in 2009 – scoring 33.1 points per game against 37.0 the year before – under Tommy Tuberville but remaining one of the best offensive teams in the Big 12. It was somewhat surprising, given Tuberville’s defensive background, to see the Red Raiders take such a significant slide back defensively: Tech allowed 402 points, a program-high since 2003 and the third-worst output in program history. As with Mike Leach before him, Tuberville has work cut out for him before he can lead Texas Tech into the Big 12 title mix; unlike Leach, however, Tuberville’s work must be done on the defensive side of the ball.

Conference
Big 12

Location
Lubbock, Tex.

Nickname
Red Raiders

Returning starters
13 (5 offense, 8 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 38

2010 record
(8-5, 3-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 42

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 3
    Texas St.
  • Sept. 17
    at New Mexico
  • Sept. 24
    Nevada
  • Oct. 1
    at Kansas
  • Oct. 8
    Texas A&M
  • Oct. 15
    Kansas St.
  • Oct. 22
    at Oklahoma
  • Oct. 29
    Iowa St.
  • Nov. 5
    at Texas
  • Nov. 12
    Oklahoma St.
  • Nov. 19
    at Missouri
  • Nov. 26
    Baylor

Last year’s prediction

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. 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?

2010 recap

In a nutshell In the big picture, the year was defined by the new coaching arrival: excitement was at an all-time high, and deservedly so. Between the white lines, however, this team was defined by its chronic defensive lapses, which included several terrible performances. Like an ugly loss to Iowa State – 251 yards on the ground, 52 points. Or losses against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma, where the defense barely showed up at all; those teams made many defenses look bad, to be fair. Even in defeat, little Weber State racked up 459 yards of total offense, averaging 5.8 yards per play. Even though the Red Raiders held Houston to 20 points, the Cougars were able to notch 585 yards of offense. It wasn’t pretty, from top to bottom, and there’s plenty of work to be done before the Red Raiders re-enter the top half of the Big 12 on the defensive side of the ball. At least Tech could still score: 33.1 points per game, fourth in the Big 12 and 23rd nationally.

High point A 24-17 win over then-No. 12 Missouri on Nov. 6. Somewhat surprisingly, the Red Raiders have had a hard time with the Tigers since the formation of the Big 12, losing five of six from 1998-2007 before last year’s victory. There was also a 45-38 win over Baylor on Oct. 9, Tech’s first Big 12 win on the year after an 0-2 start.

Low point There’s no question that a 52-38 loss to Iowa State was the low point, even if it came on the first Saturday of October. Losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are more than understandable, especially in Tuberville’s first season, but the Red Raiders should never lose to Iowa State. Nor Texas, I would say, when the Longhorns are stumbling through the program’s worst season in more than a decade.

Tidbit Texas Tech has the fourth-longest active streak of bowl eligible seasons with 18, tying it with Virginia Tech. Leading the way is Florida State, which has been no worse than .500 for 34 straight years, followed by Florida, with 30 years, followed by Ohio State, with 20. Texas Tech’s streak leads all Big 12 programs.

Tidbit (Big 12 North edition) So last summer’s disintegration of the Big 12 broke up the two divisions, as you may have heard. This is good news for teams like Texas Tech, in my mind, programs that now have the benefit of games against the entirety of the former Big 12 North every season. So how have the Red Raiders fared against the division’s former members? Missouri gave them trouble, as noted above: 3-5 overall, 2-5 since the formation of the Big 12 in 1996. Tech is 7-2 all-time against Iowa State, 5-2 in conference play; 11-1 against Kansas, 7-1 in conference play; and 8-3 against Kansas State, 5-3 in the Big 12 and winners of five straight. So overall, Tech is 29-11 against the four remaining members – Colorado and Nebraska are gone, as you also may have heard – of the Big 12 North, and 19-11 during conference play.

Former players in the N.F.L.

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

Arbitrary top five list

Potential landing spots for Mike Leach in 2012
1. Washington State.
2. UTEP.
3. U.A.B.
4. Florida Atlantic.
5. New Mexico State.

Coaching

Tommy Tuberville (Southern Arkansas ’76), 8-5 after 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 SEC’s best 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. Though he was largely underestimated 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. 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 does seem like a good thing, given Tuberville’s defensive background, that Tech’s biggest question marks lie on the defensive side of the ball.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Whether he left on his own accord, was fired or forced to resign depends on your point of view, but first-year defensive coordinator James Willis left the program after the end of last season. A former assistant under Tuberville at Auburn – and a very well-regarded recruiter – Willis had a hard go of it in his first season, though there was no real reason to expect him to head elsewhere after only one year. His replacement should – and does – have people excited about the direction of the defense: Tech hired former T.C.U. safeties coach Chad Glasgow, who learned at the feet of one of college football’s best coaches in Gary Patterson. Glasgow will bring the 4-2-5 defense with him, which will play well to the speed Tech always has on the defensive side of the ball.

Players to watch

This offense goes through its quarterback, has for years, from Leach to Tuberville, and nothing has changed. Who gets the keys in 2011? Last fall, Tech rotated a pair of senior quarterbacks at the position – Taylor Potts played far more than Steven Sheffield – with each bringing a certain asset to the role: Potts was the more familiar pocket passer, while Sheffield had the legs to make some things happen outside the pocket. In junior Seth Doege, Tech hopes to find a quarterback who can do a little of both.

He’s played a bit over his first two years, with most of his action coming in 2009: Doege hit on 38 of 61 attempts for 369 yards as a freshman – he attempted only four passes last fall – while Potts struggled against Texas A&M and Kansas State. So he’s far from a new face, even if he’ll still be learning on the job in 2011. What Doege does have is a familiarity with this offense, nice athletic ability and confidence in his own ability, with the latter one of his most important attributes. Most importantly, Doege has this system itself in his corner. His backup, Jacob Karam, did enough during the spring to leave Tech very confident in its situation under center.

The Red Raiders also plan to balance out this offense by relying more heavily upon the running game; last fall, Tech finished seventh in the F.B.S. in passing but 75th in rushing, a dichotomy we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in Lubbock. Why the sudden change in philosophy? Well, it’s not that sudden: Tuberville wanted to do the same a year ago, it could be said. But why can the Red Raiders make this dream a reality in 2011? Because of the five returning starters up front, most notably.

After bouncing around among several spots over his first two years, senior Mickey Okafor found a home at right tackle last fall, earning second-team all-Big 12 honors. He’s locked in on the strong side heading into 2011, doing a nice job on the ground but excelling in pass protection. Okafor is one of three senior starters up front, joining left guard Lonnie Edwards – one of the Big 12’s top interior linemen – and center Justin Keown. It’ll be juniors elsewhere, with Deveric Gallington at right guard and, more than likely, LaAdrian Waddle at left tackle. Terry McDaniel is another option on the weak side, but Waddle’s probably too good to keep out of the starting lineup.

You’d think that Eric Stephens (668 yards, 6 touchdowns) will take over for Baron Batch at running back, seeing that he was a major factor on the ground for the Red Raiders a year ago. He’ll certainly continue to see a high number of touches, as he did a year ago, but look for true freshman Ronnie Daniels – on campus during the spring – to get his fair share of carries, as he showed during the spring that he can provide a major boost in the running game. Daniels is one of three incoming freshmen, joining Kenny Williams and De’Andre Washington, who will push for snaps. With the added pressure on the running game, it’s a good thing Tech has options in the backfield.

There are some large issues on the defensive side of the ball, in my mind, and most revolve around the play of the secondary. Is it a good thing that this new defense will rely so heavily on the defensive backfield? Well, in the big picture, there’s no reason to think that Glasgow won’t do tremendously well in his first coordinator spot: you don’t spend all those years with Patterson and not take away the knowledge of what it takes to run a top-notch defense. But I’m of mind that it will take the defense some time to get things together – again, mostly in the secondary.

This remains a very young group: you might not see more than one senior play significant snaps, which bodes well for Tech’s future in this 4-2-5 but may again lead to growing pains between the lines in 2011. The biggest move, of course, is the addition of a third safety: that will be junior Cody Davis (87 tackles, 6.5 for loss), last year’s starter at free safety. Look for examples at T.C.U. for how impactful the weak safety in this system can be; Davis has the athletic ability to earn all-conference honors. Filling his shoes at free safety is former cornerback D.J. Johnson, a junior, who has been a fixture in the secondary since his freshman season. Sophomore Terrance Bullitt will start at strong safety.

The cornerbacks are under a microscope. Tech offsets Johnson’s move to safety by transitioning Tre Porter, a sophomore, over to cornerback. You’d have to think that Porter will start, though he’s relatively new to the position. Tech also returns sophomore Jarvis Phillips (team-leading four interceptions), who should be far improved after getting thrown into the fire as a freshman. This is a very young group, with sophomore Derrick Mays and freshman Jeremy Reynolds joining Phillips and Porter on the two-deep. Here’s guessing that Johnson will continue to see time at cornerback in addition to his new role at safety.

The front seven looks far stronger. The front four still needs to do a better job at getting to the quarterback, as the Red Raiders finished 60th nationally in sacks last fall – and must replace end Brian Duncan, who led the team in this category last fall. Senior Sam Fehoko (40 tackles, 2 sacks) should dabble at rush end in 2011, though it seems like he’ll continue to play a far bigger role at linebacker, as he did last fall. The key will be finding consistency at end from – you guessed it, and this is a theme – a handful of yet-unproven linemen. That list includes sophomores Dartwan Bush and Aundrey Barr, each of whom have yet to make a significant impact. The interior of the line will also have a new, sophomore-heavy look: Pearlie Graves and Kerry Hyder held starting roles coming out of the spring, with Hyder a lineman who could also move outside on certain downs. The biggest story up front, in my mind, is the addition of two JUCO transfers, end Leon Mackey and tackle Dennell Wesley. Both should make an immediate impact, whether as starters or key reserves.

There may be fewer linebackers on the field, though that doesn’t mean the position will be any less vital: check out how T.C.U. used its linebackers for an idea of what Glasgow will expect from his two starters. One should be Fehoko, though he’ll spend time with his hand in the dirt, as noted. When Fehoko does move down, Tech could turn to sophomores Daniel Cobb and Zach Winbush, two converted safeties who will bring great speed to the position. Another sophomore, Cqulin Hubert – that’s the real spelling, I swear – is locked into the starting job in the middle, though true freshman Blake Dees was one of the great surprises of the spring. For now, Dees is the backup.

Position battle(s) to watch

Wide receiver The Red Raiders must replace last year’s two leading pass-catchers, which might be an issue elsewhere – just not here. Here, in Lubbock, the question is not whether Tech will recoup that lost production but which receiver will do so: here’s guessing junior Alex Torres is that guy, or one of them, now that he’s fully healthy after battling through an injury-filled 2010 season. As a freshman in 2009, Torres led the Red Raiders with 67 receptions; he finished third on the team with 39 grabs last fall, but didn’t have quite the year most expected – again, due mainly to injuries. Look for Torres to have a big year as Doege’s favorite target. Tech also brings back a few other experience receivers: one is senior Tramain Swindall (33 catches for 271 yards), another junior Austin Zouzalik (31 for 432). Hopes are also high that sophomore Eric Ward and juniors Darrin Ward and Cornelius Douglas can step into larger roles. Then there’s JUCO transfer Marcus Kennard, who has an immense skill set but was slowed during the spring with a foot injury. There are numbers here, just not a ton of experience – though Torres has played plenty, as have Swindall and Zouzalik. Whether the passing game continues to excel relies at least in part on whether the younger guys, the new faces, can step seamlessly into the lineup. I have no doubt they can; what’s interesting is seeing how everything shakes out on the two-deep.

Game(s) to watch

The Red Raiders need to start strong, as that November slate is pretty daunting. Texas will be vastly improved, Oklahoma State will continue to score on anyone, Missouri is going to surprise a lot of people and Baylor… well, Baylor isn’t Baylor anymore. But the start of the schedule is somewhat easy, minus games against Texas A&M and Oklahoma, so look for the Red Raiders to make noise early.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell I can’t shake my concerns regarding the defensive side of the ball. I really like Glasgow’s hiring, and appreciate and respect Tuberville’s ability to put together a strong defense, but I look at the depth chart and see some major warning signs: one is the front four, which lacks desirable size inside and has no proven pass rusher – I don’t think we can say that about Fehoko – at end; another is the secondary, which was terrible in 2010 and must adapt to this new system on the fly. Most notably, however, I look at this defense and can’t help but notice the overwhelming youth along each level. It’s nearly all sophomores and juniors, minus Fehoko, and while these defenders did get their feet wet in 2010 it’s not altogether wise to expect Texas Tech to make a one-year turnaround on this side of the ball. Now, will the Red Raiders get better each week? There’s no doubt about that, both because of this youth and the added experience each Saturday – and the week’s practices – brings in this new defense. But I think the defense is a year away. Thankfully, the offense should be just fine; better than fine, perhaps, should the emphasis on the running game pay off. We know the Red Raiders will pass the ball as well as anyone, so if the ground attack can provide balance this offense will be even better. Even with the questions on defense, this is a very good team, perhaps one that could vault into a national ranking over the first two months. Overall, however, I can’t place the Red Raiders in the same conversation as those teams with more well-rounded Big 12 title hopes: Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma State and Missouri. This team will be in that mix once Tuberville and Glasgow solve the defensive issues.

Dream season The offense remains stout and the defense takes a major step forward, helping Texas Tech finish second, 10-2 overall, in this new-look Big 12.

Nightmare season The defense doesn’t turn things around overnight; the defense takes a step back, in fact, finishing near the bottom of the conference in most major categories in a very disappointing 5-7 finish.

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.

Word Count

Through 76 teams 226,169.

Up Next

Who is No. 44? Last year’s team at tomorrow’s university scored the third-most points in program history, four points less than the second-highest output in school history and 37 points less than the school’s record.

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

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Comments

  1. nucats05 says:

    Looks like San Diego State is up next.

  2. Eksynyt says:

    How come you changed the picture, Paul?

  3. Joel says:

    Excellent write-up. Easily one of the best I’ve read.

    Only one point I would dispute, RE the defensive line is the assertion that Tech has “no proven pass rusher.” I’d suggest Scott Smith, though he only played a precious few games last season before getting suspended for a year, is a proven pass rusher. The last time we saw him on a field, he was giving Texas’ o-line fits. He’ll be back for the conference games. And I think he’ll pick up where he left off.

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