Big 12: Ruffin McNeill

Tech season ticket sales on record track

May, 25, 2010
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When Texas Tech fired Mike Leach last December, the program looked likely to suffer financially -- at least in the short term. Thousands of messages and e-mails from fans and alums, some pledging to stop buying season tickets, made it a reasonable assumption.

Leach gave Texas Tech an identity, a national presence that people couldn't seem to get enough of, from the TV show "Friday Night Lights" to a segment on"60 Minutes."

Though Mike Wallace might not be paying Jones AT&T Stadium a visit anytime soon, plenty of Texas Tech fans will. The university has sold 27,570 season tickets three months before the season begins, only a few shy of the record-high 30,000 set in 2008, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Texas Tech has a pretty good home schedule in 2010, hosting Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Houston, which might help that number, but it doesn't explain a record.

“Coach (Tommy) Tuberville has done an excellent job of getting out and talking about their new program,” Craig Wells, Tech’s associate athletic director told the Avalanche-Journal.

Tuberville is the reason why the sales are up, but him getting on the road and talking about it isn't going to make 30,000 people shell out their money for his product.

Wells says a new 6,000 seat addition with "affordable" seats helped. No argument here.

But the overwhelming reason is simple: People are excited. Getting people excited isn't simple, but Tech seems to have done it. While the excitement for the team's success probably isn't at the level it was in 2008, it's still high. Getting a coach with a big name like Tuberville, whether he gets out and meets people, was a move that's going to fatten the university's wallet. It's also one that saved them from a post-Leach disaster. The university has already won, even if Tuberville's team doesn't. While the hire may not have been a home run in the eyes of the media, these ticket sales suggest Red Raider fans disagree.

All other credentials aside, a coach like Ruffin McNeill, Sonny Dykes, Art Briles or Kevin Sumlin could have done that. Tuberville, even after his ouster at Auburn, still has an air of legitimacy and an undefeated season in the SEC, even if his style didn't mesh with what the folks in Lubbock were used to seeing for the past decade.There's hope that Tuberville could take Tech where they've never been before, just as he did at Auburn in a jam-packed, competitive SEC West that's similar to the Big 12 South.

They want to see what Tuberville is capable putting on the field. Now, it's up to him to make them happy and keep that ticket number high -- or perhaps higher -- in his second season.

Texas Tech spring wrap

May, 6, 2010
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2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters: Offense (7), Defense (6) P/K (2)

Top returners: QB Steven Sheffield, WR Detron Lewis, QB Taylor Potts, RB Baron Batch, WR Alex Torres, CB LaRon Moore, DT Colby Whitlock, LB Brian Duncan, LB Bront Bird

Key losses: DE Brandon Sharpe, OL Brandon Carter, CB Jamar Wall, OL Marlon Winn, LB Marlon Williams, DE Daniel Howard

2009 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Baron Batch* (884 yards)

Passing: Taylor Potts* (3,440 yards)

Receiving: Detron Lewis* (844 yards)

Tackles: Brian Duncan* (87)

Sacks: Brandon Sharpe (15)

Interceptions: Franklin Mitchem*, LaRon Moore*, Jamar Wall (2)

Three spring answers

1. Business as usual. The offense will remain the same under new coordinator Neal Brown, like he said it would. Other than differences in terminology and how plays are relayed to the quarterback, the offense will be similar to former coach Mike Leach’s. One big difference is that quarterbacks will have the green light to tuck the ball and run if the opportunity arises.

2. Let's run this town. Brown says the Red Raiders will run more next season. The main reason is his offense’s depth at running back. Texas Tech has three running backs who could be factors in leading rusher Baron Batch, as well as sophomores Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens. The pass will still be king in Lubbock, but the running game will likely be featured more than it ever was under Leach.

3. Taking out their aggression. Former defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill is gone to East Carolina. He took with him his bend-but-don’t-break defensive approach. Now, Texas Tech will be dictating the action with former Alabama linebackers coach James Willis coordinating the defense. He helped the Crimson Tide win a national title in 2009 with his blitz-happy schemes that force defenses to make difficult throws instead of preventing the big play at the cost of giving up underneath passes.

Three fall questions

1. What happens once the QBs become healthy again? Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts’ battle for the QB job ended early this spring when Sheffied re-broke his foot and Taylor Potts suffered a serious laceration to his throwing hand. Both underwent surgery midway through the team’s 15 practices and did little to settle the quarterback debate. Sheffield likely had a slight edge when the two were injured, but they’ll pick up where they left off—this time with more urgency—in the fall.

2. What happens if Brown’s offense stalls? The offense, even directed by two inexperienced quarterbacks, flourished late in the spring. But if Sheffield or Potts are unable to complete a high enough percentage of their passes or move the ball, will the Red Raiders depend even more on the run? If the offense doesn’t continue its run of piling up gawdy numbers against Big 12 defenses, will the spread return in 2011?

3. Will Tech fans embrace Tommy Tuberville? Mike Leach was perhaps the most beloved figure in the history of the program. Among the fans, at least. Will the fans cozy up to his less colorful, less quotable replacement? If he wins, it’ll be easy. Tuberville’s been historically more successful than Leach, but the bar in Lubbock has been set by Leach, who won more games than any coach in Texas Tech history.

Young QBs on display at Texas Tech

April, 12, 2010
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Texas Tech's defensive philosophy under coordinator James Willis is a radical departure from what Ruffin McNeill demanded in 2009. McNeill focused on preventing the big play, allowing offenses to dictate the action on the short side of the field.

Willis' more aggressive defense focuses on pressuring the quarterback, forcing runs to the flats and making passers complete difficult, deeper throws. Texas Tech is missing its two senior quarterbacks, but in a scrimmage on Saturday, sophomore Seth Doege and redshirt freshman Jacob Karam had success.

Both threw five touchdown passes each -- seven longer than 15 yards and three longer than 25 yards. But Willis, in his first spring at Texas Tech, says he's "not at all" concerned with his cornerbacks allowing the high number of scores and big plays. Some of that stems from the situational work during the scrimmage that clearly favored the offense. Only two of the 15 scoring drives for the offense began behind midfield.

"We try to [put] them in spots like that in practice, so when the time comes in game situations they know how to handle it. We don’t want the first time they see those type of things to be on game day," Willis said. "The finishing part, we have to get better at."

New coach Tommy Tuberville has to be impressed by the progress of the offense, keyed by big performances from running back Harrison Jeffers and Alex Torres alongside the quarterbacks.

Jeffers ran for 139 yards on nine carries, scoring on runs of 40 and 29 yards. Torres caught eight passes for 116 yards and four touchdowns. Two came over first-team corner Will Ford.

"It's what the defense gives you," Doege said. "The defense pressed today, so we took a lot of shots down field and it worked for us.’’

Doege and Karam were forced into action by injuries to seniors Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts. Both underwent surgery and will be out until well into summer. Sheffield's surgery repaired a broken foot, while Potts had ligaments repaired. Potts suffered a deep cut to his hand after hitting a teammate's helmet on the follow-through of a pass midway through spring. Both were on hand at Saturday's scrimmage.

They'll be gone after next season, but the 2011 quarterback race is already shaping up to be another great one in Lubbock.

Big 12 lunch links: A strong collection of recruiting stories

February, 3, 2010
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Happy Signing Day.

In between all of the signing announcements and the analysis throughout the day, how about some stories from across the Big 12 to keep you occupied throughout your lunch hour and before the news conferences later this afternoon?

Enjoy them.

Lunchtime links: Pelini plays 'Meet the Parents'

January, 29, 2010
1/29/10
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We're heading into the last weekend of the recruiting season.

Here are some lunchtime links to nibble on before we get there.

Big 12 lunch links: Is KU's Gridiron Club doomed?

January, 28, 2010
1/28/10
12:31
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It's icy and cold across much of the the nation's heartland this morning.

But here's an idea better than tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for some warming noontime satisfaction.

Why, of course -- a piping hot selection of Big 12 lunchtime links for your edification.

Enjoy.

Lunch links: Texas nixes Thurs. game vs. Huskers

January, 26, 2010
1/26/10
1:14
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How about a few hot Big 12 links for your lunchtime edification?

My doctor tells me that these nuggets are better than orange juice or hot chicken soup to keep away the common cold.

So here's to your health by reading these.

Big 12 links: Ins and outs of possible Missouri move

January, 25, 2010
1/25/10
1:10
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Monday is here.

Look on the bright side. It means a healthy dose of Big 12 lunch links to help you get through the drag of the first day of the work week.

Here's what I've got.

Tuberville's recruiting helps Tech gain and lose a late recruit

January, 25, 2010
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It's not that unusual when recruits make switches in late January.

They happen for a variety of reasons. We'll see them happening across the Big 12 and the nation during the next two weeks.

But two were notable that involved Texas Tech over the weekend.

New Tech coach Tommy Tuberville got his first "true" commitment at his new school when underrated Arkansas quarterback/linebacker Joe Carmical of Monticello, Ark., hooked up with the Red Raiders.

That recruiting attraction was important because Tech had earlier lost defensive end Kedrick Dial of Sulphur Springs, Texas, to conference rival Baylor.

Carmical is an interesting prospect. His 6-foot-2, 231-pound size makes it unlikely he would be used at quarterback or defensive end -- his two primary positions during most of his high school career.

Despite accounting for 39 touchdowns, leading his team to a state championship and playing like a dominant player at times, Carmical didn't garner much recruiting interest. He played a little linebacker as a senior and that's where most college recruiters project him.

But he was intrigued by Tuberville and the schemes of new Texas Tech defensive coordinator James Willis.

“Coach James Willis came to our house on Monday and we talked for a solid three hours, and the whole time it felt like he was reading my mind,’’ Carmical told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "We agreed on everything.

“Then we got out there and it was a beautiful campus, a strong fan base, people everywhere wearing their hats and talking Tech ball. The stadium was great. That’s where I belong. It fit. It clicked. It was the place I needed to be.’’

Tuberville's defensive reputation clearly helped him land Carmical in the whirlwind courtship. It will be his first recruiting product that Tuberville solely attracted to Lubbock without any groundwork from the previous coaching staff.

Earlier, Dial said he chose to attend Baylor when Ruffin McNeill didn't receive Tech's head coaching job. McNeill was one of two finalists for the vacancy after Mike Leach was fired.

That led to Dial opting for Baylor when Tuberville was hired.

“Coach McNeill was like my dad, and he left,” Dial told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “Baylor had tried to recruit me before I committed to Texas Tech last April. But when I visited Baylor this weekend, I loved it. The people here are great, and it’s closer to home.”

Tuberville's reputation as a defensive genius helped him gain one prospect. But it came after he lost another player who wanted to play in more familiar surroundings, rather than with Tuberville and his new staff.

Lunch links: KU Gridiron Club behind schedule

January, 22, 2010
1/22/10
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Happy Friday.

Before we head into the weekend, here are some stories that people are talking about across the Big 12.

For your edification, here they are.

Texas Tech's all-decade team

January, 21, 2010
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Despite its isolated location, Texas Tech became one of the prime stories in college football during the last decade.

Tech was an underrated program on the field, qualifying for a bowl game in every season under Mike Leach.

In building his program, Leach was known for his love of pirates and Sherlock Holmes and many other things that had little to do with football. He was a breath of fresh air in the coaching fraternity.

When he was fired after the 2009 regular season, it was a national story because of its abrupt nature.

The Red Raiders claimed 85 victories during the decade, trailing only Oklahoma and Texas. All but one of those wins was earned by Leach, who was fired shortly before Tech’s Valero Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan State.

The Red Raiders certainly were the Big 12's most entertaining program with a high-powered offense and the quirky Leach in charge. And when they were at their very best, the Red Raiders had an underrated defense directed by Ruffin McNeill that accentuated the team’s offensive firepower.

Here’s a look at my selections for the top moments and players for Tech from the last decade.

OFFENSE

QB: Graham Harrell

RB: Taurean Henderson

RB: Baron Batch

WR: Michael Crabtree

WR: Joel Filani

WR: Wes Welker

OL: Brandon Carter

OL: Rylan Reed

OL: Luis Vasquez

OL: Daniel Loper

C: Dylan Gandy

DEFENSE

DL: Aaron Hunt

DL: Adell Duckett

DL Brandon Sharpe

DL: Brandon Williams

LB: Lawrence Flugence

LB: Mike Smith

LB: Marlon Williams

DB: Dwayne Slay

DB: Kevin Curtis

DB: Darcel McBath

DB: Jamar Wall

P: Alex Reyes

K: Alex Trlica

Ret: Wes Welker

Offensive player of the decade: WR Michael Crabtree. Despite playing only two seasons, he became the most productive receiver in Tech’s history. He was a two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award with 231 receptions and 41 TD grabs setting an NCAA record for two seasons of production.

Defensive player of the decade: S Kevin Curtis. A fiery, hard-hitting safety, Curtis was the most decorated and one of the most versatile defensive player of the decade for the Red Raiders. Curtis earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 1999 and 2000 and second-team all-conference honors in 2001. He was a second-team All-American in 2000 while playing strong safety and a second-team All-America choice in 2001 after moving to free safety.

Coach of the decade: Mike Leach. He perhaps was the most influential coaching figure in Big 12 history as he helped push the conference from a stodgy run-based attack to one where cutting-edge passing attacks predominated. He also became a national figure because of his personality and his guest appearances on television shows as diverse as “Sixty Minutes” and “Friday Night Lights.”

Moment of the decade: Michael Crabtree’s late touchdown grab beats Texas in 2008. Graham Harrell’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree was one second left helped push Tech to an area it had never been before. It not only boosted them to a 39-33 triumph over Texas but also served as a national coming-out party for Leach, Crabtree and the rest of the Tech program. In the process, the Red Raiders earned an unprecedented share of the Big 12 South title that season.

Big 12 lunch links: IRS could be looking at coaching salaries

January, 21, 2010
1/21/10
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This is a history-making post for me, my 4,000th over the past 18 months.

When you figure roughly 500 words per post -- give or take a few extra during the season -- that's more than 2 million words that have been churned out about the Big 12.

I feel like we should celebrate -- with a few lunch links.

So how about these?

Ranking the Big 12's programs of the decade

January, 21, 2010
1/21/10
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The arrival of Mack Brown and Bob Stoops late in the 1990s helped rejuvenate dormant programs at Texas and Oklahoma. By the end of the following decade, both traditional powers were clearly the Big 12's top two programs and among the nation’s best.

The return of Bo Pelini to Nebraska helped the Cornhuskers close the decade strongly and claim a spot just below the Big 12's "Big Two." Texas Tech has been among the nation's most consistent teams of the decade. North teams like Colorado, Kansas State and Missouri all popped up to make at least two appearances in the Big 12 title game.

But Oklahoma and Texas have been the Big 12's behemoths during the recent decade. Here's how I rank the programs ranked based on their accomplishments in the last decade.

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners earn a slight edge over Texas despite the same number of victories in the decade because Bob Stoops took them to six Big 12 titles. The earlier teams depended more on defense, while Stoops’ more recent squads have been offensive juggernauts to reflect the overall change in the Big 12.

2. Texas: A victory in the BCS title game earlier this month might have catapulted Texas into the top slot. Mack Brown has pushed his program into parity with Oklahoma after struggling with the Sooner dynasty built by Stoops earlier in the decade.

3. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers withstood more tumult in the last decade than in any era since Bob Devaney turned the program in 1962. Even with two coaching changes, Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers steered to the top of the North Division and poised for much more heading into the new decade.

4. Texas Tech: Mike Leach took the Red Raiders to an 84-43 record during the decade, with another victory added by Ruffin McNeill in the Valero Alamo Bowl for third place among Big 12 teams in victories. They fall behind Nebraska because they still have never advanced to the Big 12 title game or claimed a BCS bowl berth. That will be Tommy Tuberville’s task to change the culture and break that ceiling for the program.

5. Kansas State: The program was at its best during the early part of the decade when Bill Snyder took the Wildcats to the last title by a North Division team in 2003. The program dipped under Ron Prince, but could be poised to make another step forward after confounding prognosticators by remaining in the North Division title hunt until the last game in 2009.

6. Missouri: Gary Pinkel has the program humming with two title-game berths, strong incoming talent and a reputation as the conference’s foremost developers of unheralded recruiting talent. Pinkel's growth has been strong, but he still needs to take them another step where they start winning conference championships and appearing in BCS bowl games.

7. Oklahoma State: The infusion of T. Boone Pickens’ money has helped make the Cowboys’ facilities as good as most in college football. That growth has helped pick up recruiting as Mike Gundy’s program has made a bowl trip in four of his five years coaching the Cowboys.

8. Colorado: Gary Barnett had the Buffaloes as the North Division’s most consistent program with four championship game appearances in five seasons, including the 2001 Big 12 title. They haven’t been nearly as successful since Dan Hawkins took over with one bowl trip, no bowl victories or trips to the championship game.

9. Texas A&M: The Aggies still have the elements that could return them to prominence with rich tradition, strong facilities and an ideal recruiting location. But it’s tougher for them to challenge in the South Division with Oklahoma and Texas at the highest levels in recent history and growing programs at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and even Baylor.

10. Kansas: Mark Mangino has awakened football interest here, but it will be up to Turner Gill to build on that growth. The North Division looks open, but Gill will be challenged to match Mangino’s achievements early in his coaching tenure without an immediate replacement for Todd Reesing at quarterback.

11. Iowa State: Dan McCarney's turnaround of this program in the early part of the decade is one of the more underrated building projects in recent college football history after taking the Cyclones to five bowls in the first six seasons of the decade. Included in that run were two near-misses where the Cyclones legitimately could have made a championship-game appearance with more consistent kicking. Athletic director Jamie Pollard went for the sizzle when he hired Gene Chizik to replace McCarney. He now appears to have found a McCarney clone with steady Paul Rhoads in charge.

12. Baylor: The last decade will be marked by an incredible series of building projects at Baylor, but still no bowl game. The Bears appeared poised in 2009 before Robert Griffin's unfortunate season-ending knee injury. Art Briles turned down a couple of intriguing possibilities to remain at Baylor and try to stem the bowl drought, currently at 15 seasons and counting.

Big 12 lunch links: Donald Trump shows his support for Mike Leach

January, 20, 2010
1/20/10
1:02
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We've got more lunch links that we can shake a stick at this afternoon.

My doctor tells me that consuming these links every day will help prevent colds.

Call it my version of chicken soup for the Big 12 fan's soul.

Big 12 links: Jeffcoat, McNeill, Leavitt could be on Stoops' radar

January, 19, 2010
1/19/10
12:45
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In the middle of all of the stuff we're putting together looking back at the past decade, there's still some news across the Big 12.

Here are some of the conference's most notable headlines for your noontime edification.

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