December 25, 2007

The right presents could lead to a big 2008

The Texas Tech Red Raiders could be among college football's fat cats in 2008. Therefore, like the children of Donald Trump, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, they may not need a great deal to make them happy.

Still, everybody needs that certain something, and too much is never enough. So, in the Macanudo-smoking, scotch-swilling spirit of the rich getting a little richer, here's a list of presents that could make 2008 a smashing success for the Red Raiders.

Pony Express West: Craig James and Eric Dickerson were the original Pony Express of the college football world. Most recently, we've seen Darren McFadden and Felix Jones destroy defenses for the Arkansas Razorbacks. It would seem odd, even outrageous, for such a terrible twosome to ply the backfield in Mike Leach's Air Raid attack, but such may indeed be the case in 2008.

Current freshman starter Aaron Crawford is the first legitimate tackle-breaking back the Red Raiders have had since the days of Bam Morris. He will be joined next year by one Harrison Jeffers, a do-it-all dynamo from the Sooner state. If Crawford continues to develop and Jeffers lives up to his videotape, they should comprise the most talented pair of backs on a Red Raider roster since Robert Lewis and Timmy Smith in the early 80s. Woe betide the defense that is forced to contend with a Leach offense that has as much talent at running back as it does at wide receiver.

Crank Some More of That Crab: We all enjoyed a banquet of crab cakes in 2007. The presence of freshman superstar Michael Crabtree may well have spelled the difference between an eight-win season and a six-win season. Now all the Red Raiders will need is more of the same and no sophomore jinx. Bring on the crab cakes, the crab legs, crab gumbo, crab steaks, chicken fried crab, and crab fajitas. Bring on a Heisman Trophy. And when combined with a senior quarterback, a superior offensive line, Crawford/Jeffers, and quality support in the receiving corps, you will bring on the best offense in college football. Bar none.

Alex the Great, Part Deux: All Big 12 kicker Alex Trlica will arguably be the most difficult player for the Red Raiders to replace in 2008. If he connects on all of his extra points in the Gator Bowl, he will have gone his entire college career without missing PAT. Simply amazing. Trlica was also a good kickoff man and a reliable field goal kicker inside of 40 yards who could occasionally pop a long one in crunch time. Just ask the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

At this point there is no odds-on favorite to ease into Trlica's cleats, but we trust that Leach and his staff will find something more than a warm body. They had better. It would be a crying shame to miss out on a 10-win season and a Big 12 championship because of a missed extra point or a shanked chip-shot field goal.

Elevate at Linebacker: Under interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, the Tech defense obviously improved. A big part of that improvement occurred because of an upgrade at linebacker.

Freshman strongside 'backer Brian Duncan[db] and sophomore WILL linebacker [db]Marlon Williams[db] provided the Red Raider defense with a desperately-needed infusion of speed and athleticism. And those two youngsters will only improve. Now all they need is a third mate to step up and join them.

Such a player could already be on the roster, of course. [db]Bront Bird may very well be the second coming of Mike Smith. Redshirt freshman Sam Fehoko gave indication in summer workouts of being a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker in addition to demonstrating toughness and intelligence. Another redshirt freshman, Tyrone Sonier, showed flashes of brilliance, and his athleticism may be the best of any linebacker on the roster. Sophomore Victor Hunter proved to be a very good run-stuffer in 2007, and if he can improve in pass coverage, could be the answer. Then, of course, there's always the possibility of reeling in a recruit of Mike Crabtree's caliber, but at linebacker.

From among all of those possibilities, one must emerge as a constant for Tech's defense to climb into the ranks of the elite.

The Hot Corner: The one player whose loss could be felt even more acutely than that of Alex Trlica is Chris Parker. He had a very good senior campaign, and combined with Jamar Wall to ensure that opposing quarterbacks had no weakness to exploit on the corners. With Parker gone, a major void will need to be filled. There certainly are enough candidates: Pete Richardson, DeShon Sanders, Marcus Bunton, Brent Nickerson, Laron Moore. None of those players, however, have played enough or played well enough to make this observer sleep well at night. Finding a capable replacement for Parker at that crucial cornerback position will be job one for Tech's next defensive coordinator.

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