I spent quite a bit of time while driving on vacation and I found myself having conversations with myself about the state of the Texas Tech program. I know, that's sad, but it's true. The following is a glimpse of those conversations. Feel free to comment, criticize or join in.
We've saved football for last and this season, more than any other season in recent history, is set to be one of the more interesting in quite some time.
Yes, this is going to be an incredibly special year, one way or another. The most interesting thing about this year is the expectation of the Texas Tech fanbase relative to the actual success thus far. It's just happened to have worked out so that this year's team has the potential to do something great, but it also has the potential to be incredibly disappointing as well, and when I say incredibly disappointing, I think that most fans would be pretty disappointed if this team lost 4 games this year.
But doesn't that speak to your program in general, when you can say that a 4-loss team would be disappointing? Most programs who consider themselves to be one of the big-boys wouldn't be satisfied with a 4-loss season for any season.
You're absolutely right, most big-time programs wouldn't be satisfied, but I think those increased expectations are the direct result of the changing attitude that we're seeing at Texas Tech. Historically, Texas Tech has had spikes of success, but no real sustained success. And when I say sustained success, I'm talking about winning and improving football for 10 years, which is what we're talking about with Mike Leach.
Although I've detailed it before, what Captain Leach has done is really unprecedented and his 8 year run is one of the best the school has ever seen. We're in unchartered waters and I really hope that people take a step back and take a look at what's happening historically with Leach in charge.
Everything I ask you is obviously a little premature, but let's talk about the upcoming season. Realistically, Mr. Crabtree can't replicate his 2007 season. Right?
It's going to be really difficult for Mr. Crabtree to repeat those numbers from last year, simply because those were just ridiculous in terms of both yards and touchdowns. I have a difficult time thinking that those numbers are going to be even more difficult to repeat, especially considering the returning talent and the relatively new talent surrounding Mr. Crabtree. There's going to be a number of young guys looking to get some catches and it's going to be a fight, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Who are you most excited to see next year, offense and defense?
That's such a good question. For the first time in a long time, I think I'm interested in more defensive players than offensive players to start the season. I can't wait to see Brandon Sesay and McKinner Dixon on the ends. I'm curious to see if Chris Perry is going to be able to get himself in game shape (spring talk said that he was a little out of shape after redshirting last year) and make a contribution the way he was recruited. If any of those three guys can make a difference and be play-makers then we might be talking about a completely different defense. I also want to know if David Neill is going to be a player along with Joey Fowler.
On offense, I'm excited to see Rylan Reed step back on the field after a tremendous junior season where he was so dominant, but broke his ankle in the Gator Bowl. I also am still trying to figure out which wide receiver is really going to make the jump. I think it can be Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, Edward Britton, Todd Walker, etc. There's a ton of options and I can't wait to see these guys compete. I've also got a soft spot for Baron Batch, especially after all he went through to get back to playing football and I hope he does well.
What position are you most worried about, again, on offense and defense?
Defensively, I'm still worried about the line and the linebacker's ability to stop the run. Although defensive tackles Colby Whitlock and Rajon Henley were solid last year, the Texas Tech defense was one of the worst in the conference. Whitlock, Henley and Perry are all going to have to make some fairly significant strides in order to make significant improvement. One other guy, that I'm really interested to see if he's going ot make an impact is David Neill, who redshirted last year. As far as the linebackers go, I'd say that McNeill is setting himself up to play whoever makes the most plays. Last year we saw quite a few young guys get more playing time than the veterans, but now we're seeing guys like Fehoko, Bird and Sonier could all see time early in an attempt to see if these guys are going to make more plays than their more veterans counter-parts. That's not to say that Marlon Williams, Brian Duncan, Victor Hunter, and Julius Howard can't play, but McNeill isn't going to settle for "okay".
On the offensive side of the ball, I'm feel very good about the offensive line, so long as Reed is back. If Reed isn't back and Wynn or Vasquez end up having to play left tackle, then I'm worried about the line's ability to consistently protect Harrell.
I'm also not real sure how the 3-back running back group is going to work. Part of me just wants Captain Leach to just pick a guy and go with him, but I realize that there may still be some trust issues with Woods, who I think is the most complete of the three backs, while Crawford and Batch still are growing into the players I hope they become.
That's more than just one guy.
You didn't even ask me about special teams where Texas Tech is going to be breaking in a true freshman at kicker in Donnie Carona. Carona is going to get every opportunity and whether he kicks field goals or not, I'd imagine that he's going to handle kick-offs (he has some pretty amazing videos in the interwebs).
What about the overall direction of the program? Do you like where Texas Tech is headed?
Being a homer, I'm naturally inclined to say yes. If I try and look at this objectively, I'd say that there's quite a bit of postives going on right now. First, I think the talent level of the program has certainly increased. I know that there are some of you who would argue otherwise, but since Leach has been in charge, I think there has been a distinct and consistent increase in talent since he took over the program. If there's any indicator for a winning program, it's talent. Not to mention, Leach did hire Antonio Huffman to the the point-man when it comes to recruiting which is something that I don't think this program has ever had.
I think Leach has a nice group of coaches who understand what he wants, and I think Ruffin McNeill is exactly the kind of defensive coach that Leach needs, which is a guy who will take control of the defense and let it be his baby. There are plenty of coaches who are hands-on or hands-off when it comes to one side of the ball, although Leach may be an extreme case, and in previous stops McNeill has shown the ability to coach up some pretty decent defenses (especially at Appalachain State).