OVERVIEW: For years Texas Tech was synonymous with high-scoring offense, but last season, the first for coach Tommy Tuberville, the Red Raiders were held to fewer than 20 points in three games. That had not happened since 2005. Tech still averaged more than 30 points per game and ranked among the nation's top 25 in scoring offense. But the Red Raiders are replacing last season's leading passer, rusher and receiver, who all completed their eligibility.
AN INSIDE LOOK
THE LINGERING QUESTION: Can Tech's secondary effectively cover the top receivers in the Big 12? The Big 12 always seems to be filled with elite receivers, so Tech isn't likely to be a championship contender until it can neutralize them. Perhaps the switch to a 4-2-5 base scheme will enable to Red Raiders to more effectively cover the likes of Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and A&M's Jeff Fuller. Last season, that trio combined for 29 catches for 497 yards and six touchdowns against Tech.
THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO: New QB Seth Doege proves to be as good as anticipated and JC transfer Leon Mackey adds muscle to the pass rush. The defense makes dramatic improvement under new coordinator Chad Glasgow and doesn't give up as many big passing plays. If that all comes together, Tech should be able to take advantage of its underrated home-field advantage, pick up an upset on the road and post nine victories. With luck, the Red Raiders could even reach 10.
THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The defense doesn't make a drastic turnaround and Big 12 rivals continue to pass at will. In addition, the undependable kicking game becomes a liability in close contests. Tech continues a troublesome trend of losing at least one game it's expected to win, and as a result, the Red Raiders take a step back and manage only seven wins. The favorable schedule should ensure they will at least qualify for a bowl, though.
STAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: For years, the running game was an afterthought at Tech. Last season, the Red Raiders averaged 141.3 rushing yards per game. That may not sound like much, but it was an increase of more than 53 yards per game from '09 and was Tech's highest rushing average in a decade. Under Tommy Tuberville, that number figures to keep climbing as the Red Raiders' offense becomes more balanced.
BACKFIELD: Junior Seth Doege aims to continue Tech's trend of productive quarterbacks. Though he only has thrown 65 passes in his college career, expectations are high because of Doege's arm and his athleticism. Junior RB Eric Stephens has breakaway speed and gained nearly 700 yards last season in a backup role. He'll get more chances as the starter in 2011. Aaron Crawford provides a power element to complement Stephens.
RECEIVERS: The top two receivers from 2010 are gone, but the Raiders still have three receivers who had more than 30 receptions. Junior Alex Torres has 109 career receptions, and Tramain Swindall and Austin Zouzalik also are proven commodities. Former JC transfer Darrin Moore should make a bigger impact in his second season in the program. JC transfer Marcus Kennard and redshirt freshman Eric Ward also are expected to make significant contributions.
LINE: All five starters from 2010 are back, led by G Lonnie Edwards, a masher with NFL potential. Ts LaAdrian Waddle and Mickey Okafor bookend a line that allowed just 21 sacks in 638 passing attempts (one out of 30). The line struggled early in 2010, but made marked improvement as the season progressed and figures to continue performing at a high level.
OVERVIEW: Here's all you need to know about the Red Raiders defense in 2010: Iowa State was 97th in the nation in scoring offense, but put up 52 on Tech. Yikes. The Raiders were soft against the run, worse in coverage and had a so-so pass rush. New coordinator Chad Glasgow was brought in from TCU - where he had been safeties coach - to install a 4-2-5 scheme and hopefully build a defense similar to those in Fort Worth. Several newcomers need to make an immediate impact.
LINE: Two new arrivals and one holdover who hasn't played much need to boost the defensive front. E Scott Smith posted three sacks in four games last season, but was suspended for eight games. He'll miss the first four games of this season, too. JC transfers Dennell Wesley at nose tackle and Leon Mackey at end could make the Tech line considerably better right away.
LINEBACKERS: There isn't much experience here. Sophomore Cqulin Hubert had a strong spring and heads into fall camp as a starter at inside linebacker. True freshman Blake Dees - an Alabama native - also had a strong spring. He isn't expected to start ahead of Hubert, but does figure to get ample playing time. Meanwhile, sophomore Daniel Cobb, a converted safety, tops the depth chart on the strongside. Zach Winbush, another sophomore and converted safety, is challenging Cobb.
SECONDARY: Only an extended drought would cause more angst on the South Plains than Tech's defensive backfield. The Red Raiders were 118th in the nation in pass defense and allowed 28 touchdown passes last season. In all, 10 defensive backs started at least once last season; seven return, and five of those started at least seven games. Although Tech should be sound at safety, the cornerbacks are a major concern. Sophomores Derrick Mays, a converted wide receiver, and Tre' Porter will be looked upon to upgrade that position. Cody Davis is a physical junior who will be a third-year starter at safety. The Red Raiders are high on the potential of sophomore safety Terrance Bullitt, whose older brother, Melvin, plays for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.
Nobody doubts the leg strength of K Donnie Carona. He's converted from 52 yards. The concern is his accuracy. He's just 5-of-13 in his career, though many of his misses were from beyond 50 yards. P Ryan Erxleben averaged 40.8 yards per attempt in '09, but redshirted last season. He is the son of former Texas and NFL K Russell Erxleben. The return teams are strong. Stephens already holds the school record for kickoff-return yardage and Zouzalik is sure-handed and reliable on punts. The coverage teams were effective last season.
THE RECRUITING SIDE
Average national ranking past five years: 33rd
Buzz: Though assistant Robert Prunty may not have been a big splash hire at the time (he had been coach at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.), he paid huge dividends in his first year in the college game. Named Rivals.com Big 12 Recruiter of the Year, Prunty recruited nationally for Texas Tech. He was credited with 10 of the Red Raiders' 30 signees, including Rivals100 DE Delvon Simmons out of Pennsylvania. Simmons is the highest-ranked defensive recruit to ever sign with Texas Tech. Prunty is off to another strong start in 2012, recently receiving a pledge from Rivals250 prospect Michael Starts, beating the likes of Texas, Texas A&M and Auburn for Starts' commitment. - BRIAN PERRONI
Mackey has the ability to give a huge boost to Tech's lackluster pass rush. A four-star prospect, he originally signed with Virginia Tech out of high school, but ended up at Hinds CC (Miss.). After his career there, he surprised many by selecting Texas Tech over Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Texas Tech faces the unenviable task of traveling to Norman and Austin, a double-dip it never has had before. On the plus side, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M must visit Lubbock. And, once again, the non-conference slate is soft - Texas State, New Mexico and Nevada; this is the sixth season in a row that Tech isn't playing a Big Six school in non-conference action. A Sept. 10 bye means the Red Raiders will play 11 consecutive weeks to close the season.
Tommy Tuberville's first season in Lubbock produced an 8-5 record. This season, the Red Raiders hope to make progress behind Doege. The Red Raiders have a legitimate shot at topping last season's win total, but questions on defense and special teams and a tendency for at least one unexpected loss a year make it unlikely the Red Raiders can wrest a conference championship away from the top Big 12 contenders.