- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week we've been highlighting the key position battles for every program in the Big 12. We continue this series with Texas Tech, which is still trying to figure out who will start at cornerback opposite Justis Nelson.
Here's where the battle stands:
Non-contender: freshman Nigel Bethel II
Who they replace: Bruce Jones was a solid two-year starter for the Red Raiders after transferring in from junior college. He started all 13 games last season and finished with 50 tackles, 10 pass breakups and 3.5 tackles for loss.
What they offer: The unknown.
Nelson proved his chops as a true freshman last season, starting down the stretch and coming up with a game-clinching interception in the bowl win against Arizona State. But the Red Raiders will need someone else to emerge on the other side of the field.
This week, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt said he expects both Johnson and Madison to be in the two-deep. That speaks to their potential. But it also speaks to the potential weakness of the position. Newbold has been too inconsistent, while Nguema hasn't made enough plays to lock up a job.
Madison might be the favorite to ultimately prevail in the competition. At 160 pounds, he's still rather slight. But like Nelson, Madison has practiced with tenacity and confidence from the day he arrived on campus. Madison was a two-way star for his high school team, and shined while playing with a torn triceps and chipped bone in his elbow. He's tough.
Johnson was recruited as a safety, but was switched to corner after Bethel was suspended.
Speaking of Bethel, he won't compete for a job right away while he serves a three-game suspension for an altercation he had this summer with a Texas Tech women's basketball player. But Bethel is immensely gifted. If he keeps the right attitude behind the scenes and the coaching staff elects not to redshirt him, he could be a factor down the stretch.
Prediction: The Red Raiders will go young, giving Madison a chance to show what he can do. There could be a few struggles early on. But with Nelson and safeties J.J. Gaines and Keenon Ward, Texas Tech will have a strong foundation in its secondary going forward. A foundation that will only get stronger if and when Bethel jumps into the rotation after serving his suspension.
4dJake Trotter, Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson