2015 season preview: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Pat Mahomes will put up big yards in Texas Tech's offense, but the Red Raiders' success will be defined by how well the defense performs. Tim Sharp/AP

Our season preview capsule for the Texas Tech Red Raiders:

Most important player: Pick any starter on this defense. Texas Tech isn't going to get back on track without a much-improved D, and new defensive coordinator David Gibbs brings wisdom and the sound, aggressive scheme needed to get it fixed. He's going to get the Red Raiders lined up right and ready to snag more takeaways, but how dramatically can Tech improve after having one of the worst Power 5 conference defenses last season? That’s the most important question facing Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders in 2015.

Offensive breakout player: The light really came on for sophomore running back Justin Stockton this spring. He's become a more well-rounded and confident back since his up-and-down freshman year, which featured TD runs of 75 and 69 yards but also never more than eight carries in a game. DeAndre Washington should be in for a big senior season, but Stockton is another home run threat who will complement him well.

Defensive breakout player: Rika Levi's breakout was supposed to happen last year. But the junior college transfer wasn’t in good enough shape to meet those expectations. Levi has shed 45 pounds -- down from 373 to 328 -- since he first arrived on campus and is ready to make a difference in the middle of this defense at nose guard. Tech coaches are optimistic about the progress he’s shown and the impact he can make.

Most important game: After a 4-8 season, the key is getting back to a bowl game, is it not? Based on ESPN's FPI projections, it seems entirely possible Tech will get through its first eight games with a record of 4-4. The Red Raiders have to beat some good teams in the final month, and the most important game will be whichever one will get them to six wins. Circle their home finale against Kansas State on Nov. 14 on the calendar just to be safe.

Newcomer to watch: One thing for sure is that Kingsbury isn't afraid to play young players, so it wouldn't be a shock to see a high number of the Red Raiders' 2015 signings on the field at some point this season. Tech signed six receivers in the 2015 class, so it’s a good bet names such as Keke Coutee, Tony Brown or Donta Thompson will be in the mix early on. -- Jeremy Crabtree

Recruiting storyline: The Red Raiders continue to stockpile offensive skill talent in the 2016 class. Tech has 23 commits -- more than anybody else in the Big 12 -- and the best in the bunch are receiver T.J. Vasher, tight end Donte Coleman and fast-rising quarterback Jett Duffey. -- Crabtree

Prediction: Texas Tech looks like the most improved team in the Big 12 at times, but its issues with penalties and turnovers still pop up at inopportune moments. Kingsbury goes with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, who shows flashes of brilliance as a sophomore. Mahomes plus a defense that can get stops makes the Red Raiders a tough out every week and results in a solid 6-6 season that will include an upset or two along the way.