Texas Tech was expected to be a team in transition this season after losing key players such as Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell from last season’s South Division champions.
But the Red Raiders’ evolution was even more radical than expected. Injuries caused coach Mike Leach to go with three quarterbacks to start games this season, shuffling through Steven Sheffield, Taylor Potts and Seth Doege. Before this year, Leach had never started a backup quarterback.
All things being considered, the Red Raiders’ 8-4 record was better than expected, especially the way it was achieved. With a consistent running game -- at least by Tech’s standards -- and a sack-happy defense that led the conference with 39 sacks, the Alamo Bowl berth was a nice reward.
Tech quarterbacks combined to pass for 4,568 yards and 35 touchdowns, but the real story was the play of running back Baron Batch and a receiver-by-committee grouping that filled in for Crabtree by having nine different players with at least 24 receptions.
Other than a surprise blowout home loss against Texas A&M, the defense played well down the stretch. Ruffin McNeill’s unit limited opponents to 14 points or fewer in four of its last seven games. It was the kind of performance that can lead to the defense getting some notoriety around Lubbock, too.
Offensive MVP: RB Baron Batch
With the varied collection of receivers and quarterbacks playing around him, Batch became the Red Raiders’ primary offensive threat, becoming the top run/receiver combination player for the Red Raiders since Taurean Henderson. Batch was hampered by an arm injury early in the season, but rebounded to finish with 784 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and also added 51 receptions for 310 yards.
Defensive MVP: DE Brandon Sharpe
Texas’ late defensive renaissance was keyed by Sharpe, a junior college transfer who notched 13 of his school-record 15 sacks in Big 12 play. Sharpe entered the season with four career tackles, but quickly filled a void at the Red Raiders’ biggest presumed defensive positional weakness coming into the season. He had five multisack games, including four against Nebraska and 3.5 against Kansas.
Turning point: Oct. 3 vs. New Mexico
The Red Raiders were floundering after a 2-2 start capped by consecutive emotional losses to Texas and Houston. With players sniping at each other after the Houston loss and complaining about Leach on their Twitter accounts, the coach cut off their social networking privileges and suspended All-Big 12 guard Brandon Carter for a game. It got worse when Potts went down with an injury before halftime. But Sheffield rallied the offense for a 48-28 victory over the Lobos and followed it up with a seven-TD effort against Kansas State the following week. The late turnaround helped steer the Red Raiders to a fast finish that saw them win six of their last eight games.
The Red Raiders have a favorable Alamo Bowl matchup against suspension-wracked Michigan State. Tech’s passing game will be a test against a Michigan State team that ranks 96th nationally in pass efficiency defense and 103rd in pass defense. The return of Sheffield and Potts promises a quarterback controversy into the spring and beyond. And with a talented cast of returning skill players next season, the Red Raiders approach 2010 as a team that could contend for the South Division championship.