Texas Tech Red Raiders (2000: 7-6)
The following team preview is provided by Blue Ribbon. For the nation's most comprehensive look at this and all Division I-A teams, be sure to order the 2001 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, on sale now at 1-800-775-2518.
Coach and programTech got the college hoops world to take notice by hiring Bob Knight. Lubbock figures to be on the itinerary of more than a few national writers. What Mike Leach and the football Red Raiders must hope is that they’ll play well enough to piggyback on some of that media attention.
“I’d just say to all the fans who are itching for basketball to start that they’re going to have a fun fall, too,’’ junior quarterback Kliff Kingsbury said. “We’re going to put on a good show for them. We’re capable of generating plenty of excitement on the football field, too.’’
Leach’s first season didn’t generate quite the excitement that Myers and the school leaders hoped. Sure, Tech finished with a 7-5 regular-season record that earned a bid to the inaugural galleryfurniture.com Bowl (which wound up as a 40-34 loss to East Carolina of Conference USA).
Known as a Mad Professor of the passing game, Leach wasn’t able to get the Red Raiders moving the ball like he had done in offensive coordinator stops at Kentucky and Oklahoma. Tech averaged 296 yards passing per game and averaged 25.3 points per game. But the 2001 season was disjointed because of a poor running game and inconsistencies on the offensive line. Plus, Kingsbury struggled to master Leach’s complicated playbook.
Tech’s defense was the team’s strength last season. In seven victories, the Red Raiders had three shutouts and allowed a total of 26 points in three of the other four victories (the only Tech victory in a shootout was a 45-39 decision over Kansas). However, in the team’s six losses, Tech allowed 33, 56, 28, 29, 28 and 40 points.
“The first two years I was here, we lost games we shouldn’t have,’’ said senior strong safety Kevin Curtis, an All-America candidate. “Last year, we beat the teams we were supposed to, but we didn’t beat any of the better teams. This year we have to do it and put it all together. This up and down stuff won’t cut.’’
OffenseLast season, his first as a starter, Kingsbury not only attempted 585 passes in Leach’s fling-and-wing offense, he was sacked 30 times. All of that action during a 13-game season caused him to lose more than 12 pounds. By season’s end, he was down to 188 pounds on his 6-4 frame.
This season, Kingsbury hopes to open the season weighing closer to 220 pounds. Sure, he’s hitting the weight room. But he’s also trying to eat like an offensive lineman. During the off-season he ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich between meals and tried to eat four meals a day.
As long as the pounds don’t slow him down, Kingsbury should benefit from his continued exposure to Leach’s system. Last season, Kingsbury completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 3,418 yards, 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Last season, the injury-plagued Ricky Williams gained 421 yards on 127 carries with 52 carries for 228 yards. However, he did not have the old explosiveness that made him a 1,000-yard rusher as a sophomore in 1998.
In the spring, a healthy and heavier (an extra 10 pounds) Williams had 25 carries for 143 yards in three scrimmages. The old Ricky Williams appears to be back.
“He’s in better shape, and he’s healthier,’’ Leach said. ‘‘You can tell he’s quicker than he was.’’
Last season, Texas A&M had the Big 12’s leading receiver in Robert Ferguson, who was in his first season at the Division I-A level after spending two seasons playing junior college ball.
Texas Tech thinks it has this season’s version of Ferguson -- a receiver capable of leading the league in receptions -- in junior Anton Paige (6-5, 205). Paige was able to join Texas Tech for spring practice and took over as the starter at flanker.
Leach said that Wes Welker (5-9, 185) was "one of the best true freshmen in the country" last season. He’s listed as the starting inside wide receiver. Last season, he had 26 catches for 334 yards.
Defense and special teamsJunior tackle Robert Wyatt (6-1, 305) could step up to become an all-conference caliber player. However, he missed spring practice to recover from a knee injury.
The talent and depth of the defensive line should be improved by the return of sophomore Lamont Anderson (6-1, 283). He suffered a broken leg last September. Anderson is an effective run stopper.
Junior Laurence Flugence (6-1, 240) had an outstanding season. His 156 tackles led the Big 12 in tackles. As evidenced by his statistics, he is a sure tackler who usually gets his man.
Senior Curtis (6-2, 209) was second on the team in tackles last season with 121. He considered declaring himself eligible for the NFL draft, but his decision to return for this season solidified a young secondary. Curtis plays strong safety with a nose for the ball.
Welker and Carlos Francis (5-9, 188), both sophomore wide receivers, should handle the return duties. Welker averaged 12.6 yards on 28 punt returns and had two punt returns for touchdowns.
Bottom lineWith another year to absorb the offensive system, Tech should be more explosive offensively -- especially if Ricky Williams returns to the form he showed as a sophomore in 1998. However, there are lingering doubts about Kingsbury’s ability to make the kinds of reads and throws necessary to make Leach’s offense work.
Last season, all seven of Tech’s victories came against teams that failed to play in bowl games, while all six of its losses came to bowl teams. It will be a major disappointment if Tech doesn’t find a way to win six games and qualify for another bowl trip. Progress, though, would be moving up the Big 12’s bowl list by winning seven or eight games. If the defensive holes can be plugged and the defense plays like it did last year, then Tech might be able to pull an upset or two and move up in the world.