Last week, ESPN came out with their college football top 25 and actually had Texas Tech as the #21 team in the nation (via ESPN). Twitter was all a twitter with thoughts that this was premature, or that Texas Tech didn't deserve this sort of ranking, so I called an emergency VTM Roundtable.
1. Texas Tech was ranked 21st in ESPN's post-spring top 25, generally speaking, do you think that's accurate or do you think that's too high or low?
LSRR: Typically, I don't take a lot of stock in how a team is ranked this early in the year. But, I do love that we are now part of the conversation. I would say that the ranking is fair, but Kansas State may say otherwise.
Travis Hale: I'm not surprised by the pre-season ranking at all. The way Kingsbury, Webb and the entire team dismantled a very good ASU team in the Holiday Bowl should serve as a precursor for things to come. I think heading into Webb's sophomore campaign, with a more seasoned defense and still plenty of playmakers bodes well for the team.
DoubleTFaithful: 1) I don't even know where to begin. Meaningless way to early 2014 preseason ranking is meaningless. However, sure I think 21 is about right for Tech. They finished last season with a huge win over a ranked opponent in the bowl game, progress was seemingly maintained throughout the spring so I think a top 25 ranking is fine. I don't think rankings mean anything unless you're in the top 5 or 6 when the playoff committee is determining the post-season. Everything else is just gravy.
MikeTTU: I think the 21st ranking in the Top 25 was too high for Texas Tech. This team lost 5 games last year by around the average of 22 points per game. Not only that, but they lost two valuable pieces on offense and still have question marks on how the defense will do this year. Even though Webb is secured as the starter and Tech has a favorable schedule next year, I don't think they deserve a Top 25 ranking at this time.
kevinkinsler: I think it's a pretty fair representation of where we have a chance to be during the year. I think the different schedule with some of the big ones coming at home is going to help us avoid a losing streak like the one we suffered last year. Win the games we should and have one big game win and I think we're right about 20.
Seth C: The biggest reason to think that Texas Tech deserves a top 25 ranking is Davis Webb. If I could climb inside the mind of an ESPN analyst (ewwww) I'd probably guess that they're banking on Webb taking a significant leap forward and that Texas Tech won 8 games DESPITE having a topsy-turvy quarterback situation. The biggest question mark is obviously the defense and maybe the thought here is that Texas Tech should be better because of consistency at the top, with Coach Wallerstedt. A top 25 ranking, for me, is going to be wholly dependent on the defensive line recruits being able to step in immediately and play. I'm pretty comfortable with just about every other position and think that Texas Tech has Big 12 athletes to compete at those spots. By the end of the season, I think this will be accurate.
2. The biggest holes in the offense are the loss of Ward and Amaro, how big of an effect do you think that will have on the offense, if any at all?
LSRR: Kingsbury tailors his offense to the available personnel. Ward could catch anything within a 10' radius, including many a jump ball. Amaro was a nightmare receiver for a linebacker to cover AND tackle. I think we will see modified roles in each of their positions but still with great results.
Travis Hale: Losing Amaro is huge but I think Kingsbury will adapt. He's shown an ability to adjust to his personnel's strengths and I imagine we'll see that again. What's most exciting is the likelihood that we'll move from an almost "ball control" type of offense with check downs to Amaro, to a more wide open attack that can take advantage of some of the speed we have now.
DoubleTFaithful: The biggest effect by the loss of these two will not be so much a drop in offensive production, i.e. yards, catches, TDs, but in distribution. I believe that the ball will be spread around a lot more, relying less on one (or two) player to move the ball. The top four receivers based on receptions had 106, 83, 65 and 49. I think those numbers will be much closer together as the season progresses, whereas the difference between the most receptions and fourth was nearly 50 catches, I think that difference will be closer to 20 or 25. I don't think we're going to see a single receiver get more than 80 receptions this coming season, maybe even fewer than that.
MikeTTU: While I do think that the loss of Amaro and Ward hurt, I don't think it will bother Tech. I believe that Tech will struggle during the first 2 or 3 games getting used to running a speedy offense, but I think by the time Big XII play starts, the Red Raiders will start to click on all cylinders. Plus with the possibility of Washington and White getting more touches, I think we could see an offense similar to what Baylor had last year.
kevinkinsler: In a vacuum, the losses of those two would be huge, but luckily the offense has a chance to be better in so many other areas. The more experienced offensive line and a much-improved Webb should allow Kliff to spread that production around to the young guys that we've been so excited to see break out.
Seth C: The offense is going to be so much more vertical, it's going to shock people. If you add in the hopeful the progression of Davis Webb being able to read defenses and then have an overall faster group of receivers that collectively should be better. It's a bold thought, but it's going to be just fine.
3. The biggest issue that I can tell is that the defense is replacing a handful of senior starters and banking on an additional handful of JUCO players to help fill the gaps. Do you think that the defense takes a turn in a positive direction or are you expecting a similar season to last year?
LSRR: I'm still anxious to see how Kenny Williams does on the defensive side of the ball come game time. To echo how many of us on VTM feel, our defense will definitely take a step in the right direction considering that a) Wallerstadt is an excellent coach who knows how to motivate and train players & b) we will, finally, have a back-to-back defensive coach and scheme for the first time in years.
Travis Hale: Defense will be improved. Bet on it.
DoubleTFaithful: This is a tricky question. While the defense lost a great group of seniors, they were in their first year in the scheme. However, I don't think you can down play the role their experience played in terms of leadership. I do believe continuity in the scheme will benefit the defense. Realistically though, relying on newcomers (JUCO or freshmen), especially in key positions, is dangerous. While Tech doesn't need a complete overhaul in the depth chart when the new guys show up, the biggest difference would be felt along the defensive line. Tech has 3 guys coming in over the summer that could play a huge role (no pun intended) on how this defense does in 2014. But I just can't see this defense turning a major corner in 2014 without the newcomers coming in and just absolutely tearing it up, which is asking a lot. I think the defense will be pretty similar to last year, but I don't think Tech loses many games because of the defense.
MikeTTU: I'm expecting to see a defense similar to last season, but not quite as bad. I think one thing Tech will have this year and lacked last year was good depth behind these players. The experience players will play better than last year, while the newer ones will struggle at first (including the JUCOs), but will be able to start clicking later on in the season. Plus, I think it'll be harder to give up so many points to Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas this time around.
kevinkinsler: I think the defense continues on an upswing if only for the mere fact that we're actually going to have a defensive coordinator for a whole second year in a row. The plug-n-play JUCOs should have enough experience under their belts to get in the system quickly while the young guys get worked in on the back end.
Seth C: I'm banking on having the additional depth that I think this team lacked. Kingsbury has said that he recruits JUCO players if there is a need. There were times of the past 3 or 4 years when walk-ons are getting opportunities to play and that's usually a depth problem. I do think that there is a legitimate 3-deep at just about every position. Maybe not all-stars, but competent players. And I should also add that I'm hearing some positive things for Texas Tech about a certain linebacker that originally signed with Ohio St. If a guy like him plays for Texas Tech next year, then this changes a lot of things.
4. It's entirely too early, but what do you think the win total for this team is? Also, I'd love a rough preliminary order of finish for the Big 12, maybe the top 6 teams.
LSRR: A very, very early win total prediction of: 9. I don't see us winning both games in Stillwater and Manhattan in consecutive weeks. Call me crazy, but crazy things happen in Ames. I could also see us losing to OU.
2. Oklahoma St.
3. Texas Tech
4. Kansas State
6. West Virginia
Travis Hale: 9 wins in regular season, 10 with a bowl victory. Instead of top 6, I'll do bottom 4. Baylor, Texas, TCU, Kansas. Just because.
DoubleTFaithful: I think this team improves on last year's win total by 2 games and it's going to come from a more consistent offense. I don't think you're going to see Tech go down 21-0 in the first quarter this year. I think last year's games against Oklahoma St and Kansas St were winnable, but the offense was in a rut to start both of those games and the leads couldn't be overcome. Let's look at this season's schedule and how I think it's going to run:
I think Tech takes the first 3 against Central Arkansas, UTEP and Arkansas (3-0). I think Tech figures out enough up front to allow the Tech offense to build a lead and wear down the Hog defense with speed. Next, I think Tech drops their first conference game in Stillwater (3-1; 0-1). I think this game is winnable but there's something there that I don't think Tech can overcome. The following week, I think Tech gets back on track in Manhattan over Kansas St. (4-1; 1-1). I don't think Kansas St is going to be "there" this year and I don't even have them making a bowl game this year, but don't count the Wizard out. The next two weeks are very winnable games with Kansas and West Virginia coming to town. I think Tech takes care of business here (6-1; 3-1). Next is TCU in Ft. Worth and I think this may end up playing out like the 2012 game. I think it's going to be back and forth but I think Tech can win this game (7-1; 4-1). Then Tech welcomes Texas in Lubbock and between this game and the one after the bye week vs OU, Tech grabs one. I've gone back and forth and which one I think, but just know after those two games, I think Tech is 8-2; 5-2. And then I think Tech wins in Ames but falls to Baylor in Arlington to finish 9-3; 6-3, good enough for 3rd standings look like this:
1) Baylor 12-0; 9-0
2) OU 10-2; 7-2
3) Tech 9-3; 6-3
4) Texas 9-3; 6-3
MikeTTU: One thing that I love about the upcoming season is that we could easily range from a 5-7 team to a 11-2 one. Our schedule is played out to where we play teams with worse records on the road and teams with better records at home. We have two weeks off between Texas and Oklahoma, and a week and a half off before the Oklahoma State and Kansas State games. I believe that next year Texas Tech will go 9-4, going 8-4 in the regular season and winning the bowl game. As for the order, I think Oklahoma wins the Big XII next year, with OKST and Baylor right behind, followed by Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas State
kevinkinsler: I'm thinking 9-10 wins if things fall right. I can't tell if I think a split with UT-OU will be good considering the bye week between the two games.
Seth C: I think it's 9 wins as well. I'm probably higher on K-State and West Virginia than most and I also think that UT is going to have quarterback problems, maybe even worse than last year. OU is still at the head of the class followed by Baylor and then it's a race for that third spot and I think that Texas Tech is jockeying for that third spot with the aforementioned KSU, WVU, and probably UT.