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1. The same, with attitude
In 2012, Texas Tech started 6-1, lost four of five, won its bowl game, finished 8-5, and carried an F/+ ranking of 45th.
In 2013, Texas Tech started 7-0, lost five in a row, won its bowl game, finished 8-5, and carried an F/+ ranking of 43rd.
But it felt different, didn't it? Tommy Tuberville's three years in charge at Tech were neither bad nor terrible; the Red Raiders went 21-17 but couldn't shake the stench of the end of the Mike Leach era. But getting a fresh start, with freshman quarterbacks and basically a freshman head coach, then treading water? That had to feel pretty good.
I wrote last year that the fun left Lubbock when Leach did, and while it wasn't necessarily Tuberville's fault, he didn't win quite enough to end the bad feelings. And Kingsbury quickly got all sorts of benefit-of-the-doubt.
Safe to say the new guy has already been accepted with open arms, and he hasn't even coached a game yet. When Tuberville left for Cincy, Tech replaced him with Kliff Kingsbury, former Red Raiders quarterback and, as of last year, star offensive coordinator for Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Kingsbury played under Leach, studied under Dana Holgorsen and Kevin Sumlin, and comes back to Lubbock with all of the buzz and prowess you could hope for from a coach who won't turn 34 years old until right before the coming season starts.
And he's fun. Score-a-lot-of-points-and-slap-your-boss-on-the-ass fun. That can't hurt.
You never, ever know how an assistant will handle life with the big whistle around his neck, but one has to assume that Kingsbury will be given quite a bit of leeway in ways that Tuberville was not. This wasn't a "Yeah, we screwed up" hire -- this wasn't Auburn hiring Gus Malzahn -- but the fact that Tech managed to hire a hot, young assistant whose presence also mends some fences that had gone up between Tech fans and Tech administrators was certainly a best-of-all-worlds situation. Now we just have to see if he can coach.
A year later, we still don't really know if Kingsbury can coach.
In the regular season, his Red Raiders went 7-0 against teams ranked 44th or worse and 0-5 against teams ranked higher. He aced his first bowl game exam -- Tech plowed through an Arizona State team that didn't expect to get punched in the mouth -- and that put a happy spin on the season. Plus, he's recruiting well; he's a factor in the transfers market, and he's scored commits from a couple of big-time 2015 recruits.
Still, he really hasn't yet done much that Tuberville didn't. He's still got some proving to do.
2. Win just enough not to disrupt the future
Recruiting causes an odd delay between perceived future success and actual results. Certain teams generate goodwill from the fanbase and press when they recruit well, but if you don't win pretty quickly -- perhaps before your star recruits have completely matured -- then the sentiment turns and recruiting begins to dry up.
Linebacker Mike Mitchell is a five-star 2013 recruit who recently announced his transfer to Lubbock. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham is a top-50 recruit who chose Tech over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Michigan, Texas, and basically everybody else. Breiden Fehoko is a top-150 talent from Hawaii who chose Tech, again, over just about every major program. These were huge wins and could lead to other huge wins. It's certainly built a "Tech is rising!" narrative.
But if it's going to lead to more recruiting wins, the Red Raiders probably have to produce on the field in 2014-15 as well. And while the Big 12 schedule (nine games, lots of top-45 opponents) is never easy, Tech's is at least manageable and, yes, potentially conducive to yet another fast start.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 43|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|30-Aug||at SMU||84||41-23||W||28.6 - 29.1||L|
|7-Sep||Stephen F. Austin||N/A||61-13||W||36.1 - 29.3||W|
|12-Sep||TCU||44||20-10||W||27.9 - 25.6||W|
|21-Sep||Texas State||107||33-7||W||30.9 - 15.6||W|
|5-Oct||at Kansas||101||54-16||W||27.5 - 23.6||W||5.6|
|12-Oct||Iowa State||78||42-35||W||34.9 - 22.6||W||8.2|
|19-Oct||at West Virginia||76||37-27||W||41.5 - 28.9||W||9.3|
|26-Oct||at Oklahoma||20||30-38||L||36.0 - 39.7||L||8.1|
|2-Nov||Oklahoma State||8||34-52||L||39.5 - 28.2||W||7.3|
|9-Nov||Kansas State||24||26-49||L||30.6 - 34.6||L||5.7|
|16-Nov||vs. Baylor||7||34-63||L||32.4 - 32.6||L||3.2|
|28-Nov||at Texas||35||16-41||L||23.0 - 34.6||L||-1.7|
|30-Dec||vs. Arizona State||13||37-23||W||35.7 - 21.5||W||1.9|
|Points Per Game||35.8||23||30.5||88|
|Adj. Points Per Game||32.7||38||28.1||70|
3. Another late-season fade
At some point, I'll curtail the 2012 comparisons, but the 2013 season really was remarkably similar. In 2012, Tech's adjusted scoring average through six games was Tech 34.4, Opponent 14.0. Over the last seven games, the offense stayed basically the same (34.8) while the defense imploded (32.3). In 2013, meanwhile, the defense didn't start as strong (25.0 through seven games) but still regressed dramatically down the stretch (32.3 in the last five games of the regular season).
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Tech 32.5, Opponent 25.0 (plus-7.5)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Opponent 33.9, Tech 32.3 (minus-1.6)
When combined with another backloaded schedule (all five top-40 opponents came in the final five games of the regular season), this resulted in another late-season slide, just like the 1-4 finish in 2012 and the 1-7 finish in 2011.
In 2012, defensive depth was a pretty big issue. To the extent that it was a damaging factor last year, Kingsbury has attempted to rectify it through recruiting. He signed four JUCO defensive linemen and a couple of high-profile freshman linebackers. But he must replace all four starting defensive backs, and it's not immediately evident that he'll have the pieces necessary to avoid another slide (or just a bad, year-round performance).
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||45.1%||43||Succ. Rt. +||113.1||23|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.4||81||Def. FP+||100.4||55|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||50||Redzone S&P+||101.5||56|
|Q1 Rk||32||1st Down Rk||74|
|Q2 Rk||55||2nd Down Rk||10|
|Q3 Rk||25||3rd Down Rk||29|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Davis Webb||6'4, 195||So.||3 stars (5.7)||226||361||2718||20||9||62.6%||7||1.9%||7.2|
|Patrick Mahomes||6'3, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
4. Break out the bubble wrap
With aplomb, Kingsbury and offensive coordinator Eric Morris (co-coordinator in 2013 with Sonny Cumbie, who moved on to TCU this offseason) navigated through what could have been a terribly awkward quarterback situation last fall. Michael Brewer, then a sophomore and the presumptive starter, got hurt during the summer, and the keys to the depth chart got handed to two true freshmen: first Baker Mayfield, then Davis Webb.
Mayfield was spectacular against SMU and SFA to start the season (64-for-90, 780 yards, seven TDs, no INTs), then predictably began to regress as defenses adjusted. His completion rate fell to 62 percent with five scores and nine picks the rest of the way. When he got hurt, Webb took over, and his play was sporadic. He was great against Iowa State and WVU, pick-prone against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and spectacular in the bowl game against Arizona State (28-for-41, 403 yards, four scores, no picks).
Winning eight games with not one, but two true freshmen behind center is a mighty accomplishment. The reward: handling another strange quarterback situation in 2014. Mayfield elected to transfer to Oklahoma because of "miscommunication," Brewer announced his transfer in January, and walk-ons Tanner Tausch and Mike Richardson left the program this spring. That leaves Tech with Webb, incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes ... and that's basically it. Webb was the only quarterback on the post-spring two-deep (PDF).
Plenty of schools get through a year with one quarterback, and after last year's relative success, Tech could probably survive if it had to hand the reins to Mahomes for a while. But if they're both hurt, what happens? Does the head coach disappear from the sidelines while a walk-on named Mliff Mingsbury throws passes?
(And yes, there are more walk-ons coming aboard this summer.)
The quarterback transfers did point to something else, as well: while Kingsbury has had the magic touch when it comes to offense, recruiting, etc., that magic touch doesn't extend to everybody. He's apparently an acquired taste, and not everybody acquires it. That's not an outright problem, but as always, one's strengths are also one's weaknesses.
5. Davis Webb, air raid quarterback
The quarterback depth is suboptimal, to put it lightly, but if Tech had to keep only one of last year's top three, Webb was probably the one. The air raid prototype is built around efficiency and quick decision-making.
Mike Leach's offenses always had the best sack rates in the country (or close to it), and of the three, Webb was the only one without a sack problem. (Brewer's rates were inflated by a small sample size, of course.) Mayfield was a bit more of an improviser, getting upfield more with his legs but getting brought down in the backfield more than three times more frequently.
Webb fits the prototype and really did have the higher level of success after September. He might still have some growing pains to suffer along the way, but he appears to be a keeper.
|Kenny Williams||RB||5'9, 225||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||125||497||8||4.0||3.9||31.2%|
|DeAndre Washington||RB||5'8, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||107||450||4||4.2||3.3||35.5%|
|Davis Webb||QB||6'4, 195||So.||3 stars (5.7)||18||45||0||2.5||4.0||33.3%|
|Quinton White||RB||5'7, 200||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||130||1||10.0||7.6||69.2%|
|Jakeem Grant||WR||5'6, 160||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||77||0||6.4||4.5||50.0%|
|Rodney Hall||RB||5'10, 245||Jr.||NR||4||32||0||8.0||5.5||50.0%|
|Justin Stockton||RB||5'9, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Jakeem Grant||WR||5'6, 160||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||100||65||797||65.0%||14.8%||65.4%||8.0||14||7.2||90.8|
|Bradley Marquez||WR||5'11, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||89||49||633||55.1%||13.2%||59.3%||7.1||-11||7.8||72.1|
|DeAndre Washington||RB||5'8, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||47||34||269||72.3%||7.0%||78.9%||5.7||-120||8.6||30.7|
|Jordan Davis||WR||5'9, 170||Sr.||NR||39||28||243||71.8%||5.8%||66.7%||6.2||-78||5.6||27.7|
|Kenny Williams||RB||5'9, 225||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||39||30||271||76.9%||5.8%||62.9%||6.9||-62||7.7||30.9|
|Reginald Davis||WR||6'0, 190||So.||4 stars (5.8)||27||15||193||55.6%||4.0%||55.6%||7.1||-3||6.8||22.0|
|Derreck Edwards||WR||6'1, 165||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||15||5||88||33.3%||2.2%||60.0%||5.9||-1||8.3||10.0|
|Dylan Cantrell||WR||6'2, 205||So.||3 stars (5.6)||11||9||70||81.8%||1.6%||66.7%||6.4||-27||3.9||8.0|
|Shawn Corker||WR||6'1, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||4||3||18||75.0%||0.6%||50.0%||4.5||-16||8.1||2.1|
|Brad Pearson||WR||6'3, 210||Jr.||NR||4||4||51||100.0%||0.6%||100.0%||12.8||11||1.1||5.8|
|D.J. Polite-Bray||WR||6'1, 175||So.||3 stars (5.7)||3||2||5||66.7%||0.4%||0.0%||1.7||-19||2.7||0.6|
|Devin Lauderdale||WR||5'11, 175||So.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Brent Mitcham||WR||5'8, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Byron Daniels||WR||6'0, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Ian Sadler||WR||5'10, 194||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
6. There is no replacing Jace Amaro
Because of the damn-near socialist ball distribution associated with this type of offense, the Red Raiders will probably never lack for returning experience at the skill positions. They certainly don't in 2014, not with two 100-carry, 35-target running backs returning (well, sort of -- Kenny Williams is probably playing linebacker), along with four wideouts who were targeted at least twice per game (including Jakeem Grant, a high-efficiency option with high potential for breaking short passes for long gains).
With former star recruit Devin Lauderdale back in the fold after a JUCO detour, and with other youngsters like D.J. Polite-Bray showing well in the spring, Tech doesn't lack for options. But compared to last year, it might lack for uniqueness after losing Jace Amaro.
Kingsbury inherited one of the best tight ends in the country last year and, despite lacking a natural position for him in the offense, put him to good use.
Texas Tech doesn't often line Amaro up as an inline TE, preferring to avoid granting the defense an opportunity to hit him at the line and delay his ability to get going in his passing routes. Instead, they generally deploy him as either the number three receiver to the field side, or the number two receiver to the boundary side.
In the instance of the former, he's the responsibility of a middle linebacker in a Cover-2 scheme. When he's on the boundary, he becomes the responsibility of a weakside linebacker. These are matchups most teams have been keen to avoid, and opposing defenses have frequently played dime packages in order to get matchups they feel more comfortable with. [...]
Executing these timing-based, ball-control passes is difficult at the college level and carries great risks of deflections, interceptions, or third-and-longs. However, it's also difficult to stop when the offense can execute it at this level. When an offense can deploy someone inside to the boundary or the field, as Tech does with Amaro, it guarantees matchups that will allow the Red Raiders to run these ball-control concepts as a main part of their offense despite their youth at QB. They can do this because they can count on Amaro regularly being open.
Amaro was a crutch for the young quarterbacks, and he offered physicality that this type of offense doesn't always have. (That he not only didn't win the Mackey Award, but wasn't even a finalist, was an absolute joke.) It will be interesting to see if, or how, his influence on Tech's personnel and play-calling rubs off now that he's a New York Jet.
|Le'Raven Clark||LT||6'5, 320||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||26||2nd All-Big 12|
|Jared Kaster||C||6'3, 275||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||13|
|Rashad Fortenberry||RT||6'5, 285||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||13|
|Alfredo Morales||LG||6'3, 320||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||10|
|James Polk||LG||6'6, 335||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||7|
|Tony Morales||C||6'3, 315||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||4|
|Baylen Brown||RG||6'4, 305||So.||3 stars (5.7)||2|
|Matt Wilson||RT||6'6, 280||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Trey Keenan||RG||6'6, 270||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Josh Outlaw||RT||6'3, 290||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Poet Thomas||LT||6'5, 335||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Dominique Robertson||OL||6'5, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Shaquille Davis||OL||6'4, 320||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.9%||70||Succ. Rt. +||93.5||86|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.5||61||Off. FP+||98.5||77|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.2||73||Redzone S&P+||97.3||69|
|Q1 Rk||84||1st Down Rk||71|
|Q2 Rk||50||2nd Down Rk||90|
|Q3 Rk||100||3rd Down Rk||61|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Branden Jackson||DE||6'4, 240||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||36.5||4.4%||9.0||4.0||0||3||0||0|
|Jackson Richards||NT||6'4, 275||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||13.0||1.6%||3.0||0.0||1||2||1||1|
|Demetrius Alston||DT||6'3, 260||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||10.5||1.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Bennett Ofor||DL||6'3, 255||Sr.||NR||9||4.0||0.5%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Barnes||DE||6'3, 215||So.||2 stars (5.4)||5||2.0||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||1|
|Donte Phillips||NT||6'2, 280||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Keland McElrath||DT||6'5, 280||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Rika Levi||DT||6'2, 350||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Brandon Thorpe||DE||6'5, 275||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Marcus Smith||DT||6'3, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
7. Opponents knew to run
As was the case in 2012, opponents leaned on the run against Tech as the year progressed, and it worked. After a couple of injuries, the run defense was the weak spot for the 2012 squad, and the differences got magnified in 2013. Tech improved defensively to 46th in Passing S&P+ but regressed dramatically, from 52nd to 107th in Rushing S&P+. An experienced front seven couldn't do anything better than its less seasoned predecessor, and the rushing numbers took a drastic turn beginning with the Oklahoma game.
- Average opponent rushing, first 7 games: 37.0 carries, 123.4 yards (3.3 per carry)
- Average opponent rushing, last 6 games: 52.8 carries, 292.8 yards (5.5 per carry)
Since opponents were winning, they rushed more often, but the per-carry numbers also rose dramatically.
One could certainly explain these issues, in part, by talking about depth: of the top eight tacklers on the line, only three played in all 13 games. The temporary loss of tackle Dartwan Bush was particularly damaging. Still, the primary issue was simply that the line didn't make many plays no matter who was lined up. Only two linemen logged more than 17.0 tackles (Bush would have if he'd played more games). Some defensive systems require more activity out of the line than others, but you need more tackles than this out of a four-man front.
If the line improves in 2014, it will possibly be because of newcomers. Four JUCO transfers join returnees like end Branden Jackson and tackles Jackson Richards and Demetrius Alston up front. One has to like the recruiting profile of Keland McElrath and the plain-old girth of Rika Levi, but relying on newcomers to improve a unit often results in disappointment.
There's good news at linebacker, where five of the top six tacklers return and are joined by Utah transfer V.J. Fehoko, converted running back Kenny Williams, and star 2014 recruit Nigel Bethel II. The depth is strong here, and with more help from the line, both Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson could make plays against the run and finish with 10+ tackles for loss.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Sam Eguavoen||MIKE||6'1, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||58.0||7.0%||6.5||1.5||0||2||1||0|
|Pete Robertson||BAN||6'3, 225||Jr.||NR||13||49.0||5.9%||9.0||2.5||2||3||2||0|
|Micah Awe||MIKE||6'0, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||48.0||5.8%||1.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Austin Stewart||RAID||6'0, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||34.5||4.2%||4.0||1.0||0||3||1||0|
|Kenny Williams||RAID||5'9, 225||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||13.5||1.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|V.J. Fehoko (Utah)||WILL||5'11, 225||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||11||12.5||1.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Andre Ross||BAN||6'3, 220||Jr.||NR||5||7.5||0.9%||1.0||1.0||0||2||0||0|
|Malik Jenkins||WILL||6'2, 205||So.||2 stars (5.4)||12||7.0||0.8%||1.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Zach Winbush||WILL||6'1, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||9||2.0||0.2%||0.0||0.0||1||0||0||0|
|Jacarthy Mack||LB||6'3, 180||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Nigel Bethel II||DB||5'8, 168||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Derrick Dixon||DB||5'10, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Payton Hendrix||DB||6'3, 191||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Keenon Ward||SS||5'9, 195||So.||3 stars (5.5)||13||30.5||3.7%||1||0||1||3||1||0|
|J.J. Gaines||FS||5'10, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||5||14.5||1.8%||0||0||2||0||0||0|
|Justis Nelson||CB||6'2, 170||So.||3 stars (5.5)||5||10.0||1.2%||0||0||1||4||0||0|
|Summitt Hogue||DB||5'11, 195||Jr.||NR||13||9.0||1.1%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dorian Crawford||SS||6'2, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||4||2.0||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jeremy Reynolds||CB||5'9, 170||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||4||2.0||0.2%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|La'Darius Newbold||CB||5'11, 195||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Dee Paul||CB||6'0, 165||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Thierry Nguema||CB||5'10, 160||So.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Jalen Barnes||FS||5'11, 185||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Josh Keys||DB||6'2, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
8. Strength gets weaker
For the second straight year, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt has to rebuild his secondary. Last fall, five of the top seven tacklers in the defensive backfield were gone; this fall, it's the same thing.
The good news is that the secondary improved despite attrition last year. The bad news, obviously, is that doing it once doesn't mean you'll do it twice.
Gone are both starting safeties and a cornerback duo (Bruce Jones, Olaoluwa Falemi) that combined for 3.5 tackles for loss and 16 break-ups. There are some exciting returnees here -- sophomores Keenon Ward and Justis Nelson both made plays when given the opportunity, and junior J.J. Gaines has been a decent backup for a couple of years. But back-to-back rebuilds can complete sap your depth, and if the Tech pass defense is to once again be a relative strength, untested players like sophomore La'Darius Newbold might have to come up big.
|Taylor Symmank||6'2, 185||Jr.||12||42.0||0||1||5||50.0%|
|Kramer Fyfe||5'8, 165||Sr.||65||61.2||30||3||46.2%|
|Taylor Symmank||6'2, 185||Jr.||23||61.2||7||1||30.4%|
|Ryan Bustin||5'11, 180||Sr.||52-55||22-24||91.7%||1-3||33.3%|
|Jakeem Grant||KR||5'6, 160||Jr.||19||21.1||0|
|Reginald Davis||KR||6'0, 190||So.||11||27.0||1|
|Jordan Davis||PR||5'9, 170||Sr.||7||3.4||0|
|Special Teams F/+||117|
|Field Goal Efficiency||49|
|Punt Return Efficiency||109|
|Kick Return Efficiency||101|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||93|
9. 117th ... yuck
Ryan Bustin was a decent place-kicker (certainly nothing more than decent), and both Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis have shown home run potential as kick returners.
That's it. That's the list of Tech's special teams strengths. Tech was atrocious in the special teams department last fall; Grant and Davis were horrifially inefficient, Bustin missed three PATs (and those were the strengths!), and the Red Raider kickoff, punt, and punt return games were somewhere between below average and atrocious. In the Big 12, where there are minimal elite teams and a whole lot of solid, evenly-matched squads, special teams can take on serious value. Barring drastic improvement, that's a problem for Tech.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|25-Sep||at Oklahoma State||18|
|4-Oct||at Kansas State||41|
|22-Nov||at Iowa State||80|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||5.2% (47)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||48|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-14 / -9.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (8, 4)|
10. We'll know what we need to know by October 4
Now, above I said that Tech's schedule was somewhat conducive to another fast start. Technically, that's true if you look at the projections -- of the five projected top-40 opponents on Tech's schedule, four come in the last five games. Meanwhile, exceedingly winnable home games against UCA, Arkansas, WVU and Kansas (plus what should by all means be a pretty easy win at UTEP) line the first seven games.
But road trips to Stillwater and Manhattan will tell us what we need to know about how seriously to take the Red Raiders in 2014. As tends to be the case, Tech's fantastic bowl performance raised expectations higher than overall trends would suggest they should be, and that could backfire if the Red Raiders finish 6-6 or 7-5, but they'll have every opportunity to raise expectations even further if they can pull off a road win at OSU or KSU. Start 6-1, and you'll be talked up as a potential conference title contender, especially with Oklahoma and Texas visiting Lubbock.
I don't see it, though. I don't think the defense improves until 2015, and while I like the offense, I don't necessarily like it to improve without Jace Amaro. So basically, I see Tech once again as a top-50-but-not-much-better squad, one likely to start 5-2, then struggle to find Win No. 6. (If it doesn't come against Texas at home or at Iowa State, it might not come.)
It's hard not to like what Kingsbury is building. He is winning the public relations battle in, um, a unique manner, he is recruiting well, and our last glimpse of Kliff Ball -- a romp over an excellent Arizona State team -- was spectacular. If Webb stays healthy, and the JUCO defensive linemen take hold quickly, then maybe the Red Raiders make a run at the conference title; they've certainly got the home schedule for it.
But I don't think they're there just yet. And as long as present-tense struggles don't derail the future tense, that's fine.