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The 2015 college football season is less than one week away. Predictions, season previews and even playoff brackets are everywhere we look. If you’re like me you feel like you have at least a decent grasp on who will be the contenders in the Power 5 conferences. Then there are the unknowns. The teams that predictions seemingly fall on either side of the fence.

I got to thinking about this after reading Pistols Firing’s Kyle Porter’s article on Oklahoma State being both overrated and underrated at the same time. Another Big 12 team who one could argue falls in that same arena is Texas Tech. I’ve seen the Red Raiders picked anywhere from a 7th place Big 12 finish to a dark horse to win the league (a very dark horse). While the majority of pundits are predicting the former, there seems to be a buzz coming out of Lubbock.

Pivotal Year for Hocutt, Kingsbury

Admittedly, it’s entirely possible that I’m mistaking “buzz” for intrigue. This is a very interesting year for the Red Raiders. One subplot generated by the mystery of Tech’s upcoming football season lies with athletic director Kirby Hocutt. The AD, in a sense, pushed all of his chips to the center of the table almost a year ago to the day. What was the experienced AD betting on? 35-year-old head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Hocutt awarded Kingsbury a whopping 7-year contract worth over $3 million per year. It made the first-time head coach one of the top 20 highest paid college football coaches in the country. At the time Kingsbury had been a head coach for all of 14 games.

The pressure is now on. The Red Raiders went on to one of the sloppiest, most penalty-plagued, and turnover-filled 4-8 seasons in the school’s recent history. Such an aggressive move with a young, unproven coach can make you look like a genius if it works out. On the other hand, if Tech turns in another 4 win season it would be difficult to call the contract anything other than reckless and premature.

Lets take a look at some reasons why Texas Tech could end up on either side of the Big 12 spectrum.

Why Tech Could be the Big 12’s Biggest Surprise

Quarterback Depth
After last year’s inconsistent play at quarterback coach Kingsbury has not yet revealed who will be the starting QB. Although all eyes seem to be on Patrick Mahomes. The true sophomore torched Baylor’s defense last year for 598 yards through the air and 6 TD’s. But most importantly Mahomes limits his turnovers which killed the Red Raiders last year, who racked up 61 TOs, which was tied for last in the league. Should Mahomes get the starting nod, Davis Webb has shown he can win in the Big 12 and makes for an excellent backup when Kingsbury needs it.

Running Backs
DeAndre Washington, Quinton White and Justin Stockton are names that Red Raider fans should be hearing a lot of this year. Tech’s RB unit is as deep as any in the Big 12 and can hurt defenses in different ways. Washington was one of the few players on offense who consistently played at a high level in 2014 by racking up over 1000 yards. He was first Red Raider since 1998 to achieve the 1000 yard mark. Quinton White has bulked up in the off-season and poses a threat by catching the ball out of the backfield as well as lead blocking. Justin Stockton averaged 8.3 yards per attempt last year and can break loose on any play. The number of carries these guys get may give Tech fans an idea as to how much the pass-happy Kingsbury has matured as a coach. Can he go against his instincts and keep the ball on the ground when the need arises?

A New Attitude on Defense
There’s no nice way to put it. Tech’s defense was abysmal in 2014. They ranked 125th out of 128 teams and couldn’t force turnovers. Often times Red Raider defenders were playing as individuals, not a cohesive group. New Defensive Coordinator David Gibbs was brought in from the University of Houston to fix just that. While this group won’t do a complete turnaround in one year, stand outs like Ohio State transfer Mike Mitchell and incoming freshman Breiden Fehoko may add some much-needed physicality to the defense. If Gibbs makes even some slight improvements, they can get off the field more (they were ranked last in the Big 12 in 3rd down conversions by opponents) and get the ball back into the hands of their high-caliber offense.

Why We May See More of the 2014 Red Raiders in 2015

Schedule
Texas Tech seemed to be at a disadvantage the day the 2015 schedule was released. Tech plays 11 straight games before getting a bye week including a three-week stretch where they play Arkansas, #3 TCU and #7 Baylor respectively. To name a few, Tech’s road schedule include trips to Fayetteville, Morgantown, Austin and Norman. If the injuries start to pile up, things can go bad quickly with a schedule like this.

Gibbs Mirage?
There has been a lot of talk about DC David Gibbs’ uncanny ability to get the Houston Cougars to generate turnovers, and rightfully so. However when you take a closer look it seems that good fortune may have played a role. David Fox with Athlon Sports points out some interesting data behind Gibbs’ 2013 breakout year with Houston. Teams recover approximately 50% of all fumbles and intercept 22% of passes defended. The 2013 Cougar defense recovered an astounding 69.3% of fumbles and intercepted 31.3% of defended passes. In short, these numbers have been called an anomaly and perhaps many turnovers UH earned that year may have been the result of favorable bounces.

Kingsbury at a Loss with Penalties
The 2014 Tech squad racked up over 89 yards per game in penalties. The mind-blowing 112 flags thrown against them led to 31 first downs. As scary as that stat is, what maybe scarier is that Kliff Kingsbury simply could not do anything about it. Penalties were a known and targeted problem at the end of 2013 and matters only got worse in 2014. This indicates that there could be some validity to the accusations of the young coach trying to be more of a friend to his players than a coach.

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