Sustainable success. That's what we're talking about today, the idea of sustainable success for a college football program and how does a team achieve it.
This idea all started with certain preseason prognosticators who seem to not appreciate the glorious nature of our Red Raiders. LAJ's Don Williams notes the lack of recognition of Tech by Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine (especially on the cover). Dave's picked Tech to finish fifth out of six teams? Huh.
So then I bought the Athlon preseason magazine only to be a little more than disappointed when I read that Athlon believed that Tech was the 49th best team in the nation this year. So now we have Campbell's and Athlon's who are predicting low finishes for Tech. It wasn't the idea of having a poor season that bothered me, but it was much bigger idea of whether or not Mike Leach has Texas Tech on the path to being an elite program.
My initial thought was to do a comparison of each unit between Big 12 teams (i.e. the quarterbacks, the offensive line, etc.), but thought that doing the homework and subjectively determining the worth of another team's players isn't realistic. But was realistic was the idea of whether or not Texas Tech has achieved certain benchmarks of elite programs.
So here's the exercise and the question I want to pose to you this Tuesday morning, what makes an elite program? I'll contend that there are more than a couple of things that go into this equation, but I think that these are a few of the basic tenants.
Win At Home:
How easy is that. There are typically 6 must win games for elite programs every year and they are all at home. This is where a program begins the process. It matters not the opponent. By winning these games a program provides a couple of ancillary advantages.
First, it shows the opponent that you are a force to be reckoned with at home. Every team that comes to Lubbock needs to have that thought when they roll into the South Plains. The best example is that I don't think there's any doubt that the Red Raiders are in the heads of the Aggies. I don't care what they say its true. In fact I was talking about this subject with my brother-in-law (also a Red Raider) and any Aggie denying that this series is a rivalry is just silly, there's too much vitriol on both sides to think otherwise.
The second advantage is that your home crowd now doesn't want to miss a home game. You have created atmosphere, a place where the home fans want nothing more than the victory which will in turn result in keg parties at campus apartments in the greater Lubbock area. Winning on the home means that the fans are rabid about their team for the entire 60 minutes. A win is demanded and expected.
Tech's home opponents for the year are as follows: UTEP, NW La. St., Iowa St., A&M, Colorado, OU. Are these winnable games? Absolutely, Tech is capable of winning every one of these games. The first two opponents should be marked down with a "W" without question.
Conference games are always a little more dicey, but I believe that Tech should man-handle Iowa State and Colorado. I know that it's a little smug to say that about those programs, but I believe it in my heart, Texas Tech is just better than those two programs. A&M and OU are question marks. As I said before, both games are winnable, but this is where it begins, having the confidence that every time you walk out on that home field a win is expected.
This isn't to say that I know that there won't be losses at home. Invariably we are talking about kids playing a game, there will be losses, but the program and the players must believe that every home game is automatic. This is what elite teams believe and it is what they do. The following tenement should be uttered by every Tech player as he enters the field:
"Be dominant at home."
Win 3 Away Games and Compete In Every Game:
This is where things get a little more difficult for a burgeoning elite program. The reality of course is that the idea of winning at the very least 3 away games isn't impossible considering the circumstances. Take a look at Tech's road schedule for the year: SMU, Rice, OSU, Mizzou, Baylor, Texas. I see three road victories without even hesitating. SMU, Rice, and Baylor. I also know that the OSU and Mizzou game are very winnable games despite they're on the road.
I know there will be losses on the road, once again, these are kids playing a game, but there can be no more blow-outs or ass-kickings. No more.
If Tech can compete with every opponent on any stage then the wins will eventually come. Leach has created an offense that is capable of winning any close game that can drive down the field and puts players in position to win games and make plays. I don't think there are many Tech fans out there who would believe otherwise.
Tech needs to improve in this aspect of the my equation, but for me the key of course is that Tech cannot take off any Saturday on the road.
Show up every Saturday, leave nothing on the field, no regrets and the wins will come.
Recruit Better Players:
This is happening at Tech. It may not be happening at a quick enough pace for most Tech fans, but you should keep in mind the idea that this is probably the most difficult step in the process. I've broken down recruiting classes for the years 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 and it's apparent that Mike Leach is recruiting better players. I know that these recruiting numbers are debatable, but the players are getting better and there is more talent coming into Tech each year. Remember these numbers:
- 2007: 2.73
- 2006: 2.88
- 2005: 2.66
- 2004: 2.24
- 2003: 2.60
That's the average number of Rivals.com stars for each class. Slowly but surely Leach and Company are getting better recruiting classes year and and year out. Let it also be said that there's nothing necessarily wrong with recruiting 2 star athletes. I know that there are always the kids who slip through the recruiting cracks and I think that this program has done a better than decent job of finding those kids so the occasional 2 star athlete is fine, it's the idea that the more 3 and 4 star athlete that's recruited, the better this team will be able to compete with elite programs.
Win The Bowl Game:
This one's easy. Winning whatever bowl game you play is a springboard to recruiting and spring success. It is the idea that players and recruits are left with a satisfying victory in a bowl game. Coaches and recruiters can sell this salient point to kids who are thinking about coming to Tech.
Nothing was sweeter as I sat in my living room jumping up and down as Tech pulled off an improbable victory. I thought to myself that there was little that would drag me down until football season started. I was unable to go to bed for two hours after that game. It's that kind of game that creates offseason buzz and intrigue about your program. If a program is able to put a few of those together and you have a team that people talk about in the offseason.
There's such a distinct difference between the incredible sweet taste of victory or the rank odor of a bowl season loss. I know that A&M is a pretty good team this year, but subconsciously all I can really think about is how the Ags were absolutely demolished last year. Realistically I know that it's silly to judge a team based on one game, but subconsciously I do, and I have to believe that recruits feel the same way.
I know that the whole idea of winning your bowl game and it having an effect on the next season is self-admittedly simplistic, but I still believe it to be a staple of an elite program.
Consistency on Both Sides of the Ball:
This is where I have my biggest issues with Leach and how this program has progressed. Without a doubt there is a definite identity on the offensive end of the ball. This team has progressed to the point where there are defined roles that this team knows how to succeed on the offensive end with different players. There is an established idea of success offensively. I think that we are now seeing that kids want to come to school at Tech based on its offensive success.
Defensively, where has Tech established this sort of identity? I'm not doubting Setecich's efforts here and I do think the defense has improved steadily over the years, but in terms of talent and in terms of style the Red Raiders need to take the next step.
There needs to be games where the defense dominates a game, where we all log onto DTN on Sunday or Monday morning and say, "Wow, that Tech defense really saved our tails Saturday." When was the last time we said that to be true for an entire game? There are moments when the defense rises to the occasion and there are times when the defense does this for for a number of series, but I am waiting for the conference game where the defense pitches a shutout. It's not going to be easy, but I'd love for it to happen.
Red Blooded noted in a recent comment that with all of the glorious brain power that Leach possesses that he'd be able to come up with a scheme, something revolutionary that we've never seen before to take the country by storm (The more I thought about this proposition the more I started to realize that with Leach it's about teams reacting to what you do and forcing opponents to do things they are not accustomed to doing. The ability to do this from the defensive side of the ball is much more difficult.). I'd even settle to see Tech take advantage of running a 3-4 defense that takes some chances and blitzes from all over the field. I'd love to see this team take a few chances on the defensive side of the ball and make some plays.
It's not any particular style that I'm enamored, I frankly don't care runs a 3-4, a 4-3, or a 5-2 (I distinctly remember running this defense in junior high and we dominated until one opponent had an unbalanced line - we were never able to really recover) its the idea that Tech needs to create something to so that there's a defensive identity that fans, players and recruits can identify.
Where does this leave Texas Tech? I think Leach has Tech on the track to elite status, but it's a long and hard road. I don't want to sound like an apologist, but invariably I will, it's part of being a fan of a team. I accept that label, but I do believe that Leach is on his way with this program. To me it's a matter of time.
So now I pose the question to you, is Texas Tech a top 25 program?