Back to square one
Kliff Kingsbury's head coaching career could not have gotten off to a better start. The Red Raiders ran off seven straight wins and after a close loss to Oklahoma, Kingsbury was the hottest thing in college football, the coaching fraternity's first bona fide sex symbol. Then the wheels fell off. Although Texas Tech did bounce back with a nice win over Arizona State in the 2013 Holiday Bowl, the sophomore slump had begun, and things would get downright ugly in 2014. A bad loss to Arkansas in Week 3 began a precipitous slide towards the bottom of the conference, highlighted by an 82-27 shellacking at the hands of TCU.
2015 therefore presents an opportunity of sorts, a chance to start over with a clean slate. For Kingsbury, this has meant keeping a relatively low profile in the off-season, trying to be more head coach than GQ poster boy (Matt Hinton, Grantland)*.
At 36, Kingsbury is still the youngest coach at any Power 5 school, and perhaps as a result, the learning curve has been steep. But at Big 12 Media Days, Kingsbury played his cards close to his chest and confirmed only that he's not interested in playing any political games this season (perhaps a reference to the Baker Mayfield fiasco last year) (Michael DuPont, Dallas Morning News). Texas Tech is going to just play football.
Offense has never really been a problem in Lubbock. Even in 2014, when the Red Raiders were good, they were very good. Despite the 4-8 record, Texas Tech's offense managed to finish 10th in total offense with an S&P+ rating in the top quarter of the FBS. That was due at least in part to a great three-game stretch to close out the season from backup Patrick Mahomes who took over for the injured Davis Webb. Mahomes, a freshman, did not fare well against TCU or Texas, but showed significant improvement down the stretch (1428 yards, 14 TD, 2 INT) and a near-upset of Baylor in the final game.
What does it all mean? Well, with Mahomes and Webb back in the rotation, Texas Tech may have a bit of a quarterback controversy on its hands. Spring ball was not especially revealing, as Mahomes was busy playing baseball and Webb was still recovering from surgery. According to Viva the Matadors, Mahomes will probably start, although Kingsbury has not named an official starter yet (Tommy Magelssen, Dallas Morning News). Either way, having a great quarterback and an equally great backup is a good problem to have, and the Texas Tech offense is unlikely to fall off its production from 2014.
Meet the new defense, same as the old defense?
It's hard to say anything good about Texas Tech's defense from 2014. It was not just bad, it was a downright nightmare. Following the unexpected resignation of defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt (Jake Trotter, ESPN), the defense, lacking depth and dealing with multiple injuries, limped through the rest of the season, finishing 125th in total defense and 126th in scoring defense.
It's not clear that things will be different on this side of the ball in 2015, but Texas Tech does have a new defensive coordinator: David Gibbs, responsible for a ball-hawking, swarming defense at Houston that produced a nation-leading 73 takeaways over two seasons. This could help against some of the Big 12's better passing teams. Gibbs also has NFL experience and his stints at Auburn and Colorado may help with the run defense too, which was the absolute darkest part of the Red Raiders' defensive nightmare in 2014. Big 12 opponents, even relatively anemic ones like Iowa State, ran all over Texas Tech, and if the new DC does not shore up the run defense, it could get ugly again in Lubbock.
Prediction time!Texas Tech's offense is geared to put points on the board and they will take on Kansas State at home, but the Wildcats' strength is in the secondary, and without much improvement from Tech's run defense, I cannot see Kingsbury pulling off a win against the wizardry of Bill Snyder. Kansas State 35 Texas Tech 20.
*If you read any part of this preview at all, please let it be Hinton's piece on Kingsbury. It is a great bit of writing and an insightful look into the making (and remaking) of a young coach.