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April 17, 2008

Crabtree set to chase more marks in 2008

VIDEO: Michael Crabtree in action

Having broken numerous freshman receiving records last season, Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree could set his sights on several others in 2008.

Crabtree, the Biletnikoff Award winner as the best wide receiver in the nation, had 134 receptions for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. If he improves and he thinks he can several other NCAA records would seem within his reach.

For example, there is the NCAA single-season receptions record of 142 set by Houston's Manny Hazard, the single-season yardage record of 2,060 held by Nevada's Trevor Insley, the single-game receptions record of 23 set by UNLV's Randy Gatewood and the single-season touchdown receptions record of 27 held by Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards.

Break some of those records and he'll surely emerge as a top candidate to win the Heisman Trophy, which he admits is in the back on his mind.

"Last year my goal was to win the Biletnikoff Award," Crabtree said. "This year I would like to take the next step."

That may require returning kicks. Receivers Tim Brown, Desmond Howard and Johnny Rodgers have won the Heisman, but all were dynamic on kick returns, too.

Crabtree doesn't return kicks but said, "I can do it. This year probably, I'll do some kickoff returns sometimes."

But that's up to coach Mike Leach. Some coaches might hesitate to put a star player on special teams. But Leach doesn't always think like most coaches.

"I wouldn't have any problem with it," Leach said. "I'd stick anybody back on punts or kickoffs. But I don't have any plans right now."

Even though he figures to be a Heisman contender and could set various records, Crabtree insisted the record he's most concerned with is 13-0 which would give the Red Raiders a Big 12 championship and a shot at the national title.

"I'm looking at this team going undefeated and going to a big bowl game," he said after a recent spring practice. "I think we can win every game."

Texas Tech has been good in recent seasons. It has been bowl- eligible for 15 consecutive seasons and has made eight bowl appearances in a row.

But Tech never has won the Big 12 South and has finished third or fourth in the race in seven of the past eight seasons. Even in April, when everything seems possible, that degree of optimism is rare in Lubbock.

But 10 offensive starters and eight defensive starters including Crabtree and quarterback Graham Harrell return from a 9-4 team that defeated Big 12 champion Oklahoma and topped Virginia in the Gator Bowl, so there are some on the South Plains who think this is the season for which they've been waiting.

"We have my whole offensive line back," Crabtree said. "We have our quarterback. We have 10 people from the offense back from last year and we've got a defense coming up. Our d-line is doing real good right now."

Defense typically has been a soft spot since Leach took over at Tech. But there seemed to be a measure of improvement after Ruffin McNeill was installed as defensive coordinator early last season.

Also, the gem of the Red Raiders recruiting class is junior college defensive end Brandon Sesay, who originally signed with Georgia two years ago. Then, last month, defensive tackle Chris Perry was granted immediate eligibility following his transfer from Miami, so the defense appears to have been bolstered.

"We're a year older, but we're still relatively young on defense. We're predominantly juniors," Leach said. "I think we played real well last year, and that's a credit to Ruffin McNeill and the coaches under him and the job they did rallying the guys after we had to make a change last year."

Still, the passing game remains Texas Tech's strength - and it could be stronger because Crabtree could be better.

"He's improved on certain routes," Leach said. "He accelerates out of his cuts. He's improved on that. The thing about Michael Crabtree is that even on bad days, he's ultimately competitive enough that he'll have a pretty good day. Like everybody, he gets tired and distracted, but he's really competitive as far beating the guy across from him."

Crabtree beat the guy and/or guys across from him with such regularity that last season he had at least eight catches in every game except one. He's not satisfied, though.

"I have a lot of room to improve," he said. "My routes can be that much faster. I need to keep my shoulders down. It's just a lot of little stuff."

That "little stuff" could add up to some big prizes this fall.

TRIVIA QUESTION

Last week the NCAA held the Frozen Four the college hockey national championship. How many Division I-A schools that participate in football also field men's ice hockey teams? (Answer at the end of the column.)

GOOD POINT

It's not uncommon for college students to skip a class or two, but Nebraska coach Bo Pelini says that's unacceptable. He has a mandatory classroom attendance policy for his players.

"It's not up for debate," Pelini said. "If you don't want to go to class, turn pro."

CAMPAIGNING FOR WHITE

First-year West Virginia coach Bill Stewart has given his blessing for the school's sports information department to promote quarterback Pat White for the Heisman Trophy.

"Patrick is the greatest player in college football today," Stewart said. "If you're the best then whatever our people can do for Patrick White they should do. Patrick is such a down-to-earth, level guy, I'm not scared about him and what the attention might do."

White rushed for 1,335 yards and threw for 1,724 last season while leading the Mountaineers to a 11-2 finish.

QUICK HITTERS

  • Junior Mark Sanchez was named USC's starting quarterback over sophomore Mitch Mustain, who transferred from Arkansas last year. That raises the question of whether Mustain, a highly rated prospect out of high school in Springdale, Ark., will transfer again.

  • Linebacker Jake Duren, a projected starter, was dismissed from the Colorado team after being jailed on suspicion of criminal trespass. Duren was accused of breaking into a vehicle at a family housing complex near the Colorado campus.

  • Oklahoma fan Shae Farmer bid $2,900 in an on-line auction to attend Oklahoma's Red-White game and call some plays from the press box. One of the plays he called resulted in a 51-yard touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to tight end Jermaine Gresham.

  • Duke's Cameron Goldberg, a projected starter in the offensive line, has been suspended by coach David Cutcliffe for a violation of team policy. Goldberg, who started every game at left tackle last season, has a list of requirements to meet in order to be reinstated.

  • Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor has returned to practice after missing two sessions last week. Taylor sprained his left foot last Wednesday.

  • Connecticut quarterback Tyler Lorenzen likely will miss this weekend's spring game because of a sprained left knee, which has forced him to miss a few practices recently.

  • Florida starting guard Jim Tartt and backup defensive tackle Terron Sanders had surgery Monday, and both are expected to be fully recovered by August. Tartt had surgery on his left shoulder and Sanders had surgery for torn meniscus in his right knee.

  • Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small, who has drawn the ire of coach Jim Tressel, has been stripped of his No. 4 and now is wearing No. 82.

  • Arizona State wide receiver Chris McGaha, who caught 61 passes for 830 yards last season, fractured his left big toe in an intrasquad scrimmage last Saturday. He'll miss the rest of spring practice and may need surgery.

  • Kentucky tailback Tony Dixon is out for the remainder of spring practice after spraining an MCL in his left knee. Also, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin will undergo surgery to remove calcium deposits in his hip.

  • Conference USA announced that East Carolina's regular-season finale against UTEP has been moved up a day - to Friday, Nov. 28 at 1 p.m. Eastern time - to accommodate a live TV broadcast. The daytime start means there will be no scheduling conflicts with North Carolina high school state football playoffs that night.

  • Jeff Compher has been named athletic director at Northern Illinois. Currently the executive associate athletic director at Washington, he will take over at NIU in June.

    TRIVIA ANSWER

    There are 13 schools that field teams in Division I football and hockey. They are Air Force, Army, Boston College, Bowling Green, Connecticut, Miami University, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Western Michigan.

    MORE: BCS Spring Breakdowns | Practice previews for every team | More college football

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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