Tech recruiting strong, despite struggles

DALLAS -- Scanning the list of the nation's top-25 recruiting classes unearths few surprises. The list is mostly national powers like Texas, Alabama, Notre Dame, LSU or USC. That, or growing programs at the height of recent success, like Stanford.

Every single team, though, won enough games to qualify for a bowl game, save sleeping giant Tennessee trying to rebuild under Derek Dooley.

One team sticks out.

Despite a 5-7 season, Texas Tech still signed the nation's No. 20 class, a second consecutive top-20 recruiting class over a span that's featured just 13 wins.

"You don't recruit these guys for 3-4 months," coach Tommy Tuberville told ESPN.com on Thursday. "You recruit these guys for two years."

Texas Tech's top three signees, receivers Dominique Wheeler and Reginald Davis, as well as offensive tackle Michael Starts were all committed to the Red Raiders by June 2011, months before the season began.

Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt called the season "disappointing" and "unacceptable," but reiterated his vote of confidence in Tuberville on Thursday.

The difficult part was keeping players already committed while the Red Raiders suffered through seven losses in the final eight games of the season.

"You just show 'em the truth. You don't make excuses, because we're in a results-driven business," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "But you show 'em. Obviously, we were good enough to beat the No. 1 team in the country at their place and snap that home winning streak, and we were close."

There's no erasing the 5-7 record, the first losing season at Texas Tech in almost two decades. And as easy as it is to focus on embarrassing 34-, 32- and 60-point losses to teams that finished in the Top 25 late in the season, the Red Raiders were competitive early in the season in close losses to Texas A&M and Kansas State. A four-point November loss to Missouri, which would have given the Red Raiders a bowl berth, came on a tipped ball in the final minute inside Mizzou's 5-yard line.

So, "showing 'em" means filling them in on injuries. Offensively, the impact of running back Eric Stephens' dislocated knee in the fifth game was enormous. Brown noted that Stephens was the team's second-leading receiver at the time, and called him the best pass-blocking back he'd been around. It also forced the Red Raiders to rely on freshmen.

Defensively, injuries forced the Red Raiders to play even inexperienced players. In the season finale against Baylor, Texas Tech traveled with 52 players, compared to almost 100 for the Bears. Now, 15 players are expected to miss spring practice.

"We just kind of hit rock bottom," Tuberville said. "We lost the base of what we had, any kind of leadership on defense. When we lost the running back, that put tremendous pressure on the defense. That just devastated us."

Added Tuberville: "It's pretty unusual to go into the Oklahoma State game and have to put a receiver (Cornelius Douglas) on (Biletnikoff Award winner Justin) Blackmon."

So for top recruits, the sell is simple.

"Sell what you have," Tuberville said. "There's a lot of these guys that look at us and say, "Hey, I can go a lot of places, but I can go to Tech and play right now.' And they can. That's a big selling point because of the situation we're in. That's helped. It helped get certain players."

Tech signed nine juco players in its 2012 class, including seven defenders, in hopes of finding a quick fix for a defense in need of a lot more than a quick tune-up.

The talent has arrived for the Red Raiders. The wins haven't. When will they? The focus for now is clear. Tech has had two of the best recruiting classes in the Big 12 in successive seasons. It's also fielded two of the worst defenses.

"We've gotta balance this team up. There's no way you can go out there and put the kind of pressure on the offense that we did last year," Tuberville said. "'We're going to give up 50, so y'all gotta score 50.' It's just not going to happen. You're definitely not going to win championships doing that."