Big 12: Tommy Tuberville

Texas Tech opens up preseason camp on Saturday after players report today. Let's take a closer look at Kliff Kingsbury's squad going into camp.

Schedule: The Red Raiders begin practice on Saturday, and will also host a local media day that day. The Red Raiders open their season in Dallas on the road at SMU on Friday, Aug. 30.

Setting the scene: Tommy Tuberville's exit came out of nowhere this season, but AD Kirby Hocutt gave Tech fans exactly what they wanted: Kliff Kingsbury. He took a measured approach in spring practice, waiting to learn more about his personnel before he locked in what he wanted to do on offense or defense.

Eyeing clarity: Michael Brewer was the assumed starter in Lubbock, but true freshman Davis Webb enrolled early and made a big impression on the coaching staff. For now, there's no starter, but Kingsbury wants to name one in about two weeks, or halfway through fall camp. "We did that last year at Texas A&M and it worked out a little bit for us. Hopefully, we have that same success," Kingsbury noted. Jameill Showers was the assumed starter for the Aggies until midway through fall camp when Johnny Manziel pulled a big surprise and won the job. He did OK once the season arrived.

Fixing a big hole: Delvon Simmons was a solid defensive lineman for the Red Raiders after signing as a blue-chip recruit, but he left for USC back in June in a surprising decision, his second school change since signing a letter of intent with North Carolina in 2011. Tech has to figure out what to do with the tackle spot the 290-pounder left behind. Another top-level recruit, Michael Starts, also transferred. Kerry Hyder is a star, but the Red Raiders need Jackson Richards to step up in their absence. Hyder might slide over and replace Simmons in the middle, with Branden Jackson moving to defensive end. Redshirt freshman Anthony Smith has an opportunity in camp, too.

All eyes on: Kingsbury. He's attracted a ton of attention since taking the job, which is no surprise after he helped Manziel win the Heisman and returned home to his alma mater at 33, making him college football's youngest major conference coach. He brought back a ton of young assistants to Lubbock with Texas Tech ties, and the youth across the staff can be argued as a major positive or negative. Wins will decide which it is. There has been so much talk between visits with media and alumni. Kingsbury said this week he's tired of it. The heavy-duty work will start on Saturday. I'm sure you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more excited than him.

On the mend: Linebacker Terrance Bullitt is a big-time talent that's a little underrated across the league. He suffered a shoulder injury down the stretch in 2012, and that shoulder has been a constant issue since he first hurt it back in 2011. He sounded psyched this spring, saying the game was "fun again" and he's back to full health. Tech's defense will benefit.

Emphasis: Kingsbury knew two big things had to be fixed right away: Penalties and turnovers. The Red Raiders committed almost a full penalty more than any team in the Big 12 and ranked 121st nationally in the stat. They also forced just 11 turnovers in 12 games, less than all but two teams in college football. That has been the focus all offseason, and if he fixes that, Tech will improve in a hurry.

Outlook: The Red Raiders didn't get a vote in the coaches poll, and the Big 12 media picked the Red Raiders seventh in the league. That's a fitting spot, but Tech is an experienced team with a lot of upside, even if it is short on truly elite talents. Eric Ward and Jace Amaro are fantastic 1-2 targets in the passing game, and Jakeem Grant adds some major explosiveness to the offense. Tech will be able to beat anybody in the Big 12, but in a deep league, they can lose to most teams, too. This looks like a 7-8 win team to me.

Quotable: Kingsbury, on the SEC's dominance as he moves into the Big 12. "I think anytime you win seven national championships in a row, you're on top. That's hard to dispute that. Great defenses, great coaches in that league, and I feel the same about the Big 12. I think it's cyclical in a way that in a couple years the Big 12 may be making the same sort of run."
Former Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville stopped by to talk with Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo about his time in Lubbock and why he left , as well as plenty of other topics.
We're looking at first-year coaches across the country today, and the challenges ahead of the new guys in each league.

There's only one in the Big 12, but here's what I tab as the biggest challenge awaiting Kliff Kingsbury:

Expectations are the biggest hurdle for Kingsbury

It's not every day fans pile into the streets to celebrate a coaching hire, but when Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt posted a short video on Twitter of Kingsbury flashing a Guns Up to officially announce his new job, that's exactly what the Texas Tech faithful did.

Yeah, it was a celebration, but they were celebrating what was to come. A program legend was coming home, but he was bringing with him the promise that brighter days were to come. Mike Leach teams won at least nine games in four of his final five seasons. Tommy Tuberville never hit that mark in three seasons as the Red Raiders coach.

The fans' memories of and love for Kingsbury will give him a longer leash and more support than Tuberville received, but this is far from a rebuilding project. While Texas Tech struggled to a five-win season in 2011, the 2012 record was 8-5. Kingsbury was hired to take Texas Tech to the next level. He has a good roster, but not a roster that looks like a Big 12 title contender. He has to build through recruiting, but in 3-5 years, if Kingsbury hasn't carried the Red Raiders to a 10-win season or two, he's going to find the fan base restless. That's a tough task, and not one many coaches have to deal with. For a competitor like Kingsbury, it's surely a welcome challenge. But among Big 12 coaches, only Bob Stoops, Mike Gundy, Mack Brown and maybe Gary Patterson face the pressure of living up to those kinds of expectations.
Delvon Simmons' road to Texas Tech was complicated, but his stay was short.

He's elected to transfer, according to multiple reports, leaving a void in the middle of Texas Tech's defensive line. Simmons won a starting job last season and made 27 tackles with six tackles for loss and two sacks.

Simmons, a 6-foot-5, 290-pounder from McKeesport, Pa., came to Texas Tech as a four-star recruit and the No. 3 player in his state. He signed with North Carolina originally, but never played. Tommy Tuberville's staff in Lubbock got Simmons to make the big move from Pennsylvania to West Texas in his 2011 recruiting class.

He would have been a junior this season and showed some promise, but can't seem to catch a break when it comes to coaching changes. He's got tons of talent, but wanted to leave UNC after his position coach took a job in the NFL. Now, another coaching change has him looking elsewhere.

It's not great timing for Texas Tech's defense, who won't find many others on the depth chart with Simmons' physical gifts. He didn't live up to the hype at Tech yet, but he definitely was on the right track. We'll see if he can reboot his career elsewhere. Junior Jackson Richards was behind Simmons on Tech's post-spring depth chart. Look for him to slide up into a starting role.

Simmons, who has two years of eligibility left, will have to sit out the 2013 season if he goes to an FBS school. CBS reported reported Simmons planned to visit USC.
Kliff Kingsbury became Texas Tech's coach on December 15, 2012, and since then, he's been everywhere without even coaching a game.

He's been featured in Sports Illustrated and the subject of a mass-circulated memo sent from a designer to the athletic department, suggesting he could be the face of the new, fashion-conscious college football head coach.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
AP Photo/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Stephen SpillmanNew coach Kliff Kingsbury has already made an impact at Texas Tech without coaching a game.
He's thrown out the first pitch at Texas Tech baseball and softball games, drawing attention for wearing his signature Ray-Bans while he did it.

He definitely turned heads when his AD, Kirby Hocutt made it clear that Kingsbury was "never an Aggie," despite coaching at Texas A&M for a season, and did it again at his introductory news conference when he asked Hocutt to schedule a game with Cincinnati, who swiped ex-coach Tommy Tuberville in December.

Eventually (well, in a little more than five months), Kingsbury will actually coach his first game for his alma mater. But the attention he's received has already made an impact for the new head Red Raider.

"More, I guess embarrassing than surreal," Kingsbury said. "I’d like to actually do something on the field before all of this other stuff comes into play, but it’s part of the position, it’s part of the job, so I’m trying to just have fun with it."

That's what happens when you're not only the youngest coach in a major conference at 33, but fresh off coaching a Heisman Trophy winner in Texas and helping Texas A&M blossom into one of the brightest programs in the country.

The advantage for Kingsbury, though, is going through all of the changes at a place he knows well, and a place that has embraced him. He's not trying to fit in in a new place, and when you take a job serving a fan base with many who still refer to you as "The King," transitions like these are a lot simpler.

"Being at a place I feel comfortable with, around a staff that I feel comfortable with, has helped ease all of that," Kingsbury said. "A lot of familiar faces here. Know the community, know West Texas, and knowing the school has really helped."
Bob Stoops turned plenty of heads this week when a Sporting News story quoted him showing his less-than-compassionate side in regards to the pay-for-play debate surrounding college athletes.

The two choice quotes:
“I tell my guys all the time,” Stoops says, “you’re not the first one to spend a hungry Sunday without any money.”

"I don't get why people say these guys (players) don't get paid. It's simple, they are paid quite often, quite a bit and quite handsomely."

I'm not here to debate the merits of Stoops' argument. You can make a decent case either way. For one, players do receive a lot for their efforts on the football field, including high-quality training and health care, as well as housing and food.

They also produce a whole lot of money and exposure for the university that goes unappreciated when you consider players' respective bank accounts.

However, that argument is for another day. You know who else isn't real interested in debating whether or not players should be paid?

Their parents. Not every family is the same, but there are a whole lot of families of players who would love a few thousand dollars a month, and that kind of money would mean a whole lot, whether a player had a future in the NFL or not.

You might think Stoops has a point. You might think he's a blowhard. Regardless, it's easy to see plenty of parents not loving the idea of Stoops feeling his players are compensated well enough. Coaches speaking out against paying players is, above all else, bad for business.

Whether coaches believe it or not, it behooves them to support giving their players -- the same guys who help cement coaches' reputations and salaries -- any and everything possible.

"I'm for anything we can do within the rules to help our kids," Texas coach Mack Brown told me last year. "I do realize coming up with a plan to subsidize a scholarship with some form of payment for student-athletes is a very challenging task for athletics directors and presidents around the country, but if there is a plan they can come up with, I'd certainly support it."

Added Tommy Tuberville, then coach at Texas Tech: "You can talk to coaches all you want, and 99 percent of them are going to be 'Hey, I’d love to do more for the players.'"

Well, it appears that if you referred to Stoops as "the 1 percent" you'd be correct in more than one way.

Like I said, I'm not here to debate Stoops. Agree or not, his argument isn't terrible.

He did, however, give his competitors an opportunity to get a leg up in recruiting.

Say you're a parent struggling to pay the bills, or even a parent who can't afford to give their child any extra cash. One coach wants to fight to give your player every advantage possible, or help influence legislation to change the rules. Another says, "You’re not the first one to spend a hungry Sunday without any money."

Parents have plenty of influence in the recruiting process. Who are a whole bunch going to favor?

Some things are better left unsaid.
How many hours until we get to take another visit to Dunk City?
I hope you guys enjoyed our look at new Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury on Wednesday as part of our week-long look at first-year coaches. You can see my column here, as well as another look from colleague Travis Haney.

There was plenty of interesting stuff Kingsbury and I covered that didn't make the piece. Here are a few nuggets that had to be cut from Wednesday's post.

What can Michael Brewer provide?

It's been awhile since Texas Tech's had a truly mobile quarterback, with the exception of Steven Sheffield, whose legs were hardly used in the Red Raiders' offense under Mike Leach and in Tommy Tuberville's first season.

Texas Tech's offensive identity is still being pieced together, but you can bet there will be a whole lot of spread concepts in Kingsbury's playbook. How much will the Red Raiders use Brewer's legs, though? He used them a decent amount in limited duty behind Seth Doege a year ago after running for more than 1,200 yards in his final two seasons of high school football.

"I don’t know if he can run like the one we had last year, but I don’t know anybody else in the world who can," Kingsbury said of Texas A&M Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel. "We’ll play to the quarterbacks’ strengths in this offense just like we did then, so we’ll see who becomes the starter this spring and how it shakes out."

I don't really buy Kingsbury's assertion that there's a real quarterback competition in Lubbock this spring, but there's something to be said for not handing him the job immediately when he hasn't truly proven anything on the field. However, there's little potential for real competition for Brewer on the roster.

Either way, that's one thing I really can't wait to see in Texas Tech's offense. Oklahoma had a decent defense that struggled late in the season, but you saw how much trouble Manziel gave them in the Cotton Bowl. The rest of the Big 12 wouldn't have had much more success, and if Brewer can do anything similar, Tech's going to have big success in Year 1.

Kingsbury's hand in Tech fashion

Kingsbury's contract is public record as an employee of a public university, and within that contract was a clause that allowed him to have "creative license" in the Red Raiders' uniforms.

"I just like to have a hand in things of that nature," Kingsbury said. "It’s a big part of today’s game, kids with the social media and like the style and fashion aspect of college football, so I wanted to make sure I had a hand in that."

For coaches, the uniforms arms race is all about one thing: Recruiting. It doesn't much matter what boosters, alumni or media think. Players love them, and even staunch traditionalists like Nebraska have given in to the trend in recent seasons. Don't be surprised if Tech, which has always had a few alternate looks (I loved the white helmet returning under Tuberville), gets a makeover soon.

"Some traditionalists keep their jerseys. Some are willing to change and have a fresher, hipper look," Kingsbury said, "so it’s kind of a case by case deal."

It's safe to say Tech is in the latter group, and absolutely should stay there.
Feisty.
You saw my all-interview team last week, but considering I'm not on campus every day during the season, I only spend a finite amount of time around players. The local media gets a whole lot more time, and as such, has their own set of top interviews across the league.

I enlisted their help to nominate the players who helped readers like you learn more about the game and players they love. Here's what they had to say:

David Ash, QB, Texas: He doesn't mind mixing it up with reporters in a playful manner and offers short and often very blunt answers that are very telling. Sharp guy. And he's always good for at least one Scripture passage. -- Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman

Lanear Sampson, WR, Baylor: Thoughtful interviewee, really listens to the question. Interested in the media so he’s using interview sessions as a training ground. Very well spoken and always available without being a pest about it. -- John Morris, Baylor

R.J. Washington, DL, Oklahoma: Tells it straight, good storyteller, always funny, always brought it to the interview room, whether things were good or bad. -- Jake Trotter, ESPN SoonerNation

Chris Harper, WR, Kansas State: By far the best quote on the team. He was insightful, confident and never afraid to speak his mind. It will be a shame for everyone on the K-State beat to lose him to the NFL. -- Kellis Robinett, Kansas City Star

Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor: Go-to guy for interviews for most people around here because you can always get good sound bites from him. Playful-type interview subject, always a smile in his voice. -- John Morris, Baylor

Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas: The future high NFL draft pick was far and away the most colorful Longhorn to speak with the media week in and week out. Not so much for his Manny Diaz-like analogies or funny outtakes on different aspects of the team/game. But because of his brutal honesty. No moment speaks more to that than when he angered Texas fans by speaking his mind about the loud (or lack there of) the fan base is during home games. "I like without a doubt playing on the road better than playing at home," Vaccaro said. "It's way louder and gets me way [more excited]. No offense to our fans, but [DKR] is not loud." Quotes like that were few and far between in 2012 for the Longhorns. -- William Wilkerson, ESPN HornsNation

Jeff Woody, RB, Iowa State: Articulate, and can talk about nearly any topic. Funny, but not showy. -- Andrew Logue, Des Moines Register

Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma: Always has a good sense of the pulse of the team. Insightful when discussing his teammates. Pre-med, very bright. -- Jake Trotter, ESPN SoonerNation

Jeremiah George, LB, Iowa State: He is the only player I've ever seen who showed up to an interview with opening remarks like a coach at a press conference. He is honest about his play and that of his team. Also, he is plugged in with his teammates and can tell you exactly why someone is playing better. -- Bobby La Gesse, Ames Tribune

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: Youthful enthusiasm shows through in interviews. Never shies away from interview requests. Not completely polished but will get plenty of opportunities over the next couple of years. -- John Morris, Baylor

Shawne Alston, RB, West Virginia: It's a shame his thigh bruise kept him out of action (and out of the interview room) for much of the season, because Alston was always honest and direct in answering questions. He was at his best when describing his injury, the painful rehab process (including multiple hospital visits where he went under general anesthesia to have blood drained from the bruise) and the reaction from fans who questioned his toughness. -- Patrick Southern, Blue and Gold News

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: No one had to deal with the media more, but Klein handled the attention of a Heisman campaign exceptionally well. He never turned down an interview, even when others gave him permission to do so, and always provided insight into his life story and K-State's successful season. I mean, is there an anecdote about his life we don't know? -- Kellis Robinett, Kansas City Star

Austin Zouzalik, WR, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders’ receiver-return man isn’t loud or gregarious, but he puts a lot of thought into what he says and doesn’t stick to just the safe answers. With a dry humor, he’ll share funny anecdotes about his roommates who happen to be teammates. He gave some good insight into how things changed when Tommy Tuberville replaced Mike Leach. And he was one of the players brave enough to stick up for former teammate Adam James, a pariah to a lot of Red Raiders fans after Leach was fired. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Travis Tannahill, TE, Kansas State: Whether you wanted to talk about hunting or football, Tannahill was there for the media. He was capable of breaking down every aspect of K-State's offense, and always had a knack for putting wins and losses into perspective. -- Kellis Robinett, Kansas City Star

Mike Ragone, TE, Kansas: He was an automatic request by almost every local media member every week and was routinely the last guy in the media room on player availability day. Colorful character from New Jersey with a classic accent and a sinister laugh, Ragone always filled his interviews with great stories and a clear appreciation for his chance to play football and love of KU. -- Matt Tait, Lawrence Journal-World

Alex Torres, WR, Texas Tech: Because he came late to the Red Raiders after spending time at Air Force Academy Prep School, Torres was a 25-year-old senior in 2012 and his maturity and comfort level show through in interviews. After he caught the winning touchdown pass to beat TCU in triple overtime, Torres gave an interesting chalk-talk explanation for why the play worked. He’d run the same route stem toward the same linebacker all afternoon -- then threw in a wrinkle on the decisive play that got him open. Sharing that sort of thing helps fans and media understand what they didn’t see in real time, no matter how closely they looked. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Terrance Bullitt, LB, Texas Tech: Serious shoulder injuries have limited Bullitt for two years and led to two surgeries. The fact he’s played in 22 games during that time shows how much the game means to him. It also comes through with the media. Bullitt will defend his teammates when he feels criticism is unwarranted or overdone, but takes ownership for shortcomings when he sees them. He was a junior in 2012, but Bullitt's one of those guys who seemed to carry himself like a leader even when he was young. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Open, honest, witty and comfortable in the spotlight. He'll do very well under the NFL media glare at the next level. -- Jimmy Burch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Austin Stewart, S, Texas Tech: Stewart made headlines last April when he accidentally smacked his scooter into a bus at an intersection on the Tech campus. Luckily, he came away uninjured. The mishap certainly did nothing to impair Stewart’s speech, which is fast and unfiltered. As loquacious a Red Raider as you’ll find, Stewart said the bus accident felt “like I got blindsided by [Brian] Urlacher.” Discussing a two-tiered, two-color hairstyle he sported this fall, Stewart said that “going to California (for JUCO ball) helped.” Too bad he played in only four games in 2012, because he’s a sound bite waiting to happen. -- Don Williams, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Nick Florence, QB, Baylor: Thoughtful and well-spoken. A solid citizen, all the way around. -- Jimmy Burch, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
We're grading each Big 12 team's season right now, and we'll move on to the next team on the list: The Texas Tech Red Raiders.

OFFENSE: Texas Tech's offense goes as its quarterback goes. Seth Doege filled up the stat sheet this season, but his 16 interceptions were the most in the Big 12. The team raced out to a 6-1 start and 3-1 in Big 12 play, but the offense's inconsistency held the team back during its late-season slide. In three of their four losses to end the season, the Red Raiders failed to score more than 24 points. That's not good enough to win a ton of Big 12 games, and Texas Tech didn't. The offense rebounded and played well in the win over Kansas, but the defense's issues made it a dramatic overtime win. Eric Ward and Darrin Moore became the Red Raiders' first 1,000-yard receivers since 2008, and the Red Raiders' trio of backs combined for more than 1,700 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. That's pretty solid. The inconsistency and struggles late in the season make it hard to give this unit a great grade, but looking at the season as a whole, the Red Raiders still finished 14th nationally in yards per play and Doege's 39 touchdown passes were second nationally. The Red Raiders ranked just fifth in the Big 12 in total offense, which means that rank of 13th nationally looks a little different on a conference scale. GRADE: C

DEFENSE: This unit was the story of the Big 12 over the first half of the season. It led the nation in total defense for a time during the first half of the season after playing offensive juggernauts like Texas State, Northwestern State and New Mexico. The brunt of Big 12 play predictably brought the Red Raiders back down to earth. Nonconference schedule criticisms aside, there's no denying that this unit was much better. It was exposed in some spots in most of its losses, and didn't force a turnover from Oct. 20 until the final possession of the bowl win over Minnesota, a span of nearly six games. It's tough to win in the Big 12 when you do that, but you still have to give these guys credit for jumping from 114th in total defense a year ago to 38th this season. Kerry Hyder and Cody Davis had solid years, but besides that duo, there was little to write home about in regards to the personnel for this defense. GRADE: B-

OVERALL: The Red Raiders were aggressively average this season. They had Big 12 title hopes after romping against West Virginia in Lubbock and edging TCU in overtime, but K-State's 31-point win in Manhattan ended those pretty quickly. The late-season slide put a bad taste in the Red Raiders' mouths, but a bowl win helped. The pain over losing Tommy Tuberville was quickly healed by bringing home a program legend in Kliff Kingsbury. Last year's team got back to the postseason and didn't have to deal with an avalanche of injuries for once. We saw this was a better team, even if it was far from a great one. GRADE: C

More Big 12 report cards:

Lunch links: OSU's coordinator change

January, 11, 2013
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I don't know if you know this, but things with fat in them taste way better than things that don't!

Early Big 12 power rankings for 2013

January, 8, 2013
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The season is done, but ask any coach and he'll tell you the 2013 season already has begun. That's true on this blog, too. So, how would I slot the Big 12 heading into the fall? With a month before national signing day and a couple of months before spring football kicks into high gear, here's my first crack at slotting the conference.

To me, it looks as if we have four legitimate contenders for the conference title and three possible dark horses. We'll see how the latter three develop, but I'm sold on the top four as teams that could realistically win the league next season.

1. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys will be loaded, and that's especially true if running back Joseph Randle comes back. Cornerback Justin Gilbert is returning, but we saw this season that they can win with any one of their three quarterbacks. That's a recipe for success in this league. The defense was a bit streaky; this season was the first under defensive coordinator Bill Young that the Cowboys didn't finish in the top 15 in turnovers forced. If they can get back to forcing turnovers in bunches next season, another Big 12 title could be headed to Stillwater.

2. TCU: The Frogs are growing up fast, but their spot here is assuming that quarterback Casey Pachall will be back on the field this spring to reclaim his job. The defense looks likely to be the best in the Big 12, and as much offense as this league has, you can't win it without a solid defense. TCU's offense will win it some games; its defense might win it a Big 12 title. Look out for Devonte Fields' encore.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners look like they may lack a true star on next season's team, but they are still solid across the two-deep and will be good enough to be in the mix for a title even without quarterback Landry Jones. A wealth of losses on the defensive end is a bigger concern, but receivers Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard also will have to navigate a transition to a new QB after three-plus years with Jones. The Sooners ought to feature fullback Trey Millard a bit more in the offense next year.

4. Texas: Believe it or not, but David Ash is the Big 12's most experienced passer. Can he look the part on the field? We'll see, but the biggest problem for Texas is continuing its defensive improvements. Jackson Jeffcoat could be back, and Jordan Hicks will be one of the league's biggest talents if he is able to recover from a hip injury. The time is now if the Longhorns' trio of backs are going to mature into true impact players.

5. Baylor: I'm a believer in the late-season run for these guys translating to 2013. The defense made big strides, and we'll see if those continue, but the offense will be fine. I buy Bryce Petty as a big talent and the next in the long line of Art Briles' quarterback disciples. Lache Seastrunk will help him out early, too. Don't be surprised if he surpasses Randle next year as the Big 12's best back.

6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are a huge wild card and might have the biggest upside of any team in the bottom half of these rankings. Michael Brewer is a promising QB, and he now has Kliff Kingsbury -- the former Texas A&M offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who helped the Aggies far surpass expectations -- as his new head coach. Could Tech do the same? The Red Raiders have tons of talent on both sides of the ball, thanks to a couple of great recruiting classes from Tommy Tuberville (who left to become the coach at Cincinnati).

7. Kansas State: No Collin Klein and Arthur Brown? You know about that, but there's no Chris Harper, Travis Tannahill, Braden Wilson, and the entire defensive line is gone, including star DE Meshak Williams. Both starting cornerbacks are gone, too. Point is, K-State's probably a bowl team next season, but to come back from that mountain of losses and be in the top half of the Big 12 is going to be a tall, tall task.

8. West Virginia: The Mountaineers' trio of wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin and quarterback Geno Smith was outstanding this year. Not much else in Morgantown was. All three are gone, and that team only went 7-5. Coordinator Keith Patterson has got to fix this defense in the spring and apply some lessons learned in a disappointing Year 1 in the Big 12. The QB derby between Paul Millard and Ford Childress should be interesting.

9. Iowa State: Sam Richardson was severely ill while playing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but he still didn't inspire a lot of confidence in the future of the QB spot in Ames, despite a strong finish to the season. With linebacking pillars A.J. Klein and Jake Knott both headed to the NFL, the odds once again will be against Iowa State winning six games and getting to a bowl. Without consistency at the quarterback spot, it's going to be tough, especially with the defense likely to take a step back.

10. Kansas: Gotta prove something before the Jayhawks move out of the basement. Charlie Weis is bringing in tons of juco talent, but after the Dayne Crist experiment didn't work, BYU transfer Jake Heaps simply must be better for KU to begin its climb back to the postseason.
IRVING, Texas -- Before Kevin Sumlin hired Kliff Kingsbury, Kingsbury got Sumlin fired.

From Texas A&M, no less, too.

Sumlin jokes about it these days, and of course, it's not quite that simple, but Sumlin was on R.C. Slocum's staff in College Station back in 2001 when the Aggies headed to Lubbock. They lost, 12-0, to a Kingsbury-led Red Raiders squad.

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsThose who know him say Kliff Kingsbury will bring passion and enthusiasm to the Red Raiders.
"Probably the only game I’ve been a part of that we got shutout," Sumlin said, adding that Tech fans tore down the goal posts (among other activities) that night.

A year later, Sumlin faced questions from folks wondering if A&M would score against the Red Raiders this time around. They did -- on the game's first play. It didn't change the outcome, though. Missed extra-point attempts meant overtime, and Kingsbury joined Wes Welker in knocking off the Aggies, 48-47, in overtime.

"Wes Welker and those guys hung around us at Houston -- Wes is around all the time, that’s Kliff’s guy -- and they proceeded to really cost me my job at the end of the year," Sumlin said.

Slocum was fired at the end of the 6-6 season and Sumlin landed on Bob Stoops' staff at Oklahoma. Still, less than a decade later, Sumlin brought Kingsbury to his staff at Houston and brought him to Texas A&M for the 2012 season, too. He helped Johnny Manziel become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and the Aggies to make a splash in the SEC with 10 wins and a status as one of the hottest teams and biggest surprises in college football.

Kingsbury parlayed that success into a head coaching job at his alma mater.

"They’re getting a heck of a coach. He worked hard this year. He was there every day at 5 a.m. and he was the last person to leave. I know you hear that and you think it may just be people saying that, but it was true," Manziel said. "Every morning I was up there to work out or whatever it was, he was already there for hours ahead of time."

A&M fans remembered Kingsbury from his days at Tech and Sumlin had to deal with minor blowback from bringing the Big 12 legend on staff in the Aggies' first year in the SEC.

"People were worried, like 'Why is Kliff Kingsbury here?' I just said, 'Get over it. He’s here to do the best job he can,'" Sumlin said. "Obviously, he has. He’s going to be highly successful."

That's the hope for Texas Tech, who hired the 33-year-old in hopes of rediscovering the spark and big wins that Mike Leach brought to Lubbock and Tommy Tuberville had difficulty maintaining.

"Coach Kingsbury brings a lot of energy, brings a lot of passion. He’s going to come, and he was the guy that gave us a spark whenever we needed it. Whenever we were dragging a little bit, whatever it was, he was the guy that brought a lot of spark," Manziel said. "He was a young guy, energetic and that’s what he brought to the table. He would get everybody fired up, he would give a speech. He’d be running around just like we would be, and that was cool for us to see."

Sumlin also knows the advantage that Kingsbury has in being an alum at the school that just hired him. Texas Tech, like many others, comes with unique sets of challenges and desires that sometimes aren't tangible. Experience inside the program is the only solution.

"The difference in college football and pro football, it’s not a plug and play. You have to have a background and an understanding of what particular institutions value," Sumlin said. "He gets that."

And Tech gets Kingsbury.

Hottest coaching candidates from Big 12?

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
11:30
AM ET
Colleague Travis Haney looked around the landscape at the hottest coaching candidates in college football and a whole lot had current or recent ties to the Big 12.

This time next year, who could be on the move? Haney first looked at new Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who spent the past three seasons under Tommy Tuberville in Lubbock, Texas. Haney likes Brown's chances to shake up the SEC some more with the spread offense and could be a candidate for a head-coaching job in the league this time next year.

That seems a little fast for my taste, but I could definitely see him taking a new gig at a lower level this time next year.

The scariest name on the list for Big 12ers? Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. He's shown the willingness to listen to opportunities, and with the possibility of the Texas job coming open this time next year, look for him and Gary Patterson to be a the top of the theoretical Longhorns wish list.

Gundy, who employs agent Jimmy Sexton, does seem like a good fit at Texas, but could he ever leave OSU? The true test may be coming soon.

Haney also says look out for up-and-comers Todd Monken and Bryan Harsin, who left their posts as Big 12 offensive coordinators to take head-coaching jobs at Southern Miss and Arkansas State, respectively. I agree with Haney in that it'd be unusual to see either leave those jobs after one year, but don't be surprised if you see either become a Big 12 head coach soon.

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