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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Second-half outlook: Texas Tech

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Record: 5-2

Remaining schedule: Texas A&M, Kansas, at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor (at Arlington).

Texas Tech could have come apart several times this season. But coach Mike Leach kept the Red Raiders together, even after a two-game losing streak that prompted players to air their gripes on Twitter and the one-game suspension for Brandon Carter. Leach has guided the Red Raiders through difficulties as starting quarterback Taylor Potts went down with a concussion, replacing him with untested Steven Sheffield -- the first quarterback controversy of his coaching tenure. Now, he likely will start Potts in Sheffield’s place after he sustained a foot injury last week against Nebraska. No matter who starts, the Red Raiders have been a surprise in how they have played, especially since the losing streak. The offense is customary for Tech -- second nationally in passing and scoring, third in total offense and 118th rushing. But the biggest revelation has been the play of a defense that was thought to be a liability before the season. Ruffin McNeill’s group ranks eighth in sacks, 24th in total defense and 34th in scoring defense. The play of Brandon Sharpe and Daniel Howard has been unexpectedly strong and provided a consistently strong pass rush. The Red Raiders have a manageable schedule with only one true road game remaining. It should be shaping up for a strong finish and a nice bowl trip if they can keep winning -- which they should be able to do.

Best-case scenario: The Red Raiders sweep the rest of their games, beating Oklahoma State and Oklahoma convincingly enough to start some late buzz as an at-large BCS team. It's not out of the question if they play like they have the last few weeks and other teams around the country start getting nicked. It could mean a better bowl than might be expected.

Worst-case scenario: Their schedule looks manageable, but still tricky -- particularly if their quarterback woes aren’t sorted out. A couple of difficult games remain like the Kansas and Oklahoma home contests or the trip to Oklahoma State. Lose all three of them and the Red Raiders will be looking at a low-level bowl game.

My prediction: The Red Raiders could struggle and lose a game to Oklahoma State to finish at 9-3. That might be enough to sending them skidding to the Sun Bowl, especially if Oklahoma finishes strong and gets picked by the Holiday Bowl. It wouldn’t be the most attractive finish for the conference or the schools, but Oklahoma would be more attractive in San Diego than Texas Tech -- particularly because the new bowl contract won’t give the Holiday Bowl many more options at the Sooners in the future. No matter how it turns out, the Red Raiders will have played better than they anticipated and should have a chance at back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time in school history if they can win the bowl.