The Red Raiders rank No. 64 in Athlon’s Top 130 for 2017
After four uneven seasons, Kliff Kingsbury enters a critical campaign at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are coming off of a 5-7 campaign, must replace one of program’s most prolific quarterbacks while fixing one of the nation’s most porous defenses. There are some pieces for Kingsbury to work with, but also plenty of uncertainty on both sides of the ball. The bottom line is that Texas Tech needs to produce better results on the field, especially against Big 12 competition, and no one knows this more than Kingsbury.
Previewing Texas Tech Football’s Offense for 2017
Senior Nic Shimonek, a 2014 transfer from Iowa, is the heir apparent to record-setting quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Shimonek is not as mobile as Mahomes, but he has the arm strength to make all the throws in this high-octane offense, and he has impressed his teammates with his leadership abilities. No other quarterback on the roster has taken a snap at the FBS level.
Texas Tech returns an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver, including three of last year’s top four receivers — Keke Coutee, Dylan Cantrell and Cameron Batson. The Red Raiders also have high hopes for senior Derrick Willies, a former junior college transfer who battled injuries last fall. The receiving corps lost a key weapon this offseason after Jonathan Giles decided to transfer to LSU. Giles was expected to be one of the main targets for Shimonek this season.
Poor play on the offensive line and a limited run game are deficiencies that must be addressed in 2017, although both the line and the running backs corps are still fairly young and inexperienced. Last year’s total yards rushing (1,243) were less than half of the team’s output in 2016 (2,487). The run game woes were a bit of an anomaly in the Kliff Kingsbury era, so expect at least slight improvement. Da’Leon Ward showed promise as a tailback as a true freshman, rushing for at least 80 yards in each of his last four games.
Previewing Texas Tech Football’s Defense for 2017
David Gibbs enters Year 3 of his tenure as defensive coordinator, the first man to achieve such longevity at Texas Tech since 2009. He has nowhere to go but up, as the Raiders finished last in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense.
There are signs of hope, though. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks recorded 86 tackles (5.0 for a loss) last year as a freshman, and he will be joined by Dakota Allen, one of Texas Tech’s leading tacklers in 2015 who spent 2016 in the junior college ranks. The linebacking corps should be considered the strength of the defense.
The struggling secondary was reinforced — or at least that’s the plan — with new talent by way of incoming freshmen and transfers. The porous defensive line returns Broderick Washington and Joe Wallace on the interior, both standouts as freshmen in 2016, and will add Eli Howard at end after he sat out a year as a transfer from North Texas. Someone needs to step up as a pass rusher; Texas Tech’s pass rush was almost nonexistent in 2016, recording only 14 sacks in 12 games.
Previewing Texas Tech Football’s Specialists for 2017
Placekicker Clayton Hatfield has a career conversion rate of 90 percent (27-of-30) and will resume his duties in 2017. Batson has been returning punts and/or kicks since his freshman season and will continue to do so as a senior. Texas Tech struggled in the punting game last year, with multiple mishandlings of snaps and a poor net punt average. Junior college transfer Dominic Panazzolo and holdover Michael Barden figure to compete for the starting job.
Texas Tech has a lot to prove in 2017. There are glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed — specifically the run game, offensive line and one of the worst defenses in college football. Even in an area where Texas Tech typically succeeds — throwing the football — the Raiders are tasked with replacing arguably the best quarterback in school history with a player who has never started at the collegiate level.
All of this uncertainty on the field will add to the uncertainty with the coaching staff. Kingsbury is back for the fifth season at his alma mater, but the former record-setting quarterback is no doubt in a precarious position. A 13–23 record in Big 12 games simply is not good enough.