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Texas Tech Football: 2018 Red Raiders Preview and Prediction

Dakota Allen, Texas Tech Football

Dakota Allen, Texas Tech Football

Texas Tech's comeback victory over Texas -- a win that made the Raiders bowl eligible -- likely saved Kliff Kingsbury's job last year. However, the former Tech quarterback begins 2018 squarely on the hot seat once again. Kingsbury has struggled to field a successful defense during his five-year tenure, but there are signs coordinator David Gibbs has this unit moving in the right direction. The Red Raiders allowed 32.2 points per game in 2017, down from 43.5 the previous year. With nine starters back, another step forward is a realistic expectation. High-powered offenses are an annual tradition in Lubbock, but the 2018 unit features more question marks at QB and receiver than in recent years. With an opener against Ole Miss and five Big 12 road games, Tech has little margin for error in its quest to return to a bowl game.

Previewing Texas Tech Football's Offense for 2018

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For the first time in a number of years, there are more questions and concerns about Texas Tech's offense than its defense. The Red Raiders will be extremely green at the skill positions this fall, as sophomore outside receiver T.J. Vasher is the only returning regular at the three combined positions of receiver, running back and quarterback.

The one position group on offense that's solidified heading into the fall is the offensive line. It's a unit that saw all five starters -- each of whom return this season -- see action on the field together at the same five positions in 11 straight games in 2017, a rarity in college football.

The opposite is true at receiver, however, as Texas Tech will lose 70 percent of its receiving production from a year ago with the departures of Keke Coutee, Dylan Cantrell and other seniors. At quarterback, the open race between McLane Carter and Jett Duffey will roll into fall camp. Both are dual-threat players who can get the job done with their arms and feet.

Tre King is the favorite to start at running back after blasting out of nowhere as a former junior college walk-on who ran for 623 yards (on a 4.8-yard average) and five TDs last season.

Previewing Texas Tech Football's Defense for 2018

In stark contrast to the offense, this Tech defense under David Gibbs' guidance is a totally known commodity. Tech returns nine starters from a unit that surprised a year ago, when it made a 30-spot jump in scoring defense from 128th to 98th, a 54-spot jump in run defense from 116th to 62nd and a jaw-dropping 106-spot jump in turnovers gained from 112th to sixth.

Prime among those starters are disruptive end Eli Howard, block-eating tackle Broderick Washington, All-America candidate at linebacker Dakota Allen, stalwart safety Jah'Shawn Johnson and ball-hawking nickel back Justus Parker. It's a unit loaded with upperclassmen and experience, one that's looking to go from surprising upstart to stalwart stopper. Believe it or not, Texas Tech is playing defense these days.

Previewing Texas Tech Football's Specialists for 2018

Let's cut right to the chase: The kicking game was an unmitigated disaster for Texas Tech in 2017. Tech's four placekickers made just 12-of-23 field goals a year ago, missing critical kicks that would've likely won the Red Raiders games against West Virginia and Kansas State. Punting from Dominic Panazzolo was erratic as well, as he'd show off great placement only to follow it with a shank. To sum it up: Tech's only choice is to tighten up the kicking game in every aspect. A healthy Clayton Hatfield -- he was the preseason first-team All-Big 12 kicker in 2017 -- should help immensely on field goals.

Final Analysis

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Texas Tech's defense got key stops consistently for the first time in years in 2017, but the offense often wasted away those opportunities, particularly in the red zone, where short-yardage situations and field goal tries often ended in disaster.

To take a step forward, the Red Raider offense simply has to get tougher on the ground, the quarterback -- whoever wins the job -- needs to be steady, the kicking game must take a huge step forward and the defense needs to stay on course. A veteran offensive line and a healthy kicker in Hatfield should help, but the quarterback's success or failure will weigh the heaviest on this team's season. Kliff Kingsbury's job depends on it.

NATIONAL RANKING: 54
BIG 12 PREDICTION: 9