Dallas Colleges: Neal Brown
1. Get used to new faces, terminology and schemes. Texas Tech's offense hasn't changed much since Mike Leach's exit, and new coach Kliff Kingsbury will throw it around, too, just as offensive coordinator Neal Brown did in three seasons in Lubbock. Still, the Red Raiders are preparing for their fifth defensive coordinator in five years in Matt Wallerstedt, who came over with Kingsbury after coaching linebackers at Texas A&M. Tech won't look markedly different, but it's still going to be an adjustment for everybody involved. Different coaches do things different ways and use different terms and approaches. Getting those relationships off to the right start is imperative.
2. Develop Michael Brewer. There doesn't appear to be much competition at quarterback next season in Lubbock. Brewer looked solid in spot duty and his potential is sky-high. Still, in this offense, he needs to be great for Texas Tech to succeed. As a first-year starter, Brewer will be a redshirt sophomore in his third year in the program, but he'll have to weather that transition, and a new offense, too. The basic principles will be similar, but expect Brewer to get a lot of opportunities to use his impressive wheels, too.
3. Fill out the secondary. Tech's secondary finally figured it out last season and made some huge strides, but now it's back to being gutted. Safeties D.J. Johnson and Cody Davis, the team's leading tacklers in 2012, are gone. Cornelius Douglas and Eugene Neboh are gone, too. I'd expect Wallerstedt and secondary assistants Kevin Curtis (cornerbacks) and Trey Haverty (safeties) to go into spring with an open mind. If unheralded players are going to emerge, those 15 practices will be the time to do it. All bets are off with that group.
More offseason to-do lists:
- No changes.
- Head coach Art Briles was reportedly contacted by Arkansas and Texas Tech, but signed a new extension with Baylor and hasn't expressed interest in any jobs or admitted to any interviews.
- No changes.
- Head coach Paul Rhoads reportedly drew interest from Wisconsin, but Rhoads went on the record this week to say he has no interest in replacing Bret Bielema in Madison.
- No changes.
- No changes.
- Co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was a candidate for the Louisiana Tech opening last week, but reportedly turned down the job. The Bulldogs eventually hired Skip Holtz to replace Sonny Dykes.
- Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell has also reportedly drawn interest from other schools, but it sounds like he's staying at Oklahoma.
- Offensive coordinator Todd Monken left to become the head coach at Southern Miss.
- Head coach Mike Gundy reportedly interviewed with both Tennessee and Arkansas and some local reports even indicated that he had accepted the Arkansas job, but they ultimately proved to be false. Gundy has since gone on record saying there's "no question" he'll be the Cowboys' head coach in 2013.
- Defensive coordinator Bill Young on if he'll return next season or retire: "I don’t know, I don’t know," Young told The Oklahoman. "I’m going to think about it."
- Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin left to become the head coach at Arkansas State.
- Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite replaces Harsin as the playcaller and will coach quarterbacks now. Texas plans to replace him as running backs coach after the season ends.
- Receivers coach Darrell Wyatt was promoted to co-offensive coordinator.
- Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz reportedly interviewed with Florida International, but removed himself from consideration and will stay at Texas.
- No changes.
- Head coach Gary Patterson was reportedly a leading candidate to replace John L. Smith at Arkansas, but there were no reports of interviews or significant contact between the two parties.
- Head coach Tommy Tuberville left to become the head coach at Cincinnati.
- Offensive coordinator Neal Brown left to become the offensive coordinator at Kentucky on Mark Stoops' staff.
- Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury accepted an offer to replace Tuberville as Tech's head coach.
- Ex-Red Raiders Kevin Curtis and Eric Morris will join Kingsbury's staff. Curtis told reporters he will likely coach the cornerbacks. Morris' role on the staff is still undetermined. He previously coached inside receivers for Mike Leach at Washington State.
- Dana Holgorsen relieved cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts of his duties and moved co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson to defensive playcaller, replacing co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest as playcaller. DeForest is still on staff.
- Graduate assistant Andrew McGee (who led the Big 12 in interceptions at Oklahoma State in 2010, with five) will coach cornerbacks heading into the bowl game, but WVU will find a permanent replacement after the season.
As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.
MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL OF TEXAS
Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Minnesota (6-6)
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas.
When: Friday, Dec. 28, 9 p.m. ET
About Texas Tech: Texas Tech could use a little good news. It's kind of been all bad lately. A promising season began at 6-1 and had more than a few Red Raiders dreaming of Big 12 title trophies. Then Kansas State delivered a systematic beatdown and Tech lost four of its final five games, the lone win coming at home in overtime against 1-11 Kansas. Then coach Tommy Tuberville left to take the head coaching job at Cincinnati, and OC Neal Brown followed him out the door to take the same job at Kentucky. The best news over that span? Texas Tech's bowl opponent is Minnesota. Let's look at these Gophers.
About Minnesota: Coach Jerry Kill is just 9-15 in two seasons as Minnesota coach, and this year's team doesn't have a win in Big Ten play over a team that's better than .500. One came over 6-6 Purdue and the other was over Illinois, who went winless in league play. All four losses in the final six games came by at least 16 points in a weak Big Ten that struggled in nonconference play. The Gophers improved this season to reach their first bowl game since 2009, but the Gophers haven't been to a bowl game that wasn't the Insight Bowl since way back in 2005.
Red Raiders to watch: Receiver Darrin Moore is the team's most talented player, but Seth Doege makes the offense go. If he has a good day, Tech can beat almost anyone. If he struggles, fans will be wondering if the Michael Brewer Era can get started a little early. Defensively, keep an eye on Kerry Hyder along the defensive line. He's been a huge help in revitalizing the nation's worst rush defense from a year ago, but safety Cody Davis is a playmaker and a scholar in the secondary.
Golden Gophers to watch: The Gophers' best player, A.J. Barker left the team and transferred to Houston recently, but sophomore Donnell Kirkwood added 848 yards on the ground to lead the team and scored five touchdowns. Barker's absence will be felt. Despite playing just eight games, he still leads the team in receiving by more than 300 yards and caught a team-high seven scores. There's been a revolving door at QB for the Gophers, which hasn't helped the receivers. Senior MarQueis Gray had a disappointing season, and Phillip Nelson took over to end the season after Max Shortell didn't make a huge impact and chose to transfer. Defensive end D.L. White may help pressure Doege. He was second in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks.
Did you know: This game is loaded with fun facts, though the first isn't so fun. The 13-point line in this game (Texas Tech is the favorite) is one of the highest of the bowl season, muddled in the middle of some of the highest. Oklahoma State vs. Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl is the highest, but depending on who you ask, Tech vs. Minnesota is No. 2. These two already played a classic in the 2006 Insight Bowl, when Texas Tech rallied from a 38-7, third-quarter deficit and outscored Minnesota 24-0 in the fourth quarter of a 44-41 overtime win that resulted in Golden Gophers' coach Glen Mason getting fired.
(Two guys you won't see on this list: West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who spent nearly a decade under Mike Leach in Lubbock, and Cal coach Sonny Dykes, the son of legendary Tech coach Spike Dykes, who won more games at Texas Tech than everyone but Leach. Texas Tech sideline reporter Chris Level reported on Sunday that neither would be coming to Lubbock.)
Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt will be conducting the search himself, rather than using a search firm.
Kliff Kingsbury, OC, Texas A&M: Kingsbury is certainly on the top of Texas Tech fans' list, but will he be atop Hocutt's list, too? Kingsbury's biggest plus came this season. He coached Johnny Manziel to a Heisman Trophy and Texas A&M was one of the nation's biggest surprises. He's one of the hottest names in the field, but the 33-year-old has also only been an assistant for five years. Is that enough experience to be handed an entire program?
Chad Morris, OC, Clemson: Michael Brewer is all but locked in as the Red Raiders' starting quarterback for the next three seasons. Morris was Brewer's high school coach at Lake Travis in Austin, Texas. He's helped Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins headline the nation's No. 9 offense and knows the Texas recruiting landscape well. He's only been a college assistant for three seasons, but he's already parlayed it into a seven-figure contract as a coordinator at Clemson, something very few others in college football can boast. He'd almost surely take the job if Tech offered it.
Neal Brown, OC, Texas Tech: Brown spent the weekend interviewing for a pair of other gigs, and could be in play for the head coaching jobs at Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech. At times this season, Tech fans weren't his biggest supporters, but Tuberville made him one of the youngest coordinators in the country in 2010, bringing him on board from Troy. The promotion might get Brown to stay, and he has a great shot to be successful, but could Hocutt sell the hire to fans?
Todd Monken, OC, Oklahoma State: Monken stepped in for Holgorsen at Oklahoma State and the Pokes' offense hasn't missed a beat. Monken helped Oklahoma State win a Big 12 title in 2011, and despite losing a pair of first-round picks from last year's team and dealing with injuries to his top two quarterbacks, had OSU at No. 5 nationally in total offense. His college experience is limited, and you'd have to question whether he could run an entire program, but he's been outstanding at his latest stop, and fits the carefree mold Tech fostered under Mike Leach.
Brent Venables, DC, Clemson: Venables' name comes up for jobs a lot, but he's still waiting on his first head coaching gig. He and Hocutt played together at Kansas State and have maintained a relationship. Perhaps nobody knows Big 12 offenses like Venables, though he had a rough time stopping them late in his tenure at Oklahoma. He seems overdue for his first head gig, but does Tech need to have an offensive mind running its program?
Ruffin McNeil, head coach, East Carolina: McNeil was the defensive coordinator under Leach and won the approval of the team through his efforts. He's built ECU since taking over in 2010 and went 8-4 this season, winning a share of the division title in Conference USA. He's carried a spread offense to ECU, but would return to Lubbock after spending a decade as a defensive assistant under Leach.
Art Briles, head coach, Baylor: I don't buy any realistic possibility that Briles would leave Baylor, but there were multiple reports over the weekend that Texas Tech would pursue him. Briles already turned down Texas Tech when it eventually hired Tuberville, and after signing a new contract extension last week and the Bears' breaking ground on a new stadium set to open in 2014, Briles leaving seems like a near impossibility, even though he has a degree from Texas Tech.
Will Texas Tech's new coach be one of these seven candidates? Or will Hocutt go off the grid for an unexpected hire, like Bret Bielema at Arkansas?
Next up, the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Find more indispensable players here.
Most indispensable player: RB Eric Stephens
2011 stats: 108 carries, 565 yards, 8 TDs. 16 receptions, 133 yards.
Why Texas Tech can't afford to lose him: This was a really, really difficult call. I'm not sure Texas Tech has one player you could truly say is indispensable, but based on what we saw in 2011, you could rule out literally everyone on the defense.
Offensively, Tech has a deep stable of receivers, and the passing game remained productive even as the receivers fought injuries. That leaves QB Seth Doege and Stephens.
We already got a preview of what life without Stephens would be like, and it wasn't pretty. Stephens was a productive runner, on track to become the first Red Raider to rush for 1,000 yards since 1998, but his season ended with an ugly hit in a close loss to Texas A&M that dislocated his knee and ended his season. He's still not guaranteed to return in 2012.
But even with that production, offensive coordinator Neal Brown told me this offseason that his value to the team was still underrated. Texas Tech has a lot of backs on its roster who can look good with the ball in their hands. It doesn't have one who can pass block anything close to the way Stephens could. Being able to chip a linebacker and buy a few extra seconds for Doege will pay off in a lot of spots throughout a season. The Red Raiders lost that late in the season. DeAndre Washington played well, but Stephens' experience helped him develop that skill, and that experience can't be duplicated. We saw that much throughout 2011.
Texas Tech's running game wasn't as productive and the record went south quickly. Looking for the man Tech needs the most this fall? Stephens is your guy.
Every single team, though, won enough games to qualify for a bowl game, save sleeping giant Tennessee trying to rebuild under Derek Dooley.
One team sticks out.
Despite a 5-7 season, Texas Tech still signed the nation's No. 20 class, a second consecutive top-20 recruiting class over a span that's featured just 13 wins.
Texas Tech's top three signees, receivers Dominique Wheeler and Reginald Davis, as well as offensive tackle Michael Starts were all committed to the Red Raiders by June 2011, months before the season began.
Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt called the season "disappointing" and "unacceptable," but reiterated his vote of confidence in Tuberville on Thursday.
The difficult part was keeping players already committed while the Red Raiders suffered through seven losses in the final eight games of the season.
"You just show 'em the truth. You don't make excuses, because we're in a results-driven business," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "But you show 'em. Obviously, we were good enough to beat the No. 1 team in the country at their place and snap that home winning streak, and we were close."
There's no erasing the 5-7 record, the first losing season at Texas Tech in almost two decades. And as easy as it is to focus on embarrassing 34-, 32- and 60-point losses to teams that finished in the Top 25 late in the season, the Red Raiders were competitive early in the season in close losses to Texas A&M and Kansas State. A four-point November loss to Missouri, which would have given the Red Raiders a bowl berth, came on a tipped ball in the final minute inside Mizzou's 5-yard line.
So, "showing 'em" means filling them in on injuries. Offensively, the impact of running back Eric Stephens' dislocated knee in the fifth game was enormous. Brown noted that Stephens was the team's second-leading receiver at the time, and called him the best pass-blocking back he'd been around. It also forced the Red Raiders to rely on freshmen.
Defensively, injuries forced the Red Raiders to play even inexperienced players. In the season finale against Baylor, Texas Tech traveled with 52 players, compared to almost 100 for the Bears. Now, 15 players are expected to miss spring practice.
"We just kind of hit rock bottom," Tuberville said. "We lost the base of what we had, any kind of leadership on defense. When we lost the running back, that put tremendous pressure on the defense. That just devastated us."
Added Tuberville: "It's pretty unusual to go into the Oklahoma State game and have to put a receiver (Cornelius Douglas) on (Biletnikoff Award winner Justin) Blackmon."
So for top recruits, the sell is simple.
"Sell what you have," Tuberville said. "There's a lot of these guys that look at us and say, "Hey, I can go a lot of places, but I can go to Tech and play right now.' And they can. That's a big selling point because of the situation we're in. That's helped. It helped get certain players."
Tech signed nine juco players in its 2012 class, including seven defenders, in hopes of finding a quick fix for a defense in need of a lot more than a quick tune-up.
The talent has arrived for the Red Raiders. The wins haven't. When will they? The focus for now is clear. Tech has had two of the best recruiting classes in the Big 12 in successive seasons. It's also fielded two of the worst defenses.
"We've gotta balance this team up. There's no way you can go out there and put the kind of pressure on the offense that we did last year," Tuberville said. "'We're going to give up 50, so y'all gotta score 50.' It's just not going to happen. You're definitely not going to win championships doing that."
That much new coach Tommy Tubberville has promised. Even if the Red Raiders throw it 60/40, Batch will surely tote the football more than the 168 times he did last season (for 884 yards), which could push him past 1,000 yards and give Tech its first 1,000-yard rusher since Spike Dykes roamed the sideline.
That also delights the big bruisers up front who have spent their careers perfecting pass blocking. Suffice to say, things have evened out during fall camp.
"We do about quadruple the amount of [running] drills," Tech senior tackle Chris Olson recently told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
Last season, Tech ranked 115th in the nation in rushing (84.0 ypg) and second in passing (386.8 ypg). Tuberville has consistently said he plans to continue an aerial attack, and the hiring of offensive coordinator Neal Brown from Troy is evidence of that, but the goal will be to run more, to use more two-back sets and to become a more physical offensive football team.
"Our run game has improved tremendously,” offensive guard Lonnie Edwards told the Avalanche-Journal. “We work a lot more on the run game. We’ve got a lot more flexibility with the new [conditioning] program and I think that’s helped us a lot in getting low and driving people. I think that’s going to be a big factor, too."
The upstart SMU Mustangs will be the first to check out the new-look Red Raiders Sunday in Lubbock. The game is at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN.
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