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July 24, 2009
THE SCHEME: Coach Mike Leach's version of the spread is called the "Air Raid," and it features four wide receivers and no tight ends. Despite the name, the Red Raiders have used more two-backs sets in recent seasons.
STAR POWER: WR Detron Lewis had a big year with 76 receptions for 913 yards last season - and that was with Michael Crabtree as the Red Raiders' primary target. Lewis steps into that lead receiver role this season. And though he'll face better coverage without Crabtree drawing the opposition's best defensive backs, expect Lewis' totals to increase.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Look out for redshirt freshman Harrison Jeffers, who will share running back duties with Baron Batch. Tech coaches have raved about Jeffers much the way they raved about Crabtree before his redshirt freshman season. The fastest player on the team, Jeffers ripped off a few 80-yard runs in the spring.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: A Texas Tech quarterback leading the nation in passing is almost as predictable as Sunday following Saturday. Tech quarterbacks have led the nation in passing in eight of the past nine seasons. Junior Taylor Potts steps into the starting role this season. He's bigger and has a stronger arm than his predecessor, Graham Harrell, and he has spent a couple of years learning Leach's system. Potts is a good bet to extend Tech's stretch of passing leaders to nine years out of 10.
STRONGEST AREA: Though it might seem like a blasphemous comment for Texas Tech, running back appears the strongest area of the offense. Batch averaged 6.7 yards per carry in rushing for 758 yards a year ago, Jeffers has brought the "wow" factor to the position and Aaron Crawford is a solid backup.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Three new starters join tackles Marlon Winn and Brandon Carter, who moves from guard, on the line. G Mickey Okafor is huge (6-7, 320) and highly regarded, so there might not be much decline there. Still, the Red Raiders might not have the same chemistry up front. They have a high standard to meet, considering Tech tied for fourth nationally in sacks allowed last season with just 13.
THE SCHEME: The Red Raiders play a basic 4-3 defense. The scheme never has been an issue with Texas Tech's defense. Rather, the talent level has been the problem, and that is getting better.
STAR POWER: Jamar Wall is a physical cornerback with big-play ability. He posted 60 tackles a year ago and has seven career interceptions. With Wall on one side, opposing quarterbacks will throw primarily to the other side.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: The Red Raiders need someone to emerge at strong safety and redshirt freshman Cody Davis could be the guy. He has good size (6-2/205) and a nose for the ball. He played well in the spring and even had a 100-yard interception return in the spring game.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Senior Daniel Howard is the fastest of Texas Tech's ends. The Red Raiders need him to raise his level of play. Their top pass rushers from a year ago are gone; Brandon Williams left early for the NFL and McKinner Dixon was booted. Howard was OK as a situational player; now he has to prove himself as a full-time starter.
STRONGEST AREA: Even with the losses of Williams and Dixon, the line figures to be strong. Ts Colby Whitlock and Rajon Henley are active and strong against the run. Howard, Brandon Sesay, Sandy Riley and incoming freshman Pearlie Graves, who turned down Michigan and Tennessee to join the Red Raiders, provide plenty of options and optimism at end.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Other than Wall at one cornerback spot, the secondary looks like a source of high anxiety. There will be two new starters at safety, and Brent Nickerson - who was a part-time starter last season - and LaRon Moore will vie for the starting job at the corner spot opposite Wall. Questions at three secondary positions are especially troublesome with Tech facing four quarterbacks - Houston's Case Keenum, Texas' Colt McCoy, Kansas' Todd Reesing and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford - who ranked among the nation's top 12 in passing last season.
The Red Raiders aren't great in the kicking game, but they are OK. Donnie Corona and Matt Williams likely will share kicking chores. Williams takes care of extra points and short field-goal attempts, while Corona handles anything more than 40 yards. P Jonathan LaCour doesn't figure to earn any all-conference honors, but he's solid. The return teams could be explosive with Lewis and Edward Britton bringing back punts and Jeffers providing incredible speed on kickoff returns. The Red Raiders typically are sound on kick coverage, too.
Since Leach became coach in 2000, Texas Tech never has had a losing season and routinely fields one of the nation's most productive offenses. Last season, the Red Raiders had one of the most successful years in school history with 11 victories. But Tech hasn't been able to win the Big 12 South, and defense often has been an Achilles' heel. That unit has improved since Ruffin McNeill took over as coordinator midway through the '07 season. In a move to upgrade the special teams, Leach brought in Eric Russell from Louisiana Tech, which had excellent special teams last season.
Until last season, Texas Tech had a history of struggling on the road. This season, the Red Raiders - who were 4-1 away from Lubbock last season - have a chance to prove that's no longer an issue. But it won't be easy. The Red Raiders must travel to Texas, Houston, Nebraska and Oklahoma State. They also have a neutral-site game against improving Baylor in Arlington, Texas. They face a couple of difficult tasks at home, too, with games against Kansas and Oklahoma. Overall, the Red Raiders face five opponents that figure to be ranked in most preseason top 25s.
Leach has said the Red Raiders will be good again. They will. But any team that lost the talent Tech did - Harrell, Crabtree, Rylan Reed, Louis Vasquez, Brandon Williams and Darcel McBath - has to anticipate some kind of decline, especially with the Big 12 South once again appearing loaded. Tech doesn't project to be among the top challengers in the South race this year, but the Red Raiders could be a major pain in the neck for the main contenders and could play a big role in determining the winner. Another eight- or nine-win season is a realistic goal.
Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.