Big 12: Texas Texas Red Raiders

ESPN Insider Travis Haney unveiled his list of sleeper national title contenders by conference.

His pick from the Big 12? The Texas Tech Red Raiders.

You can read more of Haney's reasoning here . But below is a sample of what he wrote:
The quarterback position -- a mystery at times last fall -- is now settled. Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield transferred, leaving Davis Webb to run the offense.

All-Big 12-caliber receivers Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez could make Webb look good, too.

With Texas and Oklahoma at home, the Raiders could be better suited to hang in there this November. They could be sneaky conference title contenders, depending how things break for others in the Big 12.
This week, we continue breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players currently on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

Next up, the Texas Tech Red Raiders:

[+] EnlargeLe'Raven Clark
John Albright/Icon SMILe'Raven Clark is one of the best linemen in the Big 12.
1. OT Le'Raven Clark: Clark was a second-team All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, one of only two Big 12 offensive linemen to earn all-conference recognition as an underclassman last season. While the rest of the offensive line struggled, Clark was rock-solid, protecting the blind sides of Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb and Michael Brewer. Over the next two years, Webb will have no better friend than Clark.

2. RB/LB Kenny Williams: Second place on this list was a bit wide open. But Williams is one of the clear leaders for the Red Raiders, and a valuable piece to the offense -- and perhaps the defense, too. After rushing for 1,321 yards the last two seasons, Williams asked for a shot this spring at outside linebacker, where he has been taking first-team snaps. Whether it be offense, defense or both, Williams will be a big part of the team next season.

3. QB Davis Webb: No QB had a better bowl-game performance than Webb, who shredded Arizona State for 403 yards, four touchdowns and a completion percentage of 68.3. Webb had some struggles as a true freshman but showed what he was capable of with the reins of the offense. If Webb builds off his Holiday Bowl performance, he could develop into one of the best QBs in the Big 12 -- if not the country.

4. WR Jakeem Grant: Besides Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett, there might not be a better playmaker at receiver than Grant, who finished sixth in the Big 12 in receiving yards last season despite missing two games. Grant was benched late in the season but responded the way Kliff Kingsbury had hoped he would with two touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl. Even with Eric Ward and Jace Amaro gone, the Red Raiders could boast a formidable receiving corps with Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis leading the way.

5. WR Bradley Marquez: Marquez, along with Williams, is one of the team’s leaders and its most reliable returning pass-catcher. In the last three seasons, there have been only two games in which Marquez did not have a reception.

6. OLB Pete Robertson: Robertson is Texas Tech’s top returning defensive player after earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors anchoring the “bandit” role in Matt Wallerstedt’s 3-4 scheme. Robertson was one of several Red Raiders to have a tremendous showing in the Holiday Bowl, collecting a career-high 11 tackles, including two for loss against the No. 14 Sun Devils. Wallerstedt is counting on more of those performances from Robertson in 2014.

7. WR Reginald Davis: The potential of this former high school quarterback is boundless. Davis spent the last two seasons learning the nuances of playing receiver, but finally began to break out late last season. In the Holiday Bowl, he hauled in a 38-yard pass and returned a kick for a touchdown that eradicated some momentum the Sun Devils had built in the second half. Davis will step into a more prominent role in 2014, and with more chances to make plays downfield, he’s capable of delivering a monster season.

8. ILB Sam Eguavoen: Eguavoen started every game at middle linebacker last season and finished third on the defense with 70 tackles. He will likely end up sliding over to the weak inside linebacker spot with Will Smith gone. Eguavoen might not be a flashy playmaker, but he’s a steady tackler at the second level. Teamed up with Micah Awe, who is expected to take over for Eguavoen in the middle, the Red Raiders should be solid again on the inside.

9. CB Justis Nelson: This freshman had his redshirt removed in the 10th game of the season and played admirably down the stretch opposite veteran Bruce Jones. Nelson closed out the Holiday Bowl with a fourth-quarter interception that sealed the victory for the Red Raiders. With Jones gone, Nelson will take over as Tech’s primary corner.

10. DL Branden Jackson: In his first year in the starting lineup, Jackson held up well and finished the season with nine tackles for loss. With Dartwan Bush and Kerry Hyder gone, Jackson will be Tech’s top returner along the defensive line.
Kliff Kingsbury’s first season as coach at Texas Tech featured plenty of superlatives. The Red Raiders got off to a torrid start and jumped into the top 10 of the polls. Then, after opening 7-0, Texas Tech nosedived with five straight losses to close out the regular season.

Nobody is focusing on the losing streak anymore, though. Not after the Red Raiders hammered Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl in one of the biggest upsets of the bowl season.

As he prepares for the opening of spring practice, Kingsbury took time to speak with ESPN.com about the impact of that bowl win, his incoming recruiting class and the unexpected departures of quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer:

What was the biggest need you wanted to fill in this class?

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Brad Davis/Icon SMIKliff Kingsbury brought a youthful excitement to Texas Tech in his first season as head coach.
Kingsbury: We felt like with the starters we were losing on defense, we needed immediate help on that side of the ball. This was a defensively heavy class. We have several jucos who can make an impact right away. That was the biggest deal, finding instant impact defensive players, especially defensive linemen to shore up our run defense, which really cost us during that five-game (losing) stretch. I felt like we did that.

How did you get Nigel Bethel II (ESPN 300 cornerback) all the way from Miami?

Kingsbury: It was huge. That was a relationship (cornerbacks coach) Kevin Curtis had worked on. He stayed with it even after Nigel committed to Miami. He was a Miami kid, but when he came out to a game, he loved the atmosphere and enjoyed the visit. We played up the fact that we play in a conference that throws more than anyone. We play a lot of man coverage, where you can do your thing. He was excited about getting a chance to do that in the Big 12.

What drew you to your quarterback in this class, Patrick Mahomes?

Kingsbury: He has that playmaking ability. He’s a winner. When you watch his games, he refuses to lose. If it’s fourth-and-8, he’ll run for a first down. He’s still raw at the position, having played three sports his whole life. He hasn’t just focused on football. But we feel like in our system, his mechanics will improve. He’s just scratching the surface of the quarterback he can be. You can’t teach his playmaking ability and ability to extend the play. He’s a fun player to watch.

Mahomes is also a pretty big baseball prospect. What is the plan if he gets drafted high?

Kingsbury: If he’s that type of prospect, and the money is such, we want him to do what’s best for his family and his career. But I know he wants to play college quarterback, and that’s his intention right now. We’ve brought in some walk-on kids, and we’ve had success with that in the past. I feel like even if we don’t have a bunch of scholarship guys, we have depth at the position.

How was pursuing this recruiting class different from your first one at Tech?

Kingsbury: When we came in late last year, everything was more on blind faith. We had to tell kids what we were going to be, what was coming. At least we had a product this year they could see. They could watch our games, see our coaches, see our stands, see our uniforms. We actually had a product to sell. The reception has been good. They see we’re here with a purpose, that this university is something special to us.

How critical was the bowl win to changing the tenor of the offseason?

Kingsbury: It was huge. We knew during that stretch we didn’t play good football. We had minuses in turnover margin and all the penalties. We didn’t play our game. But for an entire month, we focused on what got us to 7-0. Really got back to the basics. We didn’t let (the players) go home. And they bought into it and worked hard and wanted to win the bowl game. And they did. There’s a different vibe around this facility, and everyone is excited about starting spring ball.

Especially in light of his bowl game performance, how good can Davis Webb be for you?

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesKliff Kingsbury expects quarterback Davis Webb to make a leap as a sophomore.
Kingsbury: The success he had in that bowl game against one of the top defenses showed what he can be. He endured not being named the starter, battled, and worked to be the starter. When his opportunity came, when his name was called, he made the most of it. He has a tremendous skill set, and without having any competition this spring to push him, it’s on him to see how good he can be.

Where can he improve the most?

Kingsbury: The biggest thing with Davis was just the big mistake throughout the game. The three-four plays he made that you just can’t make. You can throw for a bunch of yards, but it’s those three-four catastrophic plays you’ve got to avoid. But he’ll get there. That comes with growing up and being a true freshman.

You’ve had two quarterbacks (Mayfield and Brewer) leave since the end of the regular season. Is there anything you would have done differently with them?

Kingsbury: No, I wouldn’t. I feel like I’ve always had great relationships with all the quarterbacks I’ve coached. Unfortunately those situations didn’t work out. I had great relationships with them. I think if you asked them, they’d say they enjoyed playing for me. For some reason, it didn’t work out. I’ll be pulling for them the rest of their careers. But as far as doing something different -- the season was what it was.

It seemed to me like both times you were surprised by their decisions. Is that accurate?

Kingsbury: In both cases, I didn’t see it coming. It was news to me when it did come. In talking to them both wanted a fresh start. I’m not going to hold it against them if they want to go somewhere else to play. We want kids that want to be here and want to be at Texas Tech.

It seems like Texas Tech fans want to know how you’re going to replace Jace Amaro. Obviously you can’t replace a player like that. But how do you plan to replace his production?

Kingsbury: We’ll just have a different look on offense. He was such a big target, a tough matchup on defense. If you got the ball close to his frame, he’d pull it in. He was great in run-game blocking. You just don’t replace a first-team All-American tight end who broke the (FBS tight end) receiving record. So we’ll be a little smaller, but with more speed. We’ve got a lot of guys coming back who have made a lot of catches here.

Even though he hasn't played much yet, do you think Reginald Davis can be a difference maker for you next season?

Kingsbury: I do. He’s a kid that came from a smaller class in high school. He played quarterback there, so he’s still learning the nuances of playing wide receiver. But his skill set is tremendous. He’s a great athlete; has great football knowledge. He showed flashes all last year. We’re going to find ways to get him the ball. He’s had a great offseason so far, and we’re expecting big things from him next year.

I know you guys have applied for a medical redshirt to get one final season for (starting right tackle) Rashad Fortenberry (who only played in three games in 2012 when he had back issues). Have you heard anything yet?

Kingsbury: Think the date we'll hear back is the beginning of March. That’s when we’ll know.

What about your other tackle, Le'Raven Clark (All-Big 12 as a sophomore) -- can he be an NFL starter down the line?

Kingsbury: He definitely has the potential. He’s a guy that continues to get better. He’s beginning to understand how good he can be. We’re excited about the offensive line we have coming back. We’ve got guys that have played in big games. We’re bringing in some junior college tackles that can play right away. I think we’ll see a big improvement up front. We didn’t run the ball as well as we wanted. We didn’t protect the quarterbacks very well, either.

What were your thoughts on the proposed rule changes to slow down the game?

Kingsbury: I hated it, obviously. I’ve been confused why it was even brought up. To throw it on players’ safety is ridiculous. There’s no data that says anything about high-tempo offenses causing more injuries. I’m baffled by it a bit, but I don’t think it’s going to pass.

Why didn’t you participate in the slam-dunk contest with some of your players at halftime of the basketball game last week?

Kingsbury: I didn’t want to end up on SportsCenter’s Not Top Ten.

Young, Benson lead dramatic UT comeback that ranks No. 22

June, 11, 2009
6/11/09
6:18
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 22: A Texas-sized comeback

Mack Brown's team was headed for a humiliating home defeat.

The Longhorns were in a huge 35-7 hole after Oklahoma State had put them on their heels late in the first half.

But what happened after Brown's stirring halftime speech was unlike any previous performance in the history of the Texas program.

Date: Nov. 6, 2004
Place: Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas
Score: Texas 56, Oklahoma State 35

It was the kind of game that could get coaches fired.

With the Longhorns trailing by 28 points late in the first half, Brown turned things over to sophomore quarterback Vince Young and junior tailback Cedric Benson.

The Longhorns drove 80 yards late in the first half, with Young hooking up with Bo Scaife for a 4-yard touchdown in the closing seconds to pull the Longhorns within 35-14 at the break.

From there, the Longhorns scored touchdowns on the next six drives to notch the largest comeback in school history.

In the process, they fulfilled a prediction by Brown, who told his team they would come back to win the game despite the huge halftime deficit and its first-half struggles.

Benson finished by rushing for 141 yards and five touchdowns. And Young set a school record by completing 12 straight passes in the second half, passing for a then career-high 278 yards and rushing for 123 yards to spark the rally.

The Longhorns finished by piling up 600 yards of total offense.

The numbers: Texas outgained OSU, 266 to minus-5, in the third quarter. Texas averaged 12.6 yards per snap and collected 11 first downs in the third quarter alone.

They said it, part I: "What a perfect half by Oklahoma State. They can't get any better ... and we can't do any worse than we were doing," Brown description of the first-half struggles of his team.

They said it, part II: "I said what we're going to do is score on the first drive and beat them 42-35. I apologized to them at the end of the game because I underestimated them," Brown on what he told his team at halftime when facing the three-touchdown deficit.

The upshot: Instead of having to answer critics for a blowout home loss, the wild comeback pushed the Longhorns on a seven-game winning streak to finish the 2004 season. Texas punctuated the season with a stirring 38-37 comeback victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl and finished the season fifth in the final Associated Press poll.

The Longhorns were just getting started. Texas ran off 13 straight victories the following season to claim the national championship. Included in the run was a 47-28 comeback victory over Oklahoma State in Stillwater when the Longhorns charged back from an early 19-point deficit. The winning streak was extended to 21 games before losing to Ohio State early in the 2006 season.

Oklahoma State finished the 2004 season 7-5, capped by a 33-7 loss to Ohio State in the Alamo Bowl. Shortly after that game, OSU coach Les Miles resigned to accept the head-coaching job at LSU.

The countdown:  

23. A Border War unlike any of the rest -- Missouri over Kansas in 2007.  

24. Seneca Wallace's wild TD run vs. Texas Tech in 2001.  

25. Baylor's "So Much for Taking a Knee."  

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