Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
1. Extreme in both directions
Big 12 defenses get a bad rap sometimes. There have been plenty of strong defenses that were labeled as poor simply because of the extreme tempo and effectiveness of the offenses they faced.
Since 2007, when the spread offense really took off in the conference, six of its defenses have ranked in the Def. S&P+ top 10 and 30 have ranked in the top 30. Only nine have ranked 100th or worse.
The Big 12 just plays a different game than much of the rest of the country, and our insistence on evaluating defenses by total yards or points gives us false impressions.
It usually does, anyway. In Lubbock, our impressions are accurate. In 2008, Mike Leach's breakthrough season, the Red Raiders ranked fourth in Off. S&P+ and 84th in Def. S&P+. In 2011, a 5-7 season for Tommy Tuberville, they ranked 26th and 110th, respectively. And over the last two seasons under Kliff Kingsbury, Tech has gone all the way to the extremes. In 2014, the team ranked 23rd and 114th. In 2015: third and 121st.
Last fall, Tech was the Big 12 stereotype personified. On two occasions, the Red Raiders scored over 50 points and lost; once, they scored 53 and lost by 17. On three other occasions, they allowed over 40 points and won. The 2015 Tech offense might have been the best yet. And Kingsbury's charges went 7-6.
This is fun as hell, mind you. Only three times did a Tech game feature fewer than 80 points. In the Texas Bowl against LSU, Tech allowed more than 10 yards per play and still only trailed by a touchdown in the latter third quarter.
It's fun knowing Tech is guaranteed to produce five or six amazing shootouts a year. Even if the spread isn't your thing, and even if the thought of defense-free football makes you shudder, you have to admit it feels right for the id of the spread offense and air-it-out football to reside in West Texas.
If you're a Tech fan, however, this has to be conflicting. Kingsbury has been in charge for three seasons and has brought exactly what he was asked to bring to town. But in the last two years, he is only 11-14 because his team cannot pretend to make a stop.
Since Leach was run out of town following 2009, Tech has never played at a Big 12-average level (as seen in the chart below). The Red Raiders are dangerous, and preparing for them is in no way pleasant since you know you're going to be in for a four-hour track meet. But they've gone 40-36 in that span -- a tough out is still an out.
Can this change? Of course. Every year is an opportunity for change, and in defensive coordinator David Gibbs, Kingsbury has hired someone who is both seasoned and accustomed to the challenge of attacking the spread.
A starter on Colorado's 1990 national title team and a former DC at Minnesota, Auburn, and Houston, Gibbs was brought in a year ago. But there was only space for him to bring one assistant (LBs coach Zac Spavital). Following last year's troubles, three coaches were fired, and Gibbs was able to put a little more of his stamp on the defense. We'll see if that makes a difference.
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 60 | Final S&P+ Rk: 62|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|5-Sep||Sam Houston State||N/A||59-45||W||53%||74%||-2.2|
|7-Nov||at West Virginia||31||26-31||L||65%||48%||+9.3||+3.5|
|Points Per Game||45.1||2||43.6||125|
2. Instant shootouts
Tech's 2015 offense was one of the nation's best, and not only because of tempo. On a per-play basis, the Red Raiders proved they could move the ball against anybody. The problem was that they couldn't move the ball well enough against good opponents to offset what the opponent was doing to their defense.
- Texas Tech vs. F/+ top 40:
Record: 1-6 | Avg. percentile performance: 43% (~top 75) | Yards per play: Opp 7.8, Tech 6.3 (-1.5)
- Texas Tech vs. F/+ No. 41+:
Record: 6-0 | Avg. percentile performance: 71% (~top 35) | Yards per play: Tech 7.7, Opp 6.0 (+1.7)
Against seven top-40 opponents, Tech never scored fewer than 26 points. But the imbalance here was obvious. Good opponents were able to make enough stops to win, often comfortably.
Every offense was good in a Tech game -- even Kansas and UTEP scored 20 points -- but top-40 teams were able to treat Tech like Tech treated everyone else. The Red Raiders were unable to afford any offensive droughts.
Tech's offense almost cannot be better than it was; the Red Raiders have peaked until the defense figures out how to get the ball away from the opponent before the end zone.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||48.5%||11||Succ. Rt. +||115.6||14|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.1||51||Def. FP+||28.5||48|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||5.2||9||Redzone S&P+||108.3||42|
|Q1 Rk||8||1st Down Rk||9|
|Q2 Rk||10||2nd Down Rk||51|
|Q3 Rk||47||3rd Down Rk||5|
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Patrick Mahomes II||6'3, 219||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8807||364||573||4653||36||15||63.5%||27||4.5%||7.5|
|Nic Shimonek||6'3, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8175|
|Payne Sullins||6'2, 180||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7778|
|Jett Duffey||6'1, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8559|
3. The scary part: Mahomes can get better
There's only so much Tech can improve offensively. The Red Raiders averaged 43.6 adjusted points per game last fall, third in the country and only one-tenth of a point from first-place Baylor. Per Off. S&P+, Tech had the 18th-best offense of the 11-season (and 1,345-team) S&P+ era.
The offensive line is starting over, and both the top rusher and receiver are gone. With this turnover, it might be difficult to match last year's output. But they have a chance because Pat Mahomes II hasn't yet hit his peak. The junior from Whitehouse and son of a former baseball pro threw for 4,653 yards and 36 touchdowns and rushed for more than 600 non-sack yards despite hobbling around on a bad ankle for part of the season. Neither his interception rate (2.6 percent) nor sack rate (4.5 percent) were bad, but both could improve.
Mahomes is nearly the perfect spread quarterback, capable of making most throws accurately, making quick decisions, and getting the ball upfield with his legs if the defense overcompensates for the pass. He had a wonderful supporting cast, and we'll see if some new pieces can live up to a high standard. But in a country full of solid spread QBs, Mahomes might have been the best. And he wasn't quite full-speed.
|Patrick Mahomes II||QB||6'3, 219||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8807||104||616||10||5.9||3.8||49.0%||5||2|
|Justin Stockton||RB||5'10, 192||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672||61||367||5||6.0||6.3||45.9%||0||0|
|Quinton White||RB||5'7, 209||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8413||9||29||0||3.2||1.4||44.4%||0||0|
|Demarcus Felton||RB||5'7, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8463||6||73||1||12.2||16.0||50.0%||0||0|
|Corey Dauphine||RB||6'0, 194||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9134|
|Da'Leon Ward||RB||5'10, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8593|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Reginald Davis||WR||6'0, 188||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9274||69||38||536||55.1%||11.7%||7.8||68.1%||44.9%||1.64|
|Ian Sadler||IR||5'11, 197||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8748||62||42||596||67.7%||10.5%||9.6||50.0%||56.5%||1.52|
|Cameron Batson||IR||5'9, 173||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8449||39||29||327||74.4%||6.6%||8.4||56.4%||51.3%||1.58|
|Tony Brown||WR||6'1, 187||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8763||32||14||250||43.8%||5.4%||7.8||68.8%||37.5%||1.70|
|Zach Austin||IR||5'11, 187||Jr.||NR||NR||30||22||238||73.3%||5.1%||7.9||60.0%||66.7%||1.06|
|Justin Stockton||RB||5'10, 192||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672||27||22||341||81.5%||4.6%||12.6||66.7%||55.6%||2.28|
|Jonathan Giles||WR||5'11, 184||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8322||20||15||143||75.0%||3.4%||7.2||55.0%||65.0%||1.03|
|Keke Coutee||IR||5'11, 173||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672||18||11||105||61.1%||3.1%||5.8||50.0%||44.4%||1.18|
|Ja'Deion High||WR||5'11, 179||Jr.||NR||NR||15||8||111||53.3%||2.5%||7.4||60.0%||46.7%||1.35|
|Quinton White||RB||5'7, 209||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8413||8||6||32||75.0%||1.4%||4.0||100.0%||37.5%||1.02|
|Dylan Cantrell||WR||6'3, 212||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8717|
|Derrick Willies||WR||6'3, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9041|
|De'Quan Bowman||WR||5'11, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8566|
|T.J. Vasher||WR||6'5, 198||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8919|
4. Interchangeable parts?
In DeAndre Washington, Mahomes and Tech had one of the most underrated backs in college football. The combination of Washington and Mahomes' ability meant the Red Raiders had every weapon. Washington was both efficient and explosive and even averaged a solid 7 yards per pass target out of the backfield.
In Jakeem Grant, Tech had maybe the fastest player in college football. When he was hand-timed at 4.12 in the 40-yard dash at Tech's pro day, it was almost believable. He's tiny, but he grew into a receiver equally adept close to and far from the line of scrimmage, and he averaged 9.9 yards per target as a senior.
Now the first string in the skill corps has been thinned out. Can the new guys provide the same threat?
Signs are encouraging in the backfield. Junior Justin Stockton produced averages nearly identical to Washington's; he rushed seven times for 101 yards in a romp over Iowa State, and he scored five touchdowns on just 61 carries. He produced higher catch and success rates than Washington in the passing game as well. You never know what's going to happen to productivity when you move someone from backup to feature guy, but Stockton could be excellent. Goodness knows he has the speed.
Though Ian Sadler and Cameron Batson aren't as fast as Grant (almost nobody is), they both produced a higher success rate last fall, and Sadler averaged a comparable 9.6 yards per target. If they can provide a similar level of stress on the interior, then the outside receivers -- seniors Reginald Davis and Dylan Cantrell, junior Ja'Deion High, sophomores Tony Brown and Jonathan Giles, four-star JUCO transfer Derrick Willies, four-star freshman T.J. Vasher -- should be just fine.
Tech will have speed, and its offense will be good. The question is whether last year's seniors were too good to be replaced without drop-off.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Le'Raven Clark||LT||13||51||2015 1st All-Big 12|
|Alfredo Morales||LG||13||37||2015 2nd All-Big 12|
|Baylen Brown||LT||6'5, 309||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8609||11||23|
|Tony Morales||C||6'3, 285||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8985||7||7|
|Justin Murphy||RG||6'6, 298||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8160||4||4|
|Paul Stawarz||RG||6'5, 295||So.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Cole Collier||LG||6'1, 286||So.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||0||0|
|Ethan Smith||RT||6'6, 278||So.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Conner Dyer||OL||6'4, 268||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9034|
|Madison Akamnonu||LG||6'5, 294||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8989|
|Terence Steele||RT||6'6, 285||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7733|
|Cody Wheeler||C||6'4, 293||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7733|
|Zach Adams||OL||6'6, 315||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8481|
5. Interchangeable Parts? Part II
The large splits of the offensive line in the spread were originally designed to counter natural disadvantages. Even if a defensive end has superior talent, he still has to run further to get to the quarterback; even if a defensive tackle has a clear advantage in the middle, a running back still has space to get around him. You could succeed with "five dumpy linemen who could get run over slowly."
In this sense, maybe the loss of two all-conference linemen and two more with starting experience won't hurt as bad as instinct might tell us. Plus, hey, line experience might be overrated anyway.
Most of last year's two-deep is gone, and there will possibly be a redshirt freshman presence in the starting lineup, but at least Tech returns two-year starting tackle Baylen Brown (who will move from RT to LT), center Tony Morales, and guard Justin Murphy.
The line's sack rates were a little bit higher than normal last year, in part because of Mahomes' scrambling ability. That probably won't sink, but if there's a concern, it comes in run-blocking. Large splits or not, Tech was fantastic at creating space for Washington and Stockton.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||50.1%||126||Succ. Rt. +||87.3||112|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.5||75||Off. FP+||29.8||71|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||5.6||128||Redzone S&P+||83.3||123|
|Q1 Rk||94||1st Down Rk||106|
|Q2 Rk||114||2nd Down Rk||101|
|Q3 Rk||68||3rd Down Rk||109|
6. If you're going to build your defense around turnovers, force turnovers
Total yardage is a stat often cited by analysts and fans. At Houston, it's ignored outright.
"As far as I’m concerned, we can be last in the nation in total defense as long as we’re in the top 20 in scoring defense."
In a lot of ways, Gibbs is a man after my own heart. He has proven adaptable over 20 years, as he moved from ultra-young defensive coordinator to NFL position coach to college DC.
In 1999, Gibbs' Minnesota defense allowed just 16 points per game; his 2005 Auburn allowed 15.5. Realizing that was not conceivable in Texas, Gibbs recalibrated. As Houston DC, he geared around one simple thing: separating the offense from the ball. Instead of aiming to make a huge stop on every set of downs, a Gibbs defense tries to fool the QB into making a single foolish read and hacks at the ball with reckless abandon. To Gibbs, it is worth the risk of giving up extra yards if it means a potential turnover.
If you're going to give up yards like Tech did last year, however, you better get a ton of turnovers. And while the Red Raiders improved -- they went from 1.3 turnovers per game in 2014 to 1.9 -- they didn't improve enough to offset the yardage.
Turnovers are part skill and part luck. Your pass rush, level of aggressiveness in the secondary, and propensity for hacking at the ball before dragging an opponent to the ground can affect your opportunities. You aren't always going to get lucky like Gibbs' 2013 Houston defense did, but you can still create chances. There's an obvious risk-reward balance, and Tech's 2015 unit was completely imbalanced. Forcing 25 turnovers is great, but it doesn't mean much when you're giving up 44 gains of 30-plus yards (worst in FBS).
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Breiden Fehoko||DT||6'3, 295||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9744||13||15.0||1.8%||4.0||1.0||1||0||0||0|
|Gary Moore||DE||6'5, 240||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8772||11||11.0||1.3%||4.0||3.0||0||1||0||0|
|Kris Williams||DE||6'1, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8348||10||8.5||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Zach Barnes||RUSH||6'3, 240||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8252||7||7.0||0.8%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|DT||6'3, 317||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9707||6||5.5||0.9%%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Talor Nunez||DE||6'4, 256||Jr.||NR||NR||2||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kolin Hill||RUSH||6'2, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8575|
|Broderick Washington||NT||6'3, 305||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8361|
|Lonzell Gilmore||DT||6'3, 250||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859|
|Mych Thomas||NT||6'1, 325||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8487|
|Houston Miller||DE||6'4, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8486|
|Nick McCann||DT||6'2, 300||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8447|
|Noah Jones||DE||6'3, 250||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8446|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|D'Vonta Hinton||WILL||5'9, 225||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8389||13||42.5||5.1%||5.5||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Malik Jenkins||SAM||6'1, 225||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8144||13||40.0||4.8%||4.0||0.0||0||2||1||0|
|Kahlee Woods||SAM||6'1, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8324||13||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jacarthy Mack||LB||6'2, 197||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8394|
|Johnathan Picone||MIKE||6'1, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8351|
|Jordyn Brooks||LB||6'2, 230||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8475|
|Brayden Stringer||LB||6'2, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8406|
7. The good news: It almost literally can't get worse
That Tech's front seven is changing isn't in any way a good thing. The Red Raiders have to replace four of their top five linemen and five of seven linebackers. Change like this rarely results in improvement, and it has to be a concern that last year's defense faded so drastically in the second and fourth quarters -- that suggests depth problems, and now half the two-deep is gone. But at the very least, you can't get much worse than 124th in Rushing S&P+.
Even with the 21 non-sack tackles for loss generated by since-departed linebackers Micah Awe and Dakota Allen and end Pete Robertson, the Red Raiders were too easily pushed to the side up front, allowing more than 200 yards 10 times and more than 300 seven times.
The further development of four-star sophomore Breiden Fehoko is key to Tech's improvement up front. The blue-chipper found a spot in the rotation and led Tech tackles with four tackles for loss, and if he continues to progress toward his ceiling, Tech might be alright. And he could get help from big JUCO transfer Mych Thomas and former Michigan blue-chipper Ondre Pipkins.
Linebacker could be an issue. Dakota Allen was recently dismissed, which means there's a chance that true freshman Johnathan Picone, second on the depth chart after spring ball, could start from day one. Sophomore D'Vonta Hinton and senior Malik Jenkins flashed play-making ability, but when you've got a freshman mike, your ceiling might not be too high for a while.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jah'Shawn Johnson||S||5'10, 176||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8395||13||65.0||7.9%||4.5||0||2||3||2||2|
|Tevin Madison||S||5'10, 166||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8291||13||56.5||6.8%||2.5||1||2||11||2||0|
|Keenon Ward||S||5'9, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8640||12||50.0||6.1%||1.5||0||0||4||0||0|
|Nigel Bethel II||CB||5'9, 187||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8807||9||39.0||4.7%||0.5||0||1||11||0||0|
|Justis Nelson||CB||6'2, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8222||13||38.0||4.6%||1||0||2||4||0||0|
|Thierry Nguema||CB||5'10, 170||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7917||10||25.5||3.1%||0||0||1||3||0||0|
|Paul Banks III||CB||6'2, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||7||13.5||1.6%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Payton Hendrix||S||6'2, 199||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8866||11||7.0||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|D.J. Polite-Bray||CB||6'0, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8007|
|Jamile Johnson||DB||6'0, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8769|
|Kevin Moore||DB||6'1, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8472|
8. The secondary could be fine, with help
With an effective front seven, a harried secondary might have the weapons to thrive. I really like the hire of cornerbacks coach Karl Scott -- he was the defensive coordinator at Southeastern Louisiana two years ago when the Lions had the most efficient pass defense in FCS and forced 28 turnovers. He inherits an active set of safeties (Jah'Shawn Johnson, Tevin Madison, and Keenon Ward combined for 8.5 TFLs, four INTs, 18 break-ups, and four forced fumbles) and a set of cornerbacks that, at the very least, has experience.
Tech ranked 88th in Passing S&P+, which isn't good but is a lot better than the run defense. There is some potential here, but the DBs need more help than they will probably get.
|Michael Barden||5'10, 174||So.||16||44.8||1||4||3||43.8%|
|Clayton Hatfield||5'10, 171||So.||70||61.9||31||4||44.3%|
|Clayton Hatfield||5'10, 171||So.||53-54||11-11||100.0%||3-5||60.0%|
|Michael Barden||5'10, 174||So.||19-19||2-3||66.7%||0-0||N/A|
|Tyler Scalzi||KR||6'4, 238||Sr.||5||5.8||0|
|Cameron Batson||PR||5'9, 173||Jr.||13||6.2||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||5|
|Field Goal Efficiency||27|
|Punt Return Success Rate||88|
|Kick Return Success Rate||48|
|Punt Success Rate||13|
|Kickoff Success Rate||30|
9. A couple of huge losses
Grant was a very good receiver, but he was an even more dangerous return man, not incredibly efficient but all sorts of explosive. Meanwhile, punters Taylor Symmank and Michael Barden were effective, if rarely called-upon. But Grant and Symmank (also a deep kicker on kickoffs) are gone. Barden and place-kicker Michael Hatfield are back, and there are certainly plenty of return-man options from the deep, speedy receiving corps, but it might be difficult for Tech to match last year's top-10 special teams ranking.
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|3-Sep||Stephen F. Austin||NR||31.7||97%|
|10-Sep||at Arizona State||57||-0.6||49%|
|8-Oct||at Kansas State||67||1.0||52%|
|12-Nov||at Oklahoma State||23||-9.6||29%|
|19-Nov||at Iowa State||71||1.8||54%|
|Projected wins: 6.4|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||0.3% (58)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||41 / 42|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||2 / 3.4|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||-0.6|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||74% (76%, 72%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||7.0 (0.0)|
10. A little defense could turn a lot of games
Even with the worst non-Kansas power-conference defense in the country, Tech won seven games and came within a crazy deflection of beating TCU. And with six games projected within a touchdown, a little bit of defensive improvement in Gibbs' second year could turn a projected 6-6 campaign into 8-4 or better.
Then again, with so many new pieces on offense, the defense might have to improve simply to offset regression.
We've gotten glimpses of what Texas Tech could become under Kingsbury. Indeed, in three years back in Lubbock, his Tech offense has scored at least 34 points 23 times and has beaten good teams like 2013 Arizona State and an awesome 2015 Arkansas. With a few more turnovers and less frequent big opponent gains, there are a lot of wins on the table. But until the D actually proves itself, this is looking like a five- to seven-win year. Mahomes deserves better.