March 11, 2009

Texas Tech turns to Potts to lead offense

Given the chance, Texas Tech's Taylor Potts would climb on the back of a snorting, ornery Brahma bull and try to ride it for eight seconds.

"That would be an adrenaline rush," said Potts, a native Texan who plans to spend spring break at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. "I'd love to do that at some point in my life, probably because it's something not many people can do."

Not many people can lead college football in passing, either. But Potts probably will next fall. Red Raiders quarterbacks almost always do.

In eight of the past nine seasons a Texas Tech quarterback led the nation in passing. In 2006, Graham Harrell was second.

That's a trend Potts hopes not to buck when he follows Harrell as the Red Raiders' next starting quarterback. After all, leading the nation is what Texas Tech quarterbacks are supposed to do.

"It definitely is," said Potts, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior-to-be. "The worst quarterbacks that have come through here in the last eight or nine years all led the nation in passing. If you do the right things, work hard, pay attention and do what Coach [Mike Leach] says, you'll be able to put up those kind of numbers.

"I'm not saying you just sit back and let the system work for itself, but if you work hard you can definitely get results."

That's no bull.

Kliff Kingsbury, B.J. Symons and Harrell won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the nation's top passer and all got into the Heisman discussion during their senior seasons.

Harrell left Texas Tech with a NCAA-record 134 career touchdown passes and the distinction of being the first NCAA player to pass for 5,000 yards in multiple seasons.

Losing a player of that caliber along with All-America wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who opted for early entry into the NFL draft would seem to suggest a decline in the passing game.

Leach isn't too concerned.

"We'll have a real good quarterback," he said. "Our receiving corps will be good. Most of our receivers are back a year older and a year better. Taylor Potts is the front-runner and he'll do a good job. He's a strong kid that has played well for us."

He just hasn't played much.

Backing up Harrell for two seasons didn't allow Potts much opportunity to get on the field. Last season, he completed 64 percent of his passes. That equated to 23-of-36 for 260 yards and two touchdowns roughly the equivalent of a good half for a Tech starter.

Potts will compete with Seth Doege for the starting job. The word in Lubbock in that Doege might be more talented than even Harrell, but he hasn't taken a game snap in three years. Knee injuries thwarted his junior and senior seasons in high school, and he redshirted last season at Tech.

Potts has the advantage of having already spent three years learning Leach's complex system.

"To pick up the system, you have to be dedicated and learn something every day," Potts said. "You can't pick it up in one day or one week or one month. It comes to you over time. It's a process that takes a while to master, and by no means have I mastered it. But waiting this long has paid off."

Potts hopes to reap the dividends this spring and win the job. He said he's approaching spring practice with a basic goal in mind. "I want to get better every single day," he said. "Don't slow down, don't relax and don't feel I've accomplished anything."

The Red Raiders accomplished quite a bit last season. They posted 11 victories for only the second time in school history and were ranked as high as No. 2. Even though the offensive line must be rebuilt and Harrell and Crabtree have departed, there remains an air of confidence in Lubbock because the majority of the defense returns, as do three wide receivers who had at least 36 catches last season.

And, of course, there is the assumption that Potts will lead the nation in passing.

"It's going to be really hard considering how tough the Big 12 South is," Potts said. "Every single Saturday, we'll have to be on top of our game. It was a special season for us last year. We feel we can have a better one this year."

It should be a wild ride, and Potts is just itching to get on.


Applause for Fitzgerald

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and several other coaches on his staff will shave their heads today to support the St. Baldrick's Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises money for childhood cancer research.


Second thoughts

Chants of "We're No. 2" are never heard. But in some instances, runner-up status can be acceptable, if not embraced.

In almost every state, there is a clear-cut elite college football program. It may fall victim to an upset on occasion, but year-in and year-out, it dominates in-state recruiting and on-field competition.

Usurping power from that program is a tough task. Indeed, in many cases, in-state rivals often begrudgingly accept said program's place at the top of the state's football caste system. In that case, No. 2 is a worthwhile aspiration. At least, then you can taunt everyone else in the state.

Here's a look at the caste systems in states with at least three Football Bowl Subdivision programs, with the past four seasons used as a guideline to make the cases.

ALABAMA
Top program: Alabama
No. 2: Auburn
Can make an argument: Neither Troy nor UAB
CALIFORNIA
Top program: USC
No. 2: California
Can make an argument: UCLA is 2-2 against Cal over the past four seasons, but Cal spanked the Bruins 41-20 in '08
COLORADO
Top program: Colorado
No. 2: Air Force
Can make an argument: Air Force has posted back-to-back winning seasons, while Colorado has endured three consecutive losing years. However, the Falcons don't face the Big 12 grind Colorado does. By the way, both teams beat Colorado State by the same score, 38-17, last season.
FLORIDA
Top program: Florida
No. 2: Florida State
Can make an argument: Over the past four seasons, USF has posted more wins than any in-state program except Florida.
ILLINOIS
Top program: Northwestern
No. 2: Illinois
Can make an argument: None. The only debate is for No. 1, but Northwestern has beaten Illinois five of the past six seasons.
INDIANA
Top program: Notre Dame
No. 2: Purdue
Can make an argument: Last season Ball State posted more wins (12) than Purdue and Indiana combined (seven). But that was in the MAC. And now quarterback Nate Davis and coach Brady Hoke are gone.
KENTUCKY
Top program: Kentucky
No. 2: Louisville
Can make an argument: None.
LOUISIANA
Top program: LSU
No. 2: Louisiana Tech
Can make an argument: Louisiana-Monroe did upset Alabama in '07 but hasn't posted a winning record as an FBS program.
MICHIGAN
Top program: Michigan
No. 2: Michigan State
Can make an argument: Central Michigan has 32 wins over the past four seasons, but has struggled against the Big Ten.
MISSISSIPPI
Top program: Ole Miss
No. 2: Southern Miss
Can make an argument: In the past four seasons Southern Miss has 11 more victories than Ole Miss and 12 more than Mississippi State and hasn't had a losing season. But the Golden Eagles have no wins against SEC opponents.
NORTH CAROLINA
Top program: Wake Forest
No. 2: North Carolina
Can make an argument: North Carolina State has a two-game winning streak against the Tar Heels and beat every other in-state team last season. Of the in-state schools, East Carolina trails only Wake Forest in victories since 2005 and is 3-3 against in-state teams.
NEW YORK
Top program: We'll say Syracuse in an ugly pageant.
No. 2: Buffalo
Can make an argument: Has Army really fallen below Buffalo? Well, the Black Knights lost to the Bulls last season, so that question is answered.
OHIO
Top program: Ohio State
No. 2: Cincinnati
Can make an argument: None. In the past four seasons Cincinnati is 4-1 against Ohio teams other than Ohio State.
OKLAHOMA
Top program: Oklahoma
No. 2: Oklahoma State
Can make an argument: Tulsa has posted 38 victories since 2005. But none have come against "Big Six" conference opponents.
PENNSYLVANIA
Top program: Penn State
No. 2: Pittsburgh
Can make an argument: Temple can't even claim to be No. 2 in basketball anymore.
TENNESSEE
Top program: Tennessee
No. 2: Vanderbilt
Can make an argument: Middle Tennessee beat Vandy in '05 and Memphis in '07. But the Blue Raiders have had three losing records in the past four seasons despite playing in the Sun Belt Conference.
Texas
Top program: Texas
No. 2: Texas Tech
Can make an argument: TCU has posted more victories since 2005 than any team in the state except Texas. That includes a victory over Texas Tech in 2007.
Utah
Top program: Utah
No. 2: BYU
Can make an argument: Lowly Utah State won't argue. But BYU could make a case for being the top program. The Cougars are 38-13 over the past four seasons compared to Utah's 37-14. But last season's 13-0 record makes a powerful statement for the Utes.


On the Edge

Each week, we'll match up two teams to determine which has the edge in various categories. Got a match up you want to see? Or have you compiled one? Send it to olin@rivals.com and we'll post it.

This week, it's Alabama and Notre Dame.

1. Head-to-head matchups
Notre Dame leads the series 5-1
Edge: Notre Dame
2. Iconic former football coach
Alabama: Bear Bryant; Notre Dame: Knute Rockne
Edge: Alabama. Bryant posted 232 career victories and six consensus national championships. Rockne posted 105 victories and had five undefeated teams in 13 seasons.
3. Equestrian-inspired nickname
Alabama: Johnny "The Italian Stallion" Musso. Notre Dame: The Four Horsemen
Edge: Notre Dame (Four trumps one)
4. Local restaurant for pre- or post-game meal
Alabama: Dreamland Barbecue; Notre Dame: MaCri's Deli
Edge: Alabama (big). Dreamland's ribs come highly recommended.
5. Local tourist attraction
Alabama: Bear Bryant Museum; Notre Dame: College Football Hall of Fame
Edge: Notre Dame (Bryant is included there, too).
6. Famous sportscaster
Alabama: Mel Allen; Notre Dame: Don Criqui
Edge: Alabama (Allen hosted "This Week in Baseball" and his catch phrase "How about that!" was legendary)
7. Cinematic football hero
Alabama: Forrest Gump; Notre Dame: Rudy
Edge: Alabama (Gump was an All-American, Rudy made one tackle)
8. Old sitcom actors
Alabama: Jim "Gomer Pyle" Nabors; Notre Dame: George "Norm from Cheers" Wendt
Edge: Notre Dame. No surprise, surprise, surprise here. "Cheers" had a longer run.
9. Pulitzer Prize-winning authors
Alabama: Harper Lee ("To Kill a Mockingbird"); Notre Dame: Edwin O'Connor ("The Last Hurrah")
Edge: Alabama. (Hey, I read "To Kill a Mockingbird.")
10. Super Bowl-winning quarterback(s)
Notre Dame: Joe Montana, Joe Theismann; Alabama: Bart Starr, Ken Stabler, Joe Namath
Edge: Notre Dame. Alabama has more quarterbacks, but Notre Dame's won more Super Bowls.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.




 

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