It’s been close to two months since a Big 12 team played football, but teams all across the conference are getting ready to go back to work for spring. Drills, drills and more drills will once gain be the order of the day as college football players everywhere don their gear to go through practices.
It’s time for us to turn our attention to what those practices might mean. We’re giving a preview of each team in the conference and exploring the questions they’ll try to answer in the coming weeks.
Next, we take a look at a team that has reasons for both optimism and concern headed into 2018, the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
PRACTICE BEGINS: Saturday, March 3rd
SPRING GAME DATE: Saturday, April 14th at 6:00 P.M.
LOCATION: AT&T Jones Stadium (Lubbock, TX)
Arguably, 2018 will be the most pivotal year of Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure at Texas Tech. While the Red Raiders are putting nationally ranked squads on the court and the baseball diamond, the football team continues to list just below .500.
Kingsbury is 30-33 as a head coach, having managed a 16-29 record in conference over five years. After losing a bowl game and hauling in a less-than-stellar recruiting class, there are lingering questions about whether the 38-year-old Texas Tech alum is the answer in Lubbock.
Winning eight games this season would show Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt that faith in the young coach will reap rewards. Things appear to be tentatively trending up for “Coach Cool,” but there are pressing issues he will need to address this spring.
Luckily for him, Kingsbury knows a thing or two about the side of the ball that needs the most attention – offense.
First and foremost, the Red Raiders need to find a quarterback. There are a host of candidates, but none of them are proven.
The current favorite to win the job would seem to be rising junior McLane Carter. He saw the most action last season, but in his only start he hardly inspired confidence: he threw two picks and ended the day completing a paltry 43.2 percent of his passes.
Then there’s the heralded Jett Duffey, who returned to the lineup last fall after serving a two semester suspension. Duffey is a dual threat player that had many pegging him as the next Pat Mahomes, but he only got a couple of game reps last season.
To evaluate that position battle, Kingsbury will have an extra set of eyes after adding to his staff in the offseason. New offensive coordinator Kevin Johns, who has experienced with spread offenses, was hired away from Western Michigan in January.
Whoever ends up slinging the rock, they’ll be behind an experienced offensive line that returns all five starters. They’ll provide some protection for the quarterback, but they will also open up holes for one of the many Red Raider backs.
To help develop running backs at Texas Tech, Kingsbury brought on running backs coach Clay McGuire from Washington State. McGuire coached at Texas Tech previously under Mike Leach and was a player there in the early 2000s.
Running back could be a committee affair once again, as three of the top four rushers return. Tre King will probably carry the ball the majority of the time, but other players could compete for carries with a strong spring.
Wide receiver is also a bit of a question mark. The leading name in the clubhouse is probably T.J. Vasher, but other than that, there are opportunities for potential new names to shine. Kingsbury missed out on the highly rated, longtime wide receiver commit Gabriel Douglas. He did manage to sign five players at that position in 2018, however, so a freshman standout snagging a spot on the lineup isn’t out of the question.
Defense is another story. Coordinator David Gibbs will have 20 of the 22 players back from his two deep. Aside from a couple of spots on the defensive line, the Red Raiders appear to be all set on that side of the ball headed into spring.
One area that will need attention will be special teams. The field goal kicking and extra point kicking have been issues, so look for possible replacements there.
Overall, though, there’s reason for Texas Tech fans to be optimistic about the football team having the kind of success to match the level of the other major sports. It feels like the team is tentatively trending in the right direction, but who will step up on offense to take the Red Raiders where they want to be?