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Big 12 preview: Texas Tech

The SportsXchange

LUBBOCK, Texas -- The experience of mentoring one first-year starter to a Heisman Trophy helps coach Kliff Kingsbury as he deals with breaking in another first-year starter in his initial season at Texas Tech.

"It does, it does," said Kingsbury, who served as quarterback Heisman winner Johnny Manziel's offensive coordinator at Texas A&M last year. "Having worked with a younger guy last year, first-time starter, you learn the good and bad and how much he can handle, how much you can put on him.

"Obviously, he was an exceptional case, but it definitely helps dealing with a first-time starter last year."

Kingsbury is looking at having a first-time starter as takes over at his alma mater. The expected starter, sophomore Michael Brewer, who played in five games, is facing a challenge from freshman Davis Webb, who enrolled early to take part in last spring's practice.

Nobody expects either to win a Heisman, of course, but the closer they can come to duplicating the numbers of their predecessor, Seth Doege (323.5 yards a game passing in 2012, 333.7 in 2011), the better chance the Red Raiders have of challenging in the Big 12 and returning to a bowl game in 2013.

Brewer was thought to be in line for the starting job when Jacob Karam announced his transfer to Memphis in December, 2011. However, Webb began to push Brewer quickly after enrolling early from Prosper High School in December, igniting a quarterback controversy.

Webb was splitting snaps with true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield since Brewer was sidelined with a bad back. Redshirt freshman Clayton Nicholas also has played.

To hear Kingsbury, it's all good.

"Three other guys, two true freshmen and one redshirt freshman, young guys, are getting reps," he said. "They're all performing well so it's been exciting to see them step up."

Kingsbury has been vague on the quarterback situation probably as much to complicate SMU -- Texas Tech's opponent on Aug. 30 -- as anything else.

"It will be a game time decision now," Kingsbury said last week. "We'll play it out the next few weeks and go from there."

Whoever plays quarterback will no doubt enjoy Eric Ward as a favorite target. Ward had 82 catches last year after recording 84 receptions as a sophomore in 2011. The threat he poses could open up things for Tech's other talented receivers.

Also, tight end Jace Amaro is expected to be an important weapon. Amaro was on his way to a big season before going down with an injury midway through 2012. He returned to the lineup in the bowl and game wound up with 25 receptions in just seven appearances for the year. He had five catches for 156 yards in Tech's 49-14 win over West Virginia before his injury.

Other than quarterback, skill positions look set. The receiving corps, headed by Eric Ward (82 catches for 1,053 yards and a dozen touchdowns in 2012) and Jakeem Grant (33-287), is deep, and the running game has depth as well. Junior Kenny Williams ran for 824 yards last year, and senior SaDale Foster added 451.

The key issue is developing depth up front, where three new starters must be found.

Defensively, the Raiders are going to a new scheme, but they should have the experience to handle it.

Six of the front seven returns, but safety Tre' Porter, who has had injury problems in the past, and cornerback Bruce Jones are the only defensive backs with significant experience.

Junior defensive lineman Jackson Richards, who has been at end throughout his career, will be a tackle in Tech's new 3-4 defensive scheme. He started all 13 games last year and recorded 29 tackles (23 solo).

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Texas Tech's defense will get a challenge right away in opening at SMU on Aug. 30. Mustangs coach June Jones, known for his success with the run-and-shoot offense, has brought in former Kentucky coach Hal Mumme to help with the Ponies' passing attack. The Red Raiders are home for their next three games, which include a big challenge from Big 12 rival TCU on Sept. 12, just five days after their home opener Sept. 7 against Stephen F. Austin. The Raiders are host to Texas State on Sept. 21 and have an open date on Sept. 28.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: If the Raiders get solid play at quarterback, they have the receivers for a potent passing game. Senior WR Eric Ward (166 receptions the last two years combined) leads the way there. Kenny Williams and SaDale Foster, who combined for 1,255 yards rushing last year, must continue to deliver. The defense must continue the progress is showed in 2012.

AREAS OF CONCERN: The offensive line is thin and features three new starters. The defensive scheme scheme is new as the Raiders switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and that could lead to a period of adjustment. Depth in the secondary could be an issue.

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