The fans in Lubbock are excited for this year, and with good reason. Most folks have Oklahoma winning the Big XII South, but some have Texas Tech ranked, much to Austin’s chagrin, 2nd in that division. The South division for 2008 is probably the tightest and most anticipated division in college football. There are three programs who all have a legitimate claim to being ranked no. 1 in the preseason. And behind those three programs are three more who are doing an excellent job at trying to change their luck against the top three.
The days are gone when college football nerds could talk about Texas Tech the way dorks talk about underground bands. This program has officially become mainstream. Texas Tech’s offensive formula is becoming legend, and no doubt is the pirate-loving head coach going to go down in the annuls of the sport, regardless of what he accomplishes from here to eternity. Even though there is scarcely a picture where Mike Leach is not making a face like someone broke wind in the room, under his tenure the program has hammered out great college quarterback after great college quarterback, breaking a nice set of records in the process. The Texas Tech quarterbacking tree is a who’s-who’s of greats. The next one, who needs no introduction by now, is Ennis, TX native Graham Harrell. Harrell was the first quarterback in years to start at quarterback as anything less than a senior. In this, his final year at Tech, Harrell is surrounded by yet another group of under-rated and under-recruited WR’s who are making people’s heads spin. It is not just the QB spot where this program stocks the cupboard. The Texas Tech WR corps doesn’t rebuild, they reload. They lost Welker and still had Hicks. Lost Hicks, still had Amendola. Now they lose Amendola and retain the nation’s top WR, Michael Crabtree. Crabtree’s success is well known at this point, and his stature will only increase as the rest of his career goes by at Tech. But taking over in the actual spot of a now-graduated Danny Amendola is sophomore Detron Lewis. Oh, and Edward Britton and Eric Morris aren’t too shabby, either. In 2007 those two WR’s had about 800 and 630 yards, respectively. The Running-Back spot, however, is a potential problem. Much maligned RB Shannon Woods (senior) has played musical chairs on this depth chart for years. The starter, supposedly, is sophomore Baron Batch. Battling him is fellow sophomore Aaron Crawford. When Taurean Henderson graduated after the 2006 season, the Texas Tech RB production fell in the following year. There’s a few reasons for that, one being that Taurean Henderson is one of the best pass-catching RB’s in college history. But with no stand-out again in 2008, this is a point the skeptics will consider. With that being said, take solace in the fact that the Tech offensive line is one of the nation’s biggest, and best. Anchoring that line is the much heralded senior Guard Louis Vasquez. Four starters return from a line who only gave up 18 sacks in 2007 through 763 passing attempts.
The defense has been the Achilles heel of this program’s march forward. That changed last season when the defensive coordinator “resigned” and was replaced by interim coordinator Ruffin McNeill, an assistant head coach. The Tech defense made great strides under their interim coach, and McNeill was rewarded for his success by being given the defensive coordinator duties altogether. The Texas Tech defense led the Big XII in the final 8 games of the season, after the Oklahoma State debacle that ultimately resulted in McNeill’s interim assignment. A big reason for this potential defensive upswing to carry into 2008 is the return of former Freshman All-American Defensive-End McKinner Dixon. After the 2005 season, Dixon fell into the academic web and was forced to go into exile for two long seasons. Dixon recorded 9 sacks as a JUCO last season. Other than Dixon, the front of this defense returns intact. The Linebackers also matured more last year under McNeill’s watch. Sophomore Brian Duncan returns in the middle, with junior Marlon Williams returning on the outside. In the other outside slot is sophomore Bront Bird, a kid who the coaching staff is high .. adding a nice amount of offseason size. The secondary returns two of the four starters, and gets an interesting addition on the depth chart in former WR LA Reed.
The final verdict on this 2008 campaign is going to be three-fold. We all know the offense will score close to 1,000 points a game. But this defense has got to continue their momentum from 2007 and balance this team out. The offense won’t need to score 70 points a game, even though they will want to and will try to, if the defense can hold the opponents to a respectable score. The second part of that fold is going to be coaching sanity. If there are no meltdowns on the sideline like there were in last year’s Missouri game, where Leech went for it 7 times on fourth down and only made 3 of them. They consequently were beaten by 31 points and followed that performance with a loss to a Colorado team that Tech should have beaten by 35 points. The third fold of those three folds is going to be luck. Harrell will be slinging it around and taking more shots at people than Bob Knight did on that ranch. With what is Mike Leach’s deepest and best squad yet, if Tech can get a few breaks in 2008 like they did in 2007, this team is looking at a BCS berth. Instead of throwing tortillas, these fans will be throwing oranges, or roses, or sugar. I dunno, maybe throwing sugar is a bad idea.