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Where I Come From: Expectations for the Season

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This is the sixth of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011. Prior Posts:

Enough looking back: let's look forward. Why I'm excited about this fall.

An Emphasis on the Running Game: It seems like when Tuberville was hired and one of his initial tenants was that he wanted to keep the spread, but he wanted emphasize the running game. There was quite a bit of speculating after Tuberville made those initial comments, especially thoughts that Texas Tech would turn into a power-running team, complete with two wide, a tight end, a fullback and a tailback. I think the above scenario is possible, on the goal line, but for the most part, I have no doubt that offensive coordinator Neal Brown will continue to run the same type of offense that we know and love . . . but the running backs will get more touches. This isn't necessarily an original thought because coaches and fans have said that the running back position has the best play-makers on the team, and there's no doubt about that. Explosiveness is something that's tough to gauge and typically, I've always thought that yards per carry is a pretty good indication of whether or not a player has the ability to be explosive or perhaps that this is a situation where because of the offense, these players have inflated statistics. With that being said, if you take a look at the Big 12 conference numbers for yards per carry, it appears that Texas Tech is 11th in the conference at 3.42 YPC. If you dig a little bit deeper, you realize that Texas Tech also gave up the second most yards in the conference in sacks allowed at 317 yards over the course of the season. But the running backs, all averaged over 5 yards a carry:

Baron Batch: 168 Att : 884 Yards : 5.26 Avg : 14 TD
Eric Stephens: 49 Att : 254 Yards : 5.18 Avg : 2 TD
Harrison Jeffers: 35 Att : 217 Yards : 6.20 Avg : 4 TD

You add to this an offensive line, that I think will be better than last year. I'm still not sure how to quantify how much better the offensive line will be, but I do think that the line will be more athletic and a bit stronger. And I have a tough time saying this, because I don't discount the job that Brandon Carter did at guard, and this is a theory I've been chewing on for quite some time, but perhaps you might be able to predict an offensive line dip depending on if and where a player is drafted. For instance, if a Player A is drafted in rounds 1-4 then replacement Player B will not give you the same type of production as Player A (something like he might be 1% to 25% of Player A). If it's rounds 5-7 then maybe the replacement player performs 25% to 50% of the leaving player, if the player is an undrafted but signed free-agent the replacement player performs at 50% to 75% of the leaving player and if the player doesn't get a sniff with the NFL, then the college team may expect zero drop-off in production. So to play this out, with Louis Vasquez getting drafted in the 3rd round, I think that Rylan Reed gets drafted in the 7th round or undrafted, but signed free agnet and Stephen Hamby getting a free-agent deal, then you could expect some drop-off at at least three positions. With only Brandon Carter and Marlon Winn getting free-agent deals, perhaps you can expect a slight drop at their positions, but really nothing significant.

So much more after the jump.

A Defensive Front with Potential: There's no doubt that for the second year in a row, the offense is replacing significant production at the defensive end position with Brandon Sharpe, Daniel Howard and Rajon Henley. Not only that, but Texas Tech graduated rotation players and starters in Richard Jones and Victor Hunter, but there's quite a bit of reason for optimism with this group. We all know about DT Colby Whitlock and I'm with quite a few people in that I think Whitlock plays on Sundays. But the rest is based on optimism and potential of players that were at one time highly-rated prospects. This is a pretty impressive list of candidates:

DE/DT Scott Smith : 6-7/275 : Originally played at California, rated as a 4-star and 3-star.
DE/DT Donald Langley : 6-2/290 : Originally played at Tennessee, rated as 3-star.
DE/DT Lawrence Rumph : 6-4/270 : Rated as a 4-star and a 3-star.
DE/DT Myles Wade : 6-2/340 : Originally signed with Oregon, rated as a 4-star and 3-star.

You get where I'm going here, and this list doesn't include any freshman that were signed in either the 2009 Class or the 2010 Class (Pearlie Graves, Kerry Hyder, Aundrey Barr, Chris Knighton, Dartwan Bush, Lawrence Cayou, Mike Jones, and Jackson Richards). One other note, I've listed each and every one of these players as being both defensive ends and defensive tackles. I get the impression that everyone is going into the summer and fall practices as being just players along the defensive line and positions are to-be-determined. There's potential and depth here and I think that due to the change in defense, there's perhaps a new opportunity for some of these guys to prove themselves. Not only that, with so many JUCO players, there should be fierce competition at 3 or 4 positions.

Athleticism in the Secondary: I'm not sure that we've talked too much about the improved athleticsm in the secondary. Jamar Wall was a pretty good player for Texas Tech, solid but not spectacular, but I don't think it's a stretch to think that either Jarvis Phillips, D.J. Johnson and Will Ford will be improvements at the cornerback position. Just about every other position is set with Cody Davis and Franklin Mitchem returning. Then you have the current coaching staff making a huge push for secondary help in the 2010 recruiting class. Athletes such as Phillip Warren, Lavaughn Whigham, Brandon Smith, Tre'Vante Porter, Desmond Martin and Urell Johnson. Add to that the 2009 recruiting class, some of these players have already been mentioned, but the key is that they're young and both groups will be competing for playing time: Terrance Bullit, Will Ford, Jarvis Phillips and Yahshua Williams. Perhaps the best way to think about this group is that they may not be the most highly rated group, but both the previous coaching staff and the current coaching staff, I think, put an emphasis on athleticism in the secondary and considering the offenses in today's Big 12, this should payoff in the years to come. Not only that, the emphasis on the current staff to stack talented players on top of the former group emphasizes that none of these players should think about taking off plays this fall.

Playmaking Options at Receiver: One of the big questions after the end of the season was that the receiving corps lacked true play-makers at the receiving position. The receivers that received a bulk of the catches were solid, but more times than not, they didn't make anything special happen with the ball once they made the catch. There's a pretty good chance that we were spoiled with Michael Crabtree and his incredible performance, but I'd be lying if I said that I think 2010 will be different. This may be a situation where I'm letting my better judgement get the best of me, but I think it's just a matter of time before both Eric Ward and Cornelius Douglas make names for themselves as play-makers in the Big 12. Watching the both of them during the spring game, you could certainly see that they've got a little extra bit of play-making ability, whether it be making defenders miss or simply being stronger than their defender, I think both of these players have it. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I think that players such as Alexander Torres, Jacoby Franks, Detron Lewis, Austin Zouzalik, Tramain Swindall, etc. can't or won't make plays, but every team needs guys like Ward and Douglas, that can turn a simple pass into a 40 yard reception for a touchdown.

What about you, what gives you hope for the upcoming season?  Have at it in the comments.