The college football world generally can count on Texas Tech winning as many or more games than it loses. That’s been the case 20 times in the last 21 years.
The college football world has grown skeptical of waiting for the Red Raiders to post a double-digit winning season. That’s happened once in those 21 years.
The Red Raiders, 8-5 again last year — for the fifth time since 2003 — keep banging their heads against the resistance line that separates pretty good from elite.
Why should this year be any different?
Tech seems to have as many red flags as reasons to believe a special season is at hand. The Red Raiders lost key seniors at every level of the defense — line, linebackers, secondary. Only the most optimistic reasonably expect a giant leap forward from a unit counting on junior-college transfers and underclassmen in many spots.
Too, Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has made it a priority to curtail penalties and improve
a lousy turnover margin — but that was a point of emphasis last season as well, and the Red Raiders remained among the nation’s worst in both categories.
There are reasons to think they can make progress, though.
For one thing, it’s the first time since 2009 that Tech has had the same defensive coordinator — in this case, Matt Wallerstedt — as the year before.
All his assistants are back, too.
So the players are hearing the same message and running the same schemes.
“I think you can ask any of our guys, anybody that’s been here,” Wallerstedt said. “They’re comfortable now. They’ve seen all the same five faces (coaches) on defense. The verbiage is all the same, so I think it’s more relaxing for the guys that have been here.”
The Red Raiders’ personnel losses, led by the likes of defensive linemen Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, might mitigate what’s gained by stability.
But information overload should be less of an issue this season. With that, maybe fewer missed assignments is a reasonable expectation.
There’s clarity on offense with Davis Webb now the No. 1 quarterback.
A year ago, the Red Raiders could never be sure from one week to the next whether Webb would be behind center or Baker Mayfield or even Michael Brewer.
Now the Red Raiders are crossing their fingers that Webb — with no one behind him but freshmen — starts every game.
Offensive coordinator Eric Morris said there’s already been a benefit.
“It’s been fun to watch our whole team going in the same direction,” Morris said, “not pulling different ways with three different quarterbacks that are all friends with these guys. Certain people want a certain guy to be the guy.
“It’s been fun to have one direction, the whole team behind him and to watch him make his strides, both off the field and on the field.”
Kingsbury recently said Webb has “a first-round arm” and an appetite for the game to match.
While Webb no longer has unanimous All-America tight end Jace Amaro and reliable wide receiver Eric Ward — another impediment to a 10-win season — the Red Raiders are banking on an all-around faster group of receivers being worth something.
One of those speed guys, slot receiver Jakeem Grant, said he’ll welcome the Red Raiders not going back and forth with a quarterback shuffle.
“It’s very different,” Grant said. “You don’t have to go to sleep before the game thinking, ‘Let’s see. Who is going to be the quarterback? Do I have chemistry with this quarterback?
“Knowing that Davis is our quarterback, it gives us chemistry. It gives us time to work with him and focus on how Davis throws his ball.”
If the Red Raiders are going to make progress, they need all their special teams to do their jobs well. In 2013, some did, some didn’t.
Kingsbury’s only staff change during the off-season was adding Darin Chiaverini as special teams coach, giving one man a job that several assistants shared a year ago. With several position coaches pitching in, Kingsbury felt the special-teams coaching became a secondary consideration for all involved.
Chiaverini, the former Colorado receiver, lasted four years in the NFL largely on his special-teams contributions and has had a hand in coaching those units the last five years, at UCLA and at Riverside (Calif.) City College.
“We’ll be a different-looking special teams unit all the way around,” Kingsbury said. “He has a different way of doing things and different concepts. The big deal to me was the focus that’s put on it, just having a guy that made his living in the NFL by playing special teams.
“You can see how much more into it (players are) and just the overall emphasis has picked up tremendously.”
Saying it can’t get any worse isn’t necessarily a good formula to seek success.
Still, as it pertains to turnover margin and penalties, the Red Raiders seemingly can’t get any worse. They’re almost bound to fare better than last year: third-worst in the FBS in turnover margin, second highest total in penalty yardage.
Kingsbury figures some of that will correct itself with Webb’s maturity. The lanky quarterback paid his dues experience-wise in 2013 and curbed his reckless tendencies in the spring, throwing no interceptions in scrimmages.
“I think as far as turnovers go, when you’re playing two true freshman quarterbacks and you’re throwing it 60 times a game, that’s going to come,” Kingsbury said. “That comes with the territory, so I know we’ll be better in that department.
“And we’ve got to get more. We’ve got to have an aggressive defense that takes the ball away, and we didn’t do that at times last year. The penalties are just a focus deal, and we’ve got to find a way to get better at it.”
Kingsbury has said all off-season if his team improves to merely middle of the pack in turnover margin, it could mean another win or two.
And, with eight wins last year as a baseline, that might just be enough to earn the Red Raiders that special season they crave so much.
Follow Don on Twitter @AJ_DonWilliams
The route to 10 wins
Texas Tech was picked sixth in the Big 12 Conference, both by media who cover the league and by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine. Here are four things the Red Raiders must accomplish to enjoy a cinderella 10-win season instead.
1. It goes without saying Davis Webb must stay healthy and start all 13 games. If not, no offense to Patrick Mahomes, the Red Raiders are doomed. But it behooves Webb to have a smooth sophomore season, too, with no up-and-down stretches.
2. Fix the turnover margin. Incredibly, in eight out of nine Big 12 games last season and the bowl game, the Red Raiders committed more turnovers than they gained. Not just collectively — a negative ratio in each of those games except the Kansas game. No wonder only two teams in the nation had a worse turnover margin.
3. Convert when you’re close. Ryan Bustin kicked 23 of 27 field goals last season. Great for him. He was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award. But stalling in the red zone is not the way to win games in a high-scoring league.
4. Pull rabbits out of Matt Wallerstedt’s hat. Fans are often convinced that new players they’ve never seen are better or more talented than the ones who just left, though that’s often not the case, at least not on a high-percentage basis. Yet, if the Red Raiders are going to improve on last year’s 8-5, they need their evaluation and player development in the 2014 class to be spot on, especially with their junior-college defensive line signees.