Lessons could be learned from last season when Texas Tech ripped off seven straight wins to begin the schedule, only to drop five straight.
Despite the skid, the Red Raiders still reached the Holiday Bowl, where they upset Arizona State to cap an 8-5 season in Kliff Kingsbury's first year as coach.
"I learned you need to be consistent even with the ups and downs,'' Kingsbury said. "The team is going to follow the lead of the coach. You need to bring the same energy every day and that's hard when you're losing games. I think we all learned how to handle adversity.''
The deal with Kingsbury can get a bit old for those intent only on football. The 35-year-old coach, a standout quarterback at Tech under Mike Leach, happens to be a sex symbol. Yet anytime the Red Raiders begin to underachieve, critics label the program as style over substance.
Hey, Kingsbury arrives at his office in the wee hours just like most major-college coaches. He puts in the work. And, after one season coaching Texas Tech, he has put his stamp on the fast-paced offense fans grew to love when Leach was in Lubbock.
The victory against Arizona State touched off a desirable commitment to offseason sweat all programs need to turn a corner. That turn may be approaching for the Red Raiders, who loaded up on juco transfers to cover a few holes.
Among the key losses in personnel was the move by productive tight end Jace Amaro to declare early for the NFL Draft, as well as the departure of dependable wide receiver Eric Ward.
There never seems to be many needs in the receiving unit at Tech, and this year is no exception. Returnees such as senior Bradley Marquez and junior Jakeem Grant figure to step up and become big-time targets. The pair combined for 114 receptions and 1,429 yards last year.
Davis Webb, one of three quarterbacks used last season, moves into his sophomore season with the potential to become a prolific passer behind a line that returns five starters. Webb's progression began with a 403-yard performance in the Holiday Bowl, in which he completed 68.3 percent of his passes.
"He's one of the hardest working quarterbacks I've ever been around,'' Kingsbury said. "He's earned everything he's gotten. Just the confidence he gained last year, going through the ups and downs, playing as a true freshman, becoming bowl game MVP, getting the Elite Eight invite. He's been around some of the top arms in college football now and I think he knows that he can compare and compete with any of them.''
High praise. But then, Kingsbury knows the Tech system fits a strong passer perfectly.
As for a stout defense, the Raiders hope the unit comes together behind a pair of senior linebackers, Sam Eguavoen and Kenny Williams. Williams moved to the defensive side after leading Tech in rushing twice, including a 497-yard output last season, with eight touchdowns.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: The beginning of the season will not be a cakewalk for Texas Tech, which plays three of its first five games on the road. The last two matchups in that swing open Big 12 play and are at Oklahoma State and Kansas State, two of the three different champions crowned since the league adopted a full round-robin schedule in 2011. Tech also plays at UTEP on Sept. 6, a tuneup for a Sept. 13 visit from former Southwest Conference rival Arkansas. Hardly an easy way to launch the 2014 season, but Tech needs to prove it can deal with such challenges after taking a five-game losing streak into the Holiday Bowl last year.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Winging the ball securely is the main goal for QB Davis Webb, who broke in last season and was impressive at times before the Red Raiders fizzled during their losing skid. Webb worked hard in the offseason and gained confidence from his impressive performance against Arizona State in the bowl game. He has enough playmakers among his receivers, as well as a veteran line that benefits from the versatility of All-Big 12 pick Le'Raven Clark. Defensively, newcomers must fill voids, though the Red Raiders are high on the talent they added up front.
AREAS OF CONCERN: The turnover margin Texas Tech managed last season played a key role to their late-season collapse, a minus-14 ratio that ranked last in the Big 12 by a margin of 10 giveaways. The defense managed just 19 takeaways to rank last in the league. That must change, in addition to the ball security the offense must manufacture. The offensive line, and Webb, must learn to play in sync after Tech allowed 33 sacks. Penalties also compounded mistakes as Tech ranked ninth in the Big 12 with 104 infractions for a 75.2-yard average.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I feel like I played good in a couple of games, not just the bowl game. But the bowl game, that was a heckuva win for our program. Hopefully, that will set us up for future things to come.'' -- Texas Tech QB Davis Webb.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
HEAD COACH: Kliff Kingsbury, second year at Texas Tech, 8-5 record at Texas Tech and as a head coach.
DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):
QB Davis Webb -- Although Texas Tech quarterbacks tend to have difficulty making a strong transition to the NFL, Webb could be the next thrower who gets a good, long look. He needs more experience, which he should get this season after splitting time last year with two other quarterbacks. Given he is 6-4, Webb has the height scouts like to adequately scan the field and avoid deflections.
OG Le'Raven Clark -- Moved to left tackle in a pinch for the Red Raiders last season and was solid at that spot. Clark (6-5, 320) could move back to right guard, depending on the development of junior-college transfer Dominique Robertson at tackle. Clark could prove every bit as capable as a run blocker as he did protecting the quarterback.
DE Branden Jackson -- Returns as a starter and could develop into a nice rusher off the edge after getting in on four sacks a year ago. If weight can be added to his 6-4 frame, and Jackson shows more explosiveness, he could draw NFL looks.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Davis Webb -- At Texas Tech, the system is always about the quarterback. Or is it the system that makes the quarterback. That debate has been waged since Kliff Kingsbury became the first QB to star under Mike Leach. Now as coach, Kingsbury continues to run an up-tempo attack, but is not afraid to try different QBs. Last year the Raiders used three. Webb was one of them. He passed for team-bests of 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns. If he earns Kingsbury's trust, Webb could become an All-Big 12 candidate.
BREAKOUT STAR: RB DeAndre Washington -- An opportunity was clearly given to the junior, who rushed for 450 yards last season and is the only Red Raiders' only experienced rusher after Kenny Williams was moved to linebacker. Williams happens to be a two-time rushing leader at Tech. Washington broke in with Tech in 2011 before a knee injury at the end of that season prompted a long recovery.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DT Keland McElrath -- Joined the Red Raiders in time for spring drills, which enabled McElrath to get a jump over other juco linemen who were recruited to bolster the defensive line. Considered a powerful run-stopper. McElrath had difficulty adjusting to a fast pace during spring camp, but used that experience to get into better shape. Other candidates exist too and will provide depth up front.
--DB Nigel Bethel was reinstated to the Texas Tech squad after being dismissed initially following an incident in the spring at the student recreation center. Bethel will miss three games as a result of his involvement in that incident, which also included Amber Battle, a member of the women's basketball team.
--QB Michael Brewer, one of three quarterbacks who played for the Red Raiders last season, is vying for the starting job at Virginia Tech, where he arrived in June as a graduate transfer. The other quarterback, Baker Mayfield, transferred to Oklahoma and is waiting on the NCAA to rule on whether he can play this season.
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- American Football
- Kliff Kingsbury
- Davis Webb