Thursday, July 21, 2011

Big 12 college football countdown: Texas Tech

The program

Perched out in dusty West Texas, it's difficult for Texas Tech to be a center of college football attention. It is one of the more remote BCS conference campuses, but it's still a program of understated success. Even though it's a younger program than most others in the Big 12 (first season: 1925), the Red Raiders are over 100 games above .500 alltime, at 519-398-32 (.564). The Red Raiders do have 11 conference titles in their history, although all but two came in the frontier-esque Border Conference, in which Tech competed from 1932 to 1956. The other two were shared Southwest Conference titles in 1976 and 1994.

Especially in recent decades, Tech has epitomized good-but-not-great, winning 6 to 9 games every year from 1993 to 2010 except one, their memorable 11-win 2007 season. They are the only Big 12 team to be bowl-eligible in every season in the league's history. That 2008 season included one of the most electric plays I've ever seen, with Tech's super-receiver Michael Crabtree making a sensational catch, breaking a tackle, and then tiptoeing down the sideline and into the end zone with the winning touchdown in the closing seconds.

Tech rose to 10-0 that year and No. 2 in the nation before traveling to Norman to play No. 5 Oklahoma. With Tech nearing a historic conference title (none outright since 1955), the Sooners destroyed them, rolling to an incomprehensible 42-7 halftime lead en route to a 65-21 win. Big Game Bob, indeed (at least in Big 12 games). Even despite that crushing loss, former coach Mike Leach crafted a winner at Tech, with the western outpost of Lubbock serving as a great place for Leach's renegade, pass-happy (and then some) offense.

Overall, Texas Tech's tradition is Texas to its core. It's the March Grandioso, the old SWC, the Chancellor's Spurs Rivalry Game with Texas, old Sun Bowls and the "Guns Up!" hand gesture. It's the Masked Raider, the Goin' Band from Raiderland and the legend-filled "Into the Sunset" Will Rogers statue. The humorist sits astride his horse, Soapsuds, but he doesn't quite face into the sun, as this would have the horse's hindquarters facing visitors coming to campus from downtown Lubbock. Instead, Will and Soapsuds were turned 23 degrees to the east, so that Soapsuds' rear points directly toward the campus of rival Texas A&M.

Best player ever

Michael Crabtree, WR
Crabtree is the only Red Raider to earn consensus All-American honors twice, doing so in 2007 and 2008, his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons. He posted outrageous numbers (231 receptions, 3,127 yards and 41 TDs in two seasons), and became the first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award and Paul Warfield Trophy in back-to-back seasons. Also, he scored the winning touchdown in perhaps the greatest play in Texas Tech football history, the above play that shook Lubbock (and those high-and-mighty Longhorns). It was an electrifying play, the epitome of Crabtree's sublime career.

2011 Outlook

Texas Tech enters year 2 of its gradual and intriguing transition from former coach Mike Leach's pass-heavy attack to the offensive attack of new coach Tommy Tuberville, who favors the run more. In the last six years of Leach's tenure at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders averaged 404.67 passing yards per game and 89.83 rushing yards per game. Last year, Tuberville's first, Tech's passing yards per game dropped to 319 yards per game while the rushing total increased to 141 yards per game.

Tuberville is a smart coach, so he knew he had to gradually mold the team into the style he prefers, making use of the talent on hand along the way. Tech actually ran more times (437) than it passed the ball (406). Despite this gradual change, Tech's offensive output remained relatively stable, declining only from 471 yards per game to 460. This year, Tech will reportedly use the pistol formation some, further adding options to add to the ground-air balance.

And the aerial circus can still come to play. Likely starting quarterback Seth Doege will probably still put up big passing numbers, with receivers Tramain Swindall and Alexander Torres being the top targets. However, junior running back Eric Stephens (668 yards and 6 rushing TDs last year) could be a breakout star and contend for All-Conference honors as Tech looks to run more. A solid offensive line should aid Stephens' efforts.

The offense should score, by air or by land, but the defense could hold this Red Raider team back. Last year, in the first season after defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill took the East Carolina head coaching job, Tech yielded 34.9 points and 469 yards per game against Big 12 competition, 10th in both categories. That being said, Tuberville has a strong defensive coaching reputation, and versatile safety/linebacker Cody Davis gives Tech a playmaker on defense.

Big question: Can Tech continue to progress under Tuberville and equal/top last year's eight-win total? My guess would be the progress continues, but Tech doesn't get to eight wins. The Red Raiders won four games by eight points or less last year, a strong indicator they overachieved a bit. Their schedule has a lot of winnable games in the first eight games, but they'll likely need a big home upset over Texas A&M or Oklahoma State to get to eight wins. Even still, Tuberville's track record at Auburn (and Ole Miss) bodes well for the long-term direction of the program.

No comments:

Post a Comment