Coach: Mike Leach (6th season, 39-25) 2004 record: 8-4 (Beat California in Holiday Bowl) Big 12 finish: 5-3 (t-3rd South) 2004 I-A offensive rankings:Rushing: 112th (92.0 ypg) Passing: 1st (399.7 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 77th (175.7 ypg) Passing: 15th (181.3 ypg)
Sam Houston State
at Oklahoma State
Depth Chart: Offense
5 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
7 returning starters in red
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These are good times for Texas Tech football. Fresh off a convincing win over No. 4 California in the 2004 Holiday Bowl, the Red Raiders head into the '05 season with a well-deserved swagger.
Tech finished last season with its highest final ranking in the national polls (17th in the coaches' poll) since 1976. And Tech remains the only Big 12 team that has posted a winning record and been bowl-eligible in each of the nine seasons since the creation of the conference. The Raiders believe they are now capable of upgrading their conference positioning and national perception.
"The way we finished last season, winning four of our last five games and beating the No. 4 team in the nation, put us on the map," said receiver Jarrett Hicks. "Winning games in the Big 12 is our main goal for this year, but we always want to earn the respect nationally. We hope we can keep getting more of it."
Under sixth-year head coach Mike Leach, the Raiders have consistently drawn national attention for their passing game. Tech has led the nation in passing offense in each of the past three seasons with three different quarterbacks. No matter who emerges at quarterback this year, Texas Tech is likely to rack up impressive numbers.
The primary difference, however, between this year's team and the many other middle-of-the-standings squads Tech has fielded in the past could be an improved defense. The Raiders made significant gains defensively, jumping from No. 110 nationally in total defense in '03 to No. 46 in '04. With seven defensive starters back for more in '05, Tech may finally be capable of going from minor-bowl regular to New Year's Day contender.
No matter who emerges as Sonny Cumbie's replacement at quarterback -- Cody Hodges or Graham Harrell -- Texas Tech's passing attack will likely thrive. Under Leach, the Red Raiders always do.
Either quarterback will take advantage of a deep group of skill players. Running back Taurean Henderson's quick feet and outstanding hands make him an extremely dangerous multi-purpose threat. Henderson is the only player in Big 12 history to rush for at least 2,000 yards and amass more than 1,500 receiving yards.
As usual, Tech is loaded with playmaking receivers, led by Hicks, who topped the Big 12 in receiving yards per game last year. The Raiders also return another pair of proven pass-catchers in Cody Fuller and Joel Filani.
The Raiders' offensive line must be rebuilt after losing three starters, but right guard Manny Ramirez is a tremendously strong player who can bench-press 550 pounds. Right tackle E.J. Whitley is also solid, but much of Tech's offensive potential may hinge on the development of potential first-year starters.
The defensive line, with the return of tackles Chris Hudler and Dek Bake and left end Seth Nitschmann, could be imposing. And although he was a reserve last season, junior end Keyunta Dawson led the Raiders in sacks (6.5) and tackles for a loss (nine).
Solid starters also return in outside linebacker John Saldi and middle linebacker Brock Stratton, who combined for 114 tackles last year. But as Tech puts a focus on improving its rushing defense, the concern is how well junior Fletcher Session will fill the shoes of four-year starter Mike Smith.
The Raiders improved 85 spots last year in the national ranking in passing defense, moving from 100th in '03 to 15th. The improvement should continue. Strong safety Vincent Meeks is a big hitter and difference-maker. So is former walk-on Khalid Naziruddin, who tied for the team lead with 83 tackles last year. Junior corner Antonio Huffman is a seasoned veteran.
Tech returns punter Alex Reyes, who averaged 42.2 yards per kick last season, and placekicker Alex Trlica, who converted all 55 of his extra point attempts last season. The most intriguing specialist on the roster, however, is Danny Amendola, who led the Big 12 with an average of 12.8 yards per punt return.
Tech should get off to a fast start with a soft non-conference schedule. If the Raiders can handle an October trip to Nebraska, where the Huskers will be looking to atone for a 60-point loss last season, Tech could be 6-0 heading into a showdown at Texas. The Raiders haven't been undefeated in late October since 1976. But can they survive a closing stretch that includes four bowl opponents in the final five games?