Once again, we're revisiting our preseason previews on our opponent as we move closer to the actual game. In July, here's what we previewed for the Texas Tech Red Raiders this season.
Last season was a dream season for Texas Tech. An 11-2 record, a Cotton Bowl berth, two ABC prime-time "Saturday Night Football" broadcasts in Lubbock; for a while, it seemed like nothing could go wrong for the Raiders. Until, of course, the Raiders walked into Norman and got blasted early and often by the Sooners. (Of course, everybody who ventured into Gaylord Family Stadium got blasted last season.)
But that was then. Graham Harrell is now playing in Canada. Michael Crabtree is in San Francisco. But before anybody dismisses the Red Raiders completely, keep in mind that Texas Tech leads the Big XII with 14 straight winning seasons. Nebraska had their hiccups during the Callahan/Pederson error, Oklahoma had their's under Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake, and Texas had John Mackovic. So while Raiders may be down; history suggests the won't fall very far.
The burden of replacing Harrell falls to junior Taylor Potts. Past history of Tech quarterbacks shows that the Raiders merely reload after the previous quarterback graduates. Three year starter Kliff Kingsbury (1999-2002) was replaced by B.J. Symons, who merely set an NCAA passing record in 2003. In 2004, Sonny Cumbie put up typical Tech numbers, as did Cody Hodges in 2005. So there is every expectation that Potts should be well groomed to light up the scoreboard in Lubbock this fall.
Wide receiver Edward Britton has the physical tools (4.4 speed) to replace Crabtree, but lacks the consistency to put it all together. It wasn't just on the field either; when Britton decided to skip classwork, Mike Leach sent Britton to study hall - on the fifty yard line on a cold snowy March day. Receiver Detron Lewis started all 13 games for Tech last, and while also inconsistent, shows more signs of breaking out in 2009. Seth over at Double-T Nation likes Tramain Swindall to be a surprise impact receiver this season.
Running back Baron Batch was Tech's most effective running back during the Leach era, rushing for 758 yards for a 6.7 yard average last season. (Ask Texas fans about it!) Some of that could be attributed to the Tech offensive line, who featured all-Big XII tackle Rylan Reed and 2nd teamer Louis Vasquez...but they're gone, creating two holes on the offensive line. Two starters, both honorable mention all-Big XII, return: right tackle Marlon Winn and left guard Brandon Carter. 2007 starting center Shawn Byrnes, who lost his job last season to Stephen Hanby, is likely to regain his starting spot.
At initial glance, defense in Lubbock almost seems an afterthought, though Mike Leach did change defensive coordinators after a WAC-style shootout loss against Oklahoma State in 2007. In came Ruffin McNeill, who stabilized the defense a bit, but it's still offense that carries the Raiders. With the suspension and departure of defensive end McKinner Dixon, only nose tackle Colby Whitlock returns up front in 2009.
All three linebackers return in 2009: juniors Bront Bird, Brian Duncan, and senior Marlon Williams. ESPN's Tim Griffin rated Duncan the #31 player in the league this season; Duncan lead the Raiders in tackles in 2008. In the secondary, only senior cornerback Jamar Wall returns. You remember Wall don't you? He's the guy who picked off that ill-advised Joe Ganz pass in overtime.
Oh, if only. If Ganz had decided to take that sack in overtime, or if SOMEBODY had bothered to cover Crabtree on that fourth down play in the fourth quarter, things could have been quite a bit different for both Nebraska and Texas Tech last season. (If you want to play the "if-only" game further, what about Kevin Cosgrove's decision to start the 2005 game in a prevent defense, spotting the Raiders an early 21-0 lead.) While Pelini didn't have much success slowing down the Raiders in Lubbock last season, not many other teams did either. 2009 should give Nebraska a much better shot to break Texas Tech's three game winning streak against the Huskers.
So what has changed? After Tech was upset on the road by Houston, the team seemed to unravel slightly. Mike Leach suspended offensive lineman Brandon Carter, and banned the use of Twitter by his players after senior linebacker Marlon Williams tweeted "Wondering why I'm still in this meeting room when the head coach can't even be on time to his on [sic] meeting." The Raiders stumbled and bumbled the next week against New Mexico, with Taylor Potts getting knocked out of the game in the first half. Steven Sheffield came on in relief, and has seemingly outplayed Potts. Last week, the Raiders blasted Kansas State 66-14.
So which version of the Pirate Circus act is coming to Lincoln this weekend? The one that beat North Dakota 38-13 and allowed New Mexico to score 28 points? Or is it the squad that beat Kansas State by 52 points and stayed competitive with Texas in Austin? Heck, we're not even sure who is going to start at quarterback for the Raiders. If I had to guess, it would be Sheffield...but that's just a guess. Anybody who's ever tried to figure out Mike Leach probably has come up wrong in the end.