After winning 11 games in 2008 and sending off star players like Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell to the NFL, there are quite a few questions surrounding Texas Tech football heading into the 2009 season.
However, Red Raider head coach Mike Leach has elevated the level of recruiting in Lubbock and the cupboard is far from bare heading into the fall.
RedRadierSports.com publisher Chris Level gave his thoughts and perspective on Tech as they come out of spring practice and move into fall camp. Texas Tech will travel to Lincoln this year for an Oct. 17 showdown with the Huskers.
What was the biggest thing you took out of this spring without guys like Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree being around?
"There's not much star power from the standpoint that those guys were two of the biggest stars in college football last year. Now you just have some uncertainties and questions. Texas Tech is still very talented, but unproven at a quarterback in Taylor Potts. He was a guy from my standpoint that I wanted to watch from beginning to end of the spring to see how he would respond to being the guy and what kind of leader was he and how he dealt with adversity. Really, there were a lot of ups and a lot of downs and a lot of days where I came away thinking he wasn't going to be very good, then there were a lot of other days where you came away thinking he could be really good. What we have at quarterback right now here at Tech, I'm just not sure.
"Offensively, their strongest point is their running game. They've got two excellent running backs, and it's up to Mike Leach and Taylor Potts to use that part of the offense. "
The program has gotten a lot attention in the last year. Is it different around there now with all the press the program gotten over that time?
" I would say the thing is Mike (Leach) is different, people now listen to what Mike says more than what they did before. There's still not a lot of media that cover the program every day, but Mike is covered and the program is covered more nationally. I think Mike has turned into one of those guys, because he will always give you his opinion on whatever he's asked whether it's college football playoff talk or whatever it might be, they want to get Mike's take on it. That part of it really has grown, because everybody wants Mike's opinion around college football or on the Presidential race or Somali Pirates or whatever happens to be going on at the time. That part of it is growing and growing and he's becoming a national figure and you see him quoted by everybody in national stories and not just regional stuff."
After all the stuff with the contract negotiations with Leach, is it safe to say he's there for good?
"The thing is he's making so much money now. With a brand new five year deal, he's making an average right around 3 million per year. There are just not very many programs that will pay that kind of money to a guy. All this talk a few years ago about UCLA and Leach, well they aren't even paying Rick Neuheisel a million dollars a year. It was a joke to think Mike was going to leave for UCLA, because even if he wanted to go, he'd have to take a huge pay cut. Money wise, somebody is going to have to pay a lot of money to get him out of here. I'm not sure how much longer he's going to be here, but I do know this—he's not going anywhere anytime soon."
After watching Tech all spring, what is their specific overall strength on either offense or defense?
"I would say their running game and I would say the front seven on defense are their strengths. They return Baron Batch, who had 1600 all-purpose yards last year—he'll be the starter. Harrison Jeffers is 'Crabtree like' in practice and everybody holds their breath when he gets the ball in practice, because he is the biggest game breaker they got. He's just a well kept secret right now. Nobody knows of him and nobody has seen him, but he ran a 4.3 and he's the fastest guy on the team. We'll see what happens when the lights come on, but those are the two guys they need to build their offense around.
"Defensively, that's just where everybody is back. All six linebackers from last year return. They did lose Brandon Williams to the NFL early and the suspended McKinner Dixon, but there are still seven seniors on the defensive line. That's where the strength of the defense is. They'll be able to stop the run and rush the passer. They are inexperienced though at safety, because they lost their top four safeties from last year."
When you break down the schedule and base things on what you saw this spring, what are the realistic win-loss expectations for this team?
"I think they win 8 or 9 games. I don't know how it falls. While they don't have the star power, they are still very talented and they continue to recruit better and better under Mike (Leach). I think there's going to be some guys that people are really going to start to learn their names this season and people just don't know them now. They aren't going to win 11 games this year, but 8-4 is probably the floor and 9-3 is probably the ceiling. Because of their questions at quarterback, I don't know if they are good enough to go 10-2 and I just think there's too much talent for them to only win 7 games. It all depends on how a few things go, but I think 8 or 9 wins is obviously the realistic goal."
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