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April 17, 2008
Crabtree set to chase more marks in 2008
VIDEO: Michael Crabtree in action
Crabtree, the Biletnikoff Award winner as the best wide receiver in the nation, had 134 receptions for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. If he improves – and he thinks he can – several other NCAA records would seem within his reach.
For example, there is the NCAA single-season receptions record of 142 set by Houston's Manny Hazard, the single-season yardage record of 2,060 held by Nevada's Trevor Insley, the single-game receptions record of 23 set by UNLV's Randy Gatewood and the single-season touchdown receptions record of 27 held by Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards.
Break some of those records and he'll surely emerge as a top candidate to win the Heisman Trophy, which he admits is in the back on his mind.
"Last year my goal was to win the Biletnikoff Award," Crabtree said. "This year I would like to take the next step."
That may require returning kicks. Receivers Tim Brown, Desmond Howard and Johnny Rodgers have won the Heisman, but all were dynamic on kick returns, too.
Crabtree doesn't return kicks but said, "I can do it. This year probably, I'll do some kickoff returns sometimes."
But that's up to coach Mike Leach. Some coaches might hesitate to put a star player on special teams. But Leach doesn't always think like most coaches.
"I wouldn't have any problem with it," Leach said. "I'd stick anybody back on punts or kickoffs. But I don't have any plans right now."
Even though he figures to be a Heisman contender and could set various records, Crabtree insisted the record he's most concerned with is 13-0 – which would give the Red Raiders a Big 12 championship and a shot at the national title.
"I'm looking at this team going undefeated and going to a big bowl game," he said after a recent spring practice. "I think we can win every game."
Texas Tech has been good in recent seasons. It has been bowl- eligible for 15 consecutive seasons and has made eight bowl appearances in a row.
But Tech never has won the Big 12 South and has finished third or fourth in the race in seven of the past eight seasons. Even in April, when everything seems possible, that degree of optimism is rare in Lubbock.
But 10 offensive starters and eight defensive starters – including Crabtree and quarterback Graham Harrell – return from a 9-4 team that defeated Big 12 champion Oklahoma and topped Virginia in the Gator Bowl, so there are some on the South Plains who think this is the season for which they've been waiting.
"We have my whole offensive line back," Crabtree said. "We have our quarterback. We have 10 people from the offense back from last year and we've got a defense coming up. Our d-line is doing real good right now."
Defense typically has been a soft spot since Leach took over at Tech. But there seemed to be a measure of improvement after Ruffin McNeill was installed as defensive coordinator early last season.
Also, the gem of the Red Raiders recruiting class is junior college defensive end Brandon Sesay, who originally signed with Georgia two years ago. Then, last month, defensive tackle Chris Perry was granted immediate eligibility following his transfer from Miami, so the defense appears to have been bolstered.
"We're a year older, but we're still relatively young on defense. We're predominantly juniors," Leach said. "I think we played real well last year, and that's a credit to Ruffin McNeill and the coaches under him and the job they did rallying the guys after we had to make a change last year."
Still, the passing game remains Texas Tech's strength - and it could be stronger because Crabtree could be better.
"He's improved on certain routes," Leach said. "He accelerates out of his cuts. He's improved on that. The thing about Michael Crabtree is that even on bad days, he's ultimately competitive enough that he'll have a pretty good day. Like everybody, he gets tired and distracted, but he's really competitive as far beating the guy across from him."
Crabtree beat the guy and/or guys across from him with such regularity that last season he had at least eight catches in every game except one. He's not satisfied, though.
"I have a lot of room to improve," he said. "My routes can be that much faster. I need to keep my shoulders down. It's just a lot of little stuff."
That "little stuff" could add up to some big prizes this fall.
Last week the NCAA held the Frozen Four – the college hockey national championship. How many Division I-A schools that participate in football also field men's ice hockey teams? (Answer at the end of the column.)
"It's not up for debate," Pelini said. "If you don't want to go to class, turn pro."
CAMPAIGNING FOR WHITE
"Patrick is the greatest player in college football today," Stewart said. "If you're the best … then whatever our people can do for Patrick White they should do. Patrick is such a down-to-earth, level guy, I'm not scared about him and what the attention might do."
White rushed for 1,335 yards and threw for 1,724 last season while leading the Mountaineers to a 11-2 finish.
There are 13 schools that field teams in Division I football and hockey. They are Air Force, Army, Boston College, Bowling Green, Connecticut, Miami University, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Western Michigan.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.