As July looms around the corner and the dog days are upon us, the Rant Sports College Football Top 100 turns its sights to one of the more interesting programs in college football this season, the No. 65 Texas Tech Red Raiders. With the arrival of new head coach and former Tech gunslinger Kliff Kingsbury to Lubbock, there’s plenty of buzz surrounding a program that has struggled to reach the level of success while under Mike Leach, regardless of the controversy that he caused.
With a couple of solid recruiting classes in the fold, the Red Raiders will be a work in progress in 2013, but a team that could make some noise in the Big 12 in the very near future.
As always, the Tech offense will be keyed by its quarterback play. This season, that quarterback is former Lake Travis High School star and son of a former Texas Longhorns quarterback, sophomore Michael Brewer. Brewer has an outstanding combination of pocket presence and overall athleticism which should allow him to excel in the fast-paced, wide-open Tech offense which Kingsbury brings along with him from College Station.
Eric Ward and Jakeem Grant lead a talented, but inexperienced Tech receiving corps into the 2012 season. The unit is full of promise, and could be both one of the most productive and most underrated in the conference this fall. Ward is the leader, seeking to follow up on a 2012 season highlighted by the reception of 82 passes for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s an early candidate for Big 12 All-Conference honors and could open the eyes of NFL scouts across the country.
Only eight scholarship holding offensive linemen participated in spring practice for the Red Raiders. Offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Eric Morris will need some guys to step up as practices start in August to ensure the talented cadre of running backs is able to provide some balance. Led by junior Kenny Williams — who will be in his second season as the featured back — Tech will also need contribution from sophomore DeAndre Washington to keep things rolling.
It’s rare when Texas Tech is though of as a disruptive defense. The constant revolving door of defensive coordinators — and the schemes they bring along — hasn’t allowed for any continuity, and in turn made things difficult for any traction to be gained.
Almost in spite of themselves, the Red Raiders were the 38th best unit in the country in 2012 statistically, but still had several huge holes which led to exposure by better offensive teams. New defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt will move Tech back to a base 3-4 set which should allow an experienced and athletic defensive line and linebacking corps to be more disruptive in 2013.
Defensive tackle Kerry Hyder (56 total, 14.5 TFL) is the best returning tackler from a 2012 squad that was senior-laden. Hyder, along with middle linebacker Will Smith (55 total, 1.5 TFL in 2012) will be the vocal leaders of a first-level for the Red Raiders which will need support from an inexperienced and youthful secondary. Seniors Trey Porter, Bruce Jones and Derrick Mayes must set the tone early on for the Red Raiders to see continued success in neutralizing lethal Big 12 passing offenses this season.
The Red Raiders’ early-season schedule is Lone Star State focused, as all four of their opponents to kick things off in 2013 are within Texas. It begins with an August 30th trip to Dallas to take on the Rant Sports No. 81 SMU Mustangs, followed by a return home in Week 2 to face off with the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, one of the best teams in the FCS sub-division last season.
Week 3 invites the TCU Horned Frogs to Lubbock for the first Big 12 game of the season and is book-ended by a Week 4 visit by the Texas State Bobcats prior to the true start of Big 12 play on October 5th.
The toughest stretch of the conference schedule for the Red Raiders is Weeks 7-10 as the team makes consecutive trips to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers and Oklahoma Sooners on consecutive Saturdays, then returns to Lubbock to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Kansas State Wildcats in early November. If somehow Tech can split this series of games — or even finish 3-1 — another trip to a first-tier bowl could well be in their sights.
It’s a season of transition for the Red Raiders in 2013, and nothing is certain, but the future is brighter than it has been in some time.