5 Players To Watch
Michael Carter (CB, Minnesota, Sr.). A part-time contributor for three seasons, Carter has made the most of extensive playing time this season; the senior from Pompano Beach, Florida, picked off two passes and broke up 14 others. He almost single-handedly defeated Purdue on October 27; he logged 5.5 tackles, returned an interception for a touchdown and broke up six other passes in a 44-28 win. Texas Tech basically has two No. 1 receivers, and it is unclear which he will spend most of his time battling, but this late bloomer should expect to hold his own. That might -- might -- go for Minnesota's defense as a whole, too. It is a Gopher strength. Of course, throwing is also a Tech strength.
Seth Doege (QB, Texas Tech, Sr.). After a bit of a glitch during Tommy Tuberville's first season as Tech head coach, the Red Raiders' passing game has continued clicking after Mike Leach's departure. It is once again a Top 25 unit in 2012, and Doege's ability to run the show is as solid as that of most Leach quarterbacks. In 2012, Doege completed 70 percent of his passes for 330 yards per game and threw 38 for touchdowns to 14 interceptions. Tech struggled to stand out in the Big 12, a league full of explosive pass offenses, but it is still a top-notch unit, one that, according to Off. F/+, would have been the third-best in the Big Ten, behind just Ohio State and Michigan.
Kerry Hyder (DT, Texas Tech, Jr.). The Tech defense is mediocre overall but still holds an advantages over an iffy (at best) Minnesota run game. The Gophers want to run frequently, but they aren't very good at it, and a nice set of Tech playmakers led by Hyder (13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, four passes broken up), a 280-pounder from Austin, could put Minnesota in a lot of second- or third-and-long situations.
Darric Moard (WR, Texas Tech, Jr. and Sr.). Okay, fine, this is two guys: junior Darrin Moore (948 yards, 8.5 per target, 72 percent catch rate, 13 touchdowns) and senior Eric Ward (974 yards, 68 percent catch rate, 8.9 per target, 11 touchdowns). But it is almost impossible to differentiate between the two of them, so we'll count them as one singular, fantastic receiver who catches, on average, about 13 of 19 passes in a given game for about 161 yards and two or three touchdowns. Whoever is the No. 2 receiver here is just about the best No. 2 receiver in college football. Carter will be assigned to one of them. The other should have a significant advantage over whichever Minnesota defender is battling them.
Philip Nelson (QB, Minnesota, Fr.). Basically unsettled since Adam Weber left in 2010, the quarterback position for Minnesota could be in pretty good hands for the foreseeable future thanks to Nelson, who was far from spectacular in six starts but at least held his own as a freshman. In his first four games, he completed 56 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and two interceptions, and he torched Purdue. He faded dramatically against Nebraska and Michigan State (18-for-46 with five picks), but Tech doesn't have Nebraska's or Michigan State's pass defense. With a decent run game and the good version of Nelson, Minnesota could move the ball and keep up on the scoreboard. But neither the run game, nor the good Nelson, are guaranteed.
4 Reasons To Watch
1. Because this might happen again.
2. Texas Tech isn't boring. The Red Raiders score 38 points per game and allow 32, and their games typically feature about 900 combined yards of offense. They have scored at least 40 points seven times and allowed at least 34 six times. Granted, this is in the Big 12, where such output is customary, but Tech also has played in some exciting games. They lost to Baylor in overtime, beat Kansas in double overtime and beat TCU in triple overtime. Tech is a superior team, overall, to Minnesota, but Minnesota is better than Kansas, right?
3. How is the Big Ten going to fare in bowls this year? The Big Ten has basically the best, and worst, set of bowl affiliations in the country. It ensures both that the conference will make all sorts of money, and that almost every one of its teams will be bowl underdogs. This year, with two of its best teams (Ohio State and Penn State) ineligible for the postseason, it is even worse. The Gophers are 13-point underdogs versus Tech, Purdue is a 16.5-point underdog to Oklahoma State, Nebraska is a 10-point underdog to Georgia, Wisconsin is a 6.5-point underdog to Stanford, Michigan is a 5.5-point underdog to South Carolina, Michigan State is a 2.5-point underdog to TCU, and Northwestern is a one-point underdog to Mississippi State. Obviously those games are unrelated to each other, and Minnesota over- or underachieving in Texas will not have a direct impact on how, say, Nebraska fares versus Georgia. But this game will start the B1G narrative one way or another.
4. Bonus football. Bonus football!
3 Key Factors
1. Can the Minnesota D get off the field? To no one's surprise, Texas Tech is very pass-happy once again this year, rushing just 43 percent of the time on standard downs (121st in the country) and 29 percent on passing downs (89th). One advantage to this approach is that you have plenty of passing downs plays in the playbook, right? Tech ranks 18th in Passing Downs S&P+ and could negate one of Minnesota's greater 2012 strengths: the ability to end drives once it has forced its opponent behind schedule. If Tech is picking up 7-8 yards on second-and-10 or regularly converting third-and-7, Minnesota probably doesn't have much of a chance in this one.
2. Can the Gophers establish the run? Again, the Gophers want to run. They rush 69 percent of the time on standard downs (17th) and 35 percent on passing downs (47th), but they simply aren't very good at it. They rank just 85th in Rushing S&P+, and sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood averaged just 4.3 yards per carry and Nelson chips in with 3.8 per carry in about nine totes per game. Run defense, meanwhile, is a relative Tech strength. If Kirkwood cannot get going ... if Nelson is forced to throw frequently on second- or third-and-long to a no-name receiving corps (injured No. 1 A.J. Barker has announced his transfer, and No. 6 receiver Andre McDonald is suspended, leaving basically Isaac Fruechte and former quarterback MarQueis Gray, who have combined for a 46 percent catch rate in 2012) ... then it is unclear how Minnesota will score, or at least how they will score frequently enough to keep up with Texas Tech.
3. Tech vs. the Hangover. As with so many other bowl teams, Tech is trotting onto the field with an interim coach. Tommy Tuberville has left for Cincinnati, and Kliff Kingsbury is ready to take over, but in the meantime, offensive line coach Chris Thomsen is in charge, with interim offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie (like Kingsbury, a former Leach quarterback) calling the plays. You never know in advance whether this results in a "Win it for Coach!" attitude or a completely lackluster effort. If Tech brings its A-game, the Red Raiders win, period. But if they don't ... and if Minnesota is in Rally Mode to start 2013 in the right fashion ... this could be an excellent ballgame.
F/+ Pick: Tech by 14.9.
Bill's Pick: Tech by 13. I could see Minnesota hanging around for a while, and I could see Tech playing distracted for a while. But not for 60 minutes.
1 Shutdown Fullback
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