No. 67 Texas Tech
Texas Tech has won just 16 games the last three years, their lowest three-year win total since 1984-86. Though their defense can't stop anyone and they lost one of the best quarterbacks in college football, the Red Raiders are searching for big improvements in 2017.
Fifth-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who has delegated some offensive responsibilities to allow for more involvement in the defense, needs to show the program is headed back in the right direction.
2016 Record: 5-7 (3-6, Big 12)
Texas Tech missed a bowl game for the second time in three years — the first such stretch since 1997-99.
Once again, the Red Raiders' high-flying offense gashed defenses, leading the FBS in total yardage (564.5 per game) and passing (463) and ranking fifth in scoring (43.7 points per game). They failed to score 37 points just three times and scored 50 or more six times. Yet they lost seven games, including two in which they scored a combined 114 points.
Take two guesses why Texas Tech didn't reach the postseason despite obliterating scoreboards. You'll only need one.
Head Coach: Kliff Kingsbury (5th year, 24-26 overall)
Wunderkind coach Kliff Kingsbury returned to his alma mater in 2013 as a a 33-year-old first-time head coach. He flew out of the gate with an 8-5 mark but has only topped five wins once since (7-6 in 2015).
Texas Tech has never finished above fifth in the Big 12 in his four years and he appears to be entering a career-defining crossroads in 2017. He needs a better run game and not the worst defense in the FBS to get off the hot seat — they ranked dead last in scoring average (43.5) and total defense (554.3 yards per game).
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Nic Shimonek, RB Da'Leon Ward, WR Dylan Cantrell, WR Cameron Batson, WR Keke Coutee, OT Terence Steele, G Madison Akamnonu, C Paul Stawarz
The departure of Patrick Mahomes leaves the high-powered Texas Tech offense in the hands of senior Nick Shimonek.
The former Iowa transfer won't take as many chances as Mahomes and isn't as mobile, but he has big-time arm strength and won't force coordinator Eric Morris to limit his play-calling.
"Obviously, coach Kingsbury is one of the greatest offensive minds in the country — if not the best, and we talk alike and thing alike and have been together for almost eight years now," Morris said in February. "So, we are on the same page and he is comfortable with me being able to step in and do things the way he wants it done.”
Despite the April transfer of leading receiver Jonathan Giles, Shimonek will rely on a small army of electrifying receivers, led by the trio of Dylan Cantrell, Cameron Batson and Keke Coutee. They combined for 163 receptions and 23 touchdowns.
As spectacular as Mahomes was last year, their offense needs a run game. Their rushing totals were cut in half from 2015 and they finished 123rd nationally with 101.1 yards per game. Sophomore Da'Leon Ward was their leading rusher with just 428 yards — for comparison, Deandre Washington had 1,492 last year — and will once again lead the attack.
Three offensive line starters return, including two sophomores in tackle Terence Steele and guard Madison Akamnonu.
Key Returning Defensive Players
NT Joseph Wallace, DT Broderick Washington, DE Kolin Hill, LB Jordyn Brooks, CB D.J. Polite-Bray, S Jah'Shawn Johnson
Texas Tech's defense held TCU to 24 points in a double-overtime win last October. That's about the only good thing that happened all year and third-year defensive coordinator David Gibbs needs a huge step forward in 2017.
Despite stats that will make your eyes bleed, the porous unit actually has many playmakers, rising sophomores and intriguing transfers that should help them not rank dead last in scoring and total defense.
The unit is led by Jordyn Brooks (below), a sophomore linebacker who led the team in tackles and delivered some bone-crushing hits as a true freshman.
The interior defensive line returns two sophomores in Broderick Washington and Joseph Wallace, and junior Kolin Hill. The latter, a former Notre Dame transfer, was at times a disruptive force that flashed legitimate pass-rush abilities and appears ripe for a breakout season.
Elsewhere, the secondary is laced with veterans, including senior corner D.J. Polite-Bray and junior safety Jah'Shawn Johnson. Johnson had six passes defended, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. He was also a factor in run support.
Notable Player Losses
WR Jonathan Giles, LB Kris Williams, S Justis Nelson
Jonathan Giles opted to transfer to LSU after a monster sophomore season. Though the Red Raiders still have plenty of capable targets for Shimonek, his departure stings.
They suffered two notable losses on defense in linebacker Kris Williams and safety Justis Nelson. Williams was their only reliable disrupter last year. He was the only player with more than one sack and the only player with more than five tackles for loss.
Nelson, meanwhile, led the team with 12 passes defended and departed Lubbock with 158 tackles, three interceptions and 35 passes defended.
Notable Player Additions
WR T.J. Vasher, G Jack Anderson, DE Eli Howard, LB Dakota Allen, CB Jaylon Lane, CB Octavious Morgan
Jack Anderson is Texas Tech's highest-rated recruit in the rankings era. The four-star interior lineman from Frisco was the 10th-ranked prospect in Texas and No. 76 in the nation. He enrolled early and immediately rose to the top of the depth chart at guard.
T.J. Vasher is an enormous redshirt freshman receiver (6-foot-6) who won't be a go-to target this year but will become a huge part of their offense after the departures of Cantrell and Batson in 2018.
Reinforcements have arrived for the defense in the form of North Texas transfer Eli Howard and JUCO transfers Dakota Allen, Jaylon Lane and Octavious Morgan. Lane is a 6-foot-2, 190-pound safety who picked the Red Raiders over UCLA, Oregon State and others.
Hat tip to Texas Tech for their willingness to schedule an elite FCS opponent in Eastern Washington. The Red Raiders' tough non-conference begins by hosting the Eagles in Week 1 before facing Arizona State in Week 3 (home) and Houston in Week 4 (away).
With nine league games there are few scheduling surprises in the Big 12. But that hardly makes things easy. Their notable conference matchups include Oklahoma State and Kansas State at home and Oklahoma and Texas on the road.
|Saturday, Sept. 2
|vs. Eastern Washington
|Saturday, Sept. 16
|vs. Arizona State
|Saturday Sept. 23
|Saturday, Sept. 30
|vs. Oklahoma State
|Saturday, Oct. 7
|Saturday, Oct. 14
|at West Virginia
|Saturday, Oct. 21
|vs. Iowa State
|Saturday, Oct. 28
|Saturday, Nov. 4
|vs. Kansas State
|Saturday, Nov. 11
|Saturday, Nov. 18
|Friday, Nov. 24