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Are we in a better place?

I've been mulling this over ever since last week's win over Oklahoma and now this thought has become more prevalent with UT's loss to Texas A&M and potential conference chaos with OU playing OSU and Missouri and Kansas matching up. [editor's note, by Seth C] I wrote a majority of this on Friday night so I apologize in advance for the inappropriate game references.

I think much is made each year about whether or not a program is better off than the year before. You sort of expect there to be improvement each and every year and whether or not a team moves forward is usually more of a question of degrees of how much better a team actually is. Let's take a look at some of these standards.

  1. Wins

    Probably the best way to determine how much better your team is relative to the year before is to take a look at how many wins you have at the end of the year. Last year it was 8 and this year, before the bowl game we have 8 with the potential to have 9 wins.

    Objectively, wins and losses is what defines a coach and a team and typically that is the best way to measure the relative success and failure of a team.

    I realize that the success as defined by one program is not success as defined by another. Baylor winning two conference games would be a success and UT or OU not competing for a Big 12 title every year is failure. Take a look at the folks over at BON, as they are quite concerned that they have a mediocre 9-3 record. Thought about a little differently, Texas Tech is only 1 loss worse than Texas and 1 win better that Texas A&M. Each team lost games they shouldn't have lost to, but did and each program is thinking that they are better than their ranking. What's the difference? The difference here of course is that I've always believed that the relative talent at UT, OU, and A&M is much better than what is at Texas Tech.

  2. Talent

    Let's take a look at national recruiting rankings for the past 5 years and the average of those 4 years from Scout:

    Team 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 Avg.
    Texas 3 3 13 10 14 8.60
    Oklahoma 30 7 5 7 3 10.40
    Texas A&M 26 21 17 14 9 17.40
    Nebraska 21 29 10 38 28 25.20
    Texas Tech 44 17 36 17 37 30.20
    Oklahoma State 24 16 64 33 29 33.20
    Colorado 35 50 44 49 19 39.40
    Missouri 39 58 37 36 52 44.40
    Kansas State 55 48 46 48 51 49.60
    Iowa State 69 59 50 57 60 59.00
    Baylor 52 55 64 89 47 61.40
    Kansas 78 47 57 56 70 61.60

    I thought that we should also probably conider the average number of stars for each of these programs, which might be a better measure of the overall talent level at a program, also via Scout:

    Team 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 Avg.
    Texas 3.84 3.72 3.79 3.24 3.33 3.58
    Oklahoma 3.15 3.36 3.50 3.47 3.60 3.42
    Texas A&M 3.25 3.23 2.96 2.52 3.25 3.04
    Nebraska 3.22 3.27 3.23 2.26 2.81 2.96
    Oklahoma State 3.14 3.17 2.14 2.67 2.67 2.76
    Texas Tech 2.56 2.85 2.67 2.65 2.92 2.73
    Colorado 2.81 2.50 2.67 2.21 2.92 2.62
    Kansas State 2.35 2.43 2.48 2.35 3.24 2.57
    Missouri 2.62 2.43 2.65 2.30 2.50 2.50
    Kansas 2.26 2.36 2.25 2.00 2.44 2.26
    Baylor 2.37 2.23 2.25 1.85 2.52 2.24
    Iowa State 2.23 2.17 2.52 1.93 2.23 2.24

    This sort of confirms what we already know, right? That Texas, OU, Texas A&M, and Nebraska all have talent "better" than what is at Texas Tech. (As an aside, I know that these rankings are not entirely accurate, and they are more or less intended to be a tool to demonstrate the gap in talent or at the very least the perceived gap in talent.) The problem for UT is that they have top 10 talent and have not been considered as national championship contenders this year or last year. Not only that, I would not expect them to be mentioned as contenders next year either. Top 10 talent should mean that UT is contending for a national championship each year, right? That's not happening, at least not in 2006 and 2007, especially when the talent has been without compare in the conference, right?

    OU couldn't win twice on the road in the conference, a problem that plagues almost every team in the Big 12. That being said, OU has top 10 talent and Coach Stoops is probably doing a much better job of coaching up his talent than Mack Brown is doing at Texas. At least OU is in the National Championship conversation and a part of the Big 12 Championship almost each year.

    I don't think that we need to delve into the problems that A&M has, except of course that there is talent and most Aggies (at least most Aggies that I talk to) believe that Coach Fran hasn't coached up to the talent at the school. Top 20 talent and the Aggies have to fire their coach because he hasn't been able to live up to the expectations.

    Nebraska, see the paragraph above except at least the Aggies finished with a .500 record in conference (the same as Texas Tech's).

    Where does that leave Texas Tech? Probably about where they should be, at least right now. Coach Leach and Texas Tech will probably finish, at least in terms of the talent relative to the program, where they should. Keep in mind, I'm not saying that I'm happy with finishing 8-4, all I'm saying is that looking at what is coming into the program, Coach Leach, is not coaching down the program (see Nebraska and Texas A&M).

    Perhaps the most amazing thing about the figures above is the relative lack of talent at Kansas and what Coach Mangino has been able to do at Kansas. The talent level at Kansas has been comparable to Iowa State and Kansas, but Mangino is coaching for a national championship. The same could be said for Missouri, who has taken top 50 talent and turned the program into national championship discussion. In terms of recruiting rankings both Mangino and Pinkel have coached up their teams to the cusp of a national championship game.

But back to Texas Tech and my more global question to you as Texas Tech fans, what is your expectation? I believe that this program can and should be a part of the national conversation for years to come, at least based on the talent at Texas Tech. I plan on dissecting the team position by position once the bowl game is over, but for our intents and purposes here, this is a relatively young team. This is a team, that despite the bad losses are not as bad as UT's losses relative to the talent available (i.e. UT has top 10 talent lost to a bad Kansas State team at home, a Texas A&M team that was reeling, and struggled against teams that don't have top 10 talent: Arkansas State, UCF, Nebraska and Oklahoma State). That's not to say that Texas Tech's losses to Oklahoma State and Colorado aren't bad losses, as they are, but even good teams suffer bad losses and teams with better talent suffer losses to teams with much less talent. In other words, there is improvement at Texas Tech relative to the talent level.

After discussing all of this, what's the bottom line, at least for me? Winning isn't easy. I think that more than anything else, I take from all of this, no matter how you slice recruiting rankings, the overall talent at a program, etc., winning isn't easy.

A couple of things to think about from a Texas Tech point of view and I'd love your perspective as well.

  • Is Coach Leach really doing more with less talent? I've always believed that he does do more with less talent, and I think for the most part, that in competing with UT, OU and A&M, all of which have been relatively successful at recruiting, Leach is more than holding his own. Don't get me wrong, I'd like to see a few more wins against UT and OU, but the talent level between those schools and Texas Tech is still pretty significant.

  • How happy are you with the overall progress of the team, program and Coach Leach and is it based on recruiting success, plain wins and losses, etc.?

  • Considering the factors in recruiting, location, and history, is what Coach Leach doing at Texas Tech even more impressive or are you not impressed at all?

  • What's the tipping point? Is it something that you would be able to look at empirically or is will you know it when you see it? For example, UT hasn't won a national championship in 3 years, how much leash does Mack Brown get before you start asking questions about whether or not he's the right head coach? Same thing goes for Red Raider fans, at what point do you say 8 or 9 wins just isn't enough, realizing that hiring a new head coach is not necessarily a cure-all? The road is littered with head coaches who couldn't win enough, but the coaches who do win is few and far between.