SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Texas Tech Red Raiders

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Mike Leach (4th year, 23-16)
2002 record: 9-5 (Beat Clemson 55-15 in Tangerine Bowl)
Big 12 finish: T-3rd (South)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 99.4 ypg
(12th in Big 12, 108th in nation)
Pass: 388.9 ypg (1st, 1st)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 163.9 ypg (8th, 70th)
Pass: 239.6 ypg (9th, 90th)
Projected Starters
Offense (8 returning starters in bold)
WR   86   Mickey Peters   Sr.  
WR   6   Nehemiah Glover   Jr.  
WR   82   Carlos Francis   Sr.  
LT   60   Daniel Loper   Jr.  
LG  63  Manuel Ramirez  Fr. 
C   66   Toby Cecil   Sr.  
RG  64  Cody Campbell  Jr. 
RT   65   Casey Keck   Sr.  
QB  B.J. Symons  Sr. 
FB   19   Taurean Henderson   So.  
HB   27   Wes Welker   Sr.  
Defense (5)
DE   91   Adell Duckett   Jr.  
DT  70  Fred Thrweatt  Fr. 
DT  68  Jeremy Milam  Jr. 
DE  84  Randall Cherry  So. 
SLB   46   Mike Smith   So.  
MLB  35  Geremy Woods  Jr. 
WLB   5   John Saldi   So.  
CB  36  Ivory McCann  So. 
CB  29  Tim Norman  So. 
SS   28   Ryan Aycock   Jr.  
FS   43   Vincent Meeks   Fr.  
Special Teams
37  Ryan Bishop  Jr. 
98  Wich Brenner  So. 
KR  36  Ivory McCann  So. 
PR  27  Wes Welker  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  SMU 
Sept. 6  New Mexico 
Sept. 20  at NC State 
Sept. 27  at Ole Miss 
Oct. 4  Texas A&M 
Oct. 11  Iowa State 
Oct. 18  at Oklahoma State 
Oct. 25  at Missouri 
Nov. 1  Colorado 
Nov. 8  at Baylor 
Nov. 15  at Texas 
Nov. 22  Oklahoma 
Texas Tech enters the 2003 season without much star power. That doesn't mean the Red Raiders will be lacking in firepower.

While most of the big names from last season -- quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, defensive end Aaron Hunt and linebacker Lawrence Flugence -- have moved on, the returning Raiders believe they can continue moving up the Big 12 ladder. Tech returns 13 starters from a team that made its third consecutive bowl appearance, and expectations are approaching an all-time high -- even without some of their all-time leaders.

"There's no question that we have very high expectations," said all-purpose all-star Wes Welker. "We believe we should be in the hunt for the Big 12 South title, and we don't care if anyone else takes us seriously. I love that underdog role."

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Senior B.J. Symons appears ready to pick up where Kingsbury left off. Symons already has gained the confidence of his teammates, and he probably has more arm strength than Kingsbury and comparable mobility. Symons also will benefit from some outstanding skill position players.

Tech has some extremely dangerous running backs who can easily take a handoff or a short pass and make big things happen. Welker is one of the most exciting players in the Big 12. He's listed as a running back, but the elusive Welker is most lethal when catching a short pass and darting into the secondary. Sophomore Taurean Henderson also is a game-breaker, having rushed for 793 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 98 passes for six more scores last season.

In addition to Welker and Henderson out of the backfield, the Raiders return an explosive and talented receiving corps. The trio of Carlos Francis, Mickey Peters and Nehemiah Glover combined to catch 166 passes for 2,054 yards last season. And with three of five starters returning from last season, Tech's offensive line could be one of the better units in the Big 12.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Adell Duckett, a quick and versatile end, leads an inexperienced but talented defensive line. The interior of the defensive front, though, is a concern; two redshirt freshmen emerged from the spring atop the depth chart.

Like Kingsbury on offense, the Raiders must replace their man in the middle on defense. Losing Flugence, the leading tackler in the Big 12, leaves a huge void at middle linebacker, but on the outside, Tech features a pair of all-around tough guys in John Saldi and Mike Smith. Smith had 104 tackles last season and has impressed with his toughness. "He reminds you of a Sam Huff or somebody like that," coach Mike Leach said. "He's mean, tough and ornery -- the kind of guy who would play without a facemask."

Cornerbacks Marcus Boyd and Ivory McCann are relatively inexperienced, but safeties Ryan Aycock and Vincent Meeks are proven playmakers. Aycock, a tremendous tackler, registered 151 stops from his free-safety position last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

No one in the Big 12 is better than Welker at returning punts. The senior has taken six punts back for touchdowns in his career. McCann and Meeks also form a dangerous kickoff combination. The special teams concerns for Tech involve the kicking specialists, as punter Wich Brenner and placekicker Ryan Bishop take over for departed veterans.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Without their all-time leading passer, all-time leading tackler and all-time sack leader, the Raiders may be easy to overlook in the Big 12 South. But if Symons can live up to his teammates' expectations, Tech might not take a step back offensively. Defense, though, is another issue; there are just too many key players to replace.

The nonconference schedule could pose some problems, especially the trips to N.C. State and Ole Miss. And the conference slate, once again, is a beast. This is a quality football team, but the Raiders might struggle to win more than they lose.

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