Top 50 Countdown: No. 44 Texas Tech

Coach: Mike Leach | Staff
In 2006: 8-5, 4-4 Big 12; Beat Minnesota 44-41 (OT) in Insight Bowl.
Returning starters: Offense: 4. Defense: 5.
Key losses: WR Joel Filani, WR Jarrett Hicks, WR Robert Johnson, DE Keyunta Dawson, CB Antonio Huffman, P Alex Reyes.
2007 breakdown: Top 10 players | Outlook | Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule

Breaking down the offense

Overview: For the first time since 2001, Mike Leach's Air Raid offense didn't lead the nation in passing. Texas Tech slipped to third behind Hawaii and New Mexico State, which is coached my Leach's old boss, Hal Mumme. Part of the blame could rest on two games against TCU and Colorado where the Raiders were held without a touchdown. Texas Tech will look to reclaim the top spot in that category behind Graham Harrell, the Red Raiders' first returning starting QB since 2002. Count on Texas Tech to have an effective offense, but it will be a little more interesting this year with only one returning lineman and one returning starter at receiver. Co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Sonny Dykes is also gone after taking the offensive coordinator position at Arizona.

TEXAS TECH TOP 10
Graham Harrell will need to adjust to some new targets.

1. QB Graham Harrell
2. G Louis Vasquez
3. WR Michael Crabtree
4. RB Shannon Woods
5. SS Joe Garcia
6. FS Darcel McBath
7. DT Rajon Henley
8. LB Paul Williams
9. WR Danny Amendola
10. K Alex Trlica
Best player: QB Graham Harrell. When your team routinely passes 40 or 50 times per game, the quarterback is always going to take center stage. Harrell, a four-star quarterback in 2004, is the most highly touted quarterback to play in Leach's offense since he arrived in Lubbock. Harrell struggled at times last year, with five interceptions in a two-game span against Missouri and Colorado.

Most overrated: WR Danny Amendola. The senior Amendola has been Texas Tech's primary punt returner and secondary option in the passing game since his freshman year. One of the few senior starters, he'll be counted on for leadership - especially after the departure of Tech's top two receivers. Since averaging 12.8 yards per punt return as a freshman, his average has dropped in each of the last two seasons to 9.2 yards last year.

Most underrated: RB Shannon Woods. Texas Tech has never ranked in the top 100 in rushing offense since Leach arrived in 2000, but that's because of the focus on the passing game. Woods was as effective as a Leach running back can be in 2006, Woods' first season as a starter. He rushed for 926 yards last year, the highest individual total under Leach, while adding 572 receiving yards to lead the Big 12 in all-purpose yards.

Must step up: Receivers L.A. Reed and Edward Britton. With Joel Filani and Robert Johnson gone, Texas Tech has to replace 180 catches, 2,171 yards and 24 touchdowns. And that doesn't count Jarrett Hicks, who played in only six games last year. Either Reed or Britton (who combined for 22 catches for 288 yards and three touchdowns) will have to grab an outside receiver spot for the Tech passing game to continue to put up gaudy numbers.

Shoes to fill: WR Joel Filani. Texas Tech will miss Hicks and Johnson, but Filani has been the most productive with 156 receptions and 2,348 yards over the last two years. Michael Crabtree (see below) will look to match his production.

Impact newcomer: Crabtree. Tech's top signee in the class of 2006 redshirted last year after transitioning from quarterback to receiver. Now, the four-star prospect will be counted on to step in as one outside receiver in the Red Raiders' four-receiver set. He could be an immediate leader in receiving yards in his first full season.

Position battle: Left tackle. The Red Raiders lost four lineman after last year, but filling Glenn January's shoes might be the toughest. Sophomore Marlon Winn and redshirt freshman Chris Olson could compete for the spot. If they can't claim it, Texas Tech might move its only returning starter, Louis Vasquez, from left guard to tackle.

New in 2007: Other than the starting backfield of Harrell and Woods, most of the personnel is new. The receivers and line will undergo a makeover. But this is still Leach's offense, and it should still put up big numbers.

Grade the units:
QB: A-minus. With Harrell returning, we'll find out how good this offense can be behind a two-year starter, something that Lubbock hasn't seen since Kliff Kingsbury in 2001-02.
RB: B. Woods put up Taurean Henderson-like numbers with nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage last year. A healthy Baron Batch should be an effective backup.
WR: B-minus. Danny Amendola is the only returning starting receiver in Leach's offense, which starts four wideouts. Michael Crabtree could be a star immediately.
OL: C. The Red Raiders lose four starters along the line. Texas Tech is expecting big things out of new center Shawn Byrnes

Breaking down the defense

Overview: Texas Tech finished in the top 20 in scoring defense in 2005 but stepped back to 76th in 2006. The Red Raiders lose six starters of that defense, including their only All-Big 12 defender in second-team defensive end Keyunta Dawson. The secondary will be a strength with three returning starters, but it will get a workout with only two returning starters in the front seven.

Best player: SS Joe Garcia. The senior Garcia leads the secondary that will be the strength of the defense. The hard-hitter was second on the team with 87 tackles and led the Big 12's No. 1 pass defense.

Most overrated: LB Kellen Tillman. Tillman will be the oldest of three senior starting linebackers after receiving a sixth year of eligibility following injury-riddled years in 2003-04. With 41 tackles last year, Tillman has shown flashes of solid play but needs to be more consistent.

Most underrated: LB Paul Williams. Williams emerged as a starter late last season and should remain a starter at middle linebacker as a senior. Williams came up with a key third-down sack in the comeback against Minnesota in the Insight Bowl and had 24 tackles in a game against Baylor last season.

Must step up: DT Richard Jones. Jones was used sparingly as a freshman last year. He had just six tackles in 10 games. With both starting tackles gone, the Red Raiders will need more out of the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Jones.

Texas Tech Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 3 at SMU
Sept. 8 UTEP
Sept. 15 at Rice
Sept. 22 at Oklahoma State
Sept. 29 Northwestern State
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 Texas A&M
Oct. 20 at Missouri
Oct. 27 Colorado
Nov. 3 at Baylor
Nov. 10 at Texas
Nov. 17 Oklahoma
Shoes to fill: DE Keyunta Dawson. Dawson was Texas Tech's only All-Big 12 defensive player last year after finishing with 63 tackles and six sacks. Jake Ratliff returns at one end spot. Taking over for Dawson will be Brandon Williams, who had 3.5 sacks as a true freshman last year, or senior Tyler Yenzer

Impact newcomer: CB De'Shon Sanders. Sanders participated in spring drills after transferring from City College of San Francisco and quickly earned a spot as a backup cornerback in Texas Tech's veteran secondary.

Position battle: Weakside linebacker. Texas Tech expected senior Chad Hill to start in this spot, but he missed spring practice while recovering from a hip injury. Marlon Williams impressed coaches by running with the first-team in Hill's absence. He will put pressure on Hill this fall.

Grade the units:
DL: C-plus. Lost three starters off a unit that ranked 86th in run defense.
LB: B-minus. Could be a veteran unit with three seniors projected to start.
DB: B-plus. Strength of the defense with three returning starters including safeties Joe Garcia and Darcel McBath.

Breaking down the special teams

Overview: Texas Tech's special teams will be led by kicker Alex Trlica and punt returner Danny Amendola. The Red Raiders, though, will have to replace punter Alex Reyes, who averaged a school-record 43.3 yards per punt in his career.

Best player: Trlica. With how much Texas Tech scores, Trlica has plenty of opportunities for extra points. The senior has made a record 166 consecutive PATs. He was an unspectacular 15 of 21 on field goals.

Grade the units:
K: A. Trlica has an opportunity to shatter the consecutive PAT record this year. He also kicked a 52-yard field goal in overtime to win the bowl game.
P: Incomplete. Alex Reyes is out, but the Red Raiders used a scholarship on true freshman Jonathan Lacour to replace him.
KR: D. Eric Morris and L.A. Reed will likely take over this year after Tech was second-to-last in the country with 15.9 yards per return.
PR: B-minus. Amendola has averaged more than 10 yards per return in his career, but his average has dipped each of the last three years.

Breaking down the coaching

Overview: The Air Raid offense always makes Texas Tech a difficult opponent on a weekly basis. As Minnesota found out in the Insight Bowl, Tech's offense also makes a big comeback possible. The Red Raiders shuffled their offensive staff this year with Sonny Dykes and Bill Bedenbaugh leaving for Arizona. Dana Holgorsen assumed full offensive coordinator duties while former Troy coach Matt Moore joined the staff as offensive line coach.

Season outlook with bowl forecast
Texas Tech should continue its bowl streak this year, but the defense has too many holes for the Red Raiders to be a Big 12 South contender. The Red Raiders could win seven or eight games while going to a second-tier Big 12 bowl such as the Texas or Alamo.
Grade the coaches:
Head coach: B. Mike Leach has turned Texas Tech into a perennial bowl team, leading the Red Raiders to seven consecutive postseason appearances. The unconventional nature of the offense makes Tech good for one upset a year (see: at Texas A&M in 2006), but it can't always save the Red Raiders if overmatched defensively.
Offense: A. Call it a down year for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were only third in passing offense last year.
Defense: C-. Texas Tech's defense can be the team's weak link. Lyle Setencich has sent prominent players to the NFL in previous stops, but none at Texas Tech.

Special teams: B-plus: Texas Tech's special teams have been above average in recent years with kicker Alex Trlica, punter Alex Reyes and punt returner Danny Amendola.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 50. Coming tomorrow: No. 43.


 

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