Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
Perhaps the best season in Texas Tech history has passed. Now, how do the Red Raiders build on an 11-win year without All-America quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree?
It might seem strange – isn't that status quo for a Mike Leach-coached team? – but the talk in Lubbock is that the Red Raiders don't figure to decline much, if at all.
The defense returns largely intact, and a group of skilled and experienced receivers return, too. There is some question regarding the quarterback situation with Harrell gone. But Texas Tech has a history of plugging in new QBs who go on to lead the nation in passing. Why should '09 be any different?
Here's a look at the Red Raiders as they begin spring drills.
texas tech AT-A-GLANCE
Mike Leach has to rebuild his offense again at Texas Tech.
Coach: Mike Leach Last season: 11-2, 7-1 Big 12. Lost to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl.
Spring dates: March 25-April 20. The spring game is April 18.
Although it might seem strange for pass-oriented Texas Tech, the Red Raiders are strong at running back. Leading rusher Baron Batch returns after gaining 758 yards and averaging 6.7 yards per carry a year ago. He'll pair with highly regarded redshirt freshman Harrison Jeffers, a four-star prospect in 2008. All three starting linebackers are back.
Help is needed
The Red Raiders' entire two-deep at safety was depleted by the completion of eligibility, so new players must establish themselves this spring. Junior Franklin Mitchem, who posted 15 tackles and forced two fumbles in '08, and redshirt freshman Cody Davis are expected to fill those spots. Running back-turned-cornerback Jared Flannel may move over to compete for a starting job at safety. The Red Raiders need a new quarterback and a new go-to receiver.
Keep an eye on
WR Tramain Swindall: Even though he had limited opportunities in a backup role, Swindall still managed 42 receptions. His role – and his stats – figures to increase substantially this season as a sophomore.
LB Sam Fehoko: Teammates have dubbed Fehoko, a sophomore, "The Hawaiian Hitman" because of his physical style of play. The Red Raiders return all their starting linebackers, but because of Fehoko's aptitude and attitude, he figures to get playing time. He will challenge to take away a starter's job this spring.
T/G Mickey Okafor: Three jobs are open on the offensive line, and Okafor – a 6-foot-7, 326-pound sophomore – will take over one of them. Obviously physically imposing, Okafor has bided his time behind All-Big 12 selections Rylan Reed at tackle and Louis Vasquez at guard and is ready to step into the starting lineup.
His time is now
In two seasons, defensive end Brandon Sharpe has posted just five tackles. At least part of the reason for his modest production is that he was playing behind players such as Brandon Williams, who led the Big 12 with 13 sacks last season. Williams left early for the NFL, so there is a chance for Sharpe to make a greater contribution. He's a senior, so it's his last chance.
A close eye will be on the quarterback position this fall. The record-setting Harrell, a three-year starter, is gone. Taylor Potts is ready to step into the lineup, though he'll have to beat out talented redshirt freshman Seth Doege, who hasn't played for three seasons because of injuries. Potts has the strongest arm of any quarterback under Leach, but he has to show he can make good decisions and accurate throws. Trends show the new quarterback likely will lead the nation in passing next season. Tech's quarterback has led the nation in passing in eight of the past nine seasons.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.