In need of a rebound in a big way after a 4-8 finish in 2014, Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech took an encouraging step in the right direction in 2015 with a seven-win regular season that comes with an opportunity for a memorable finish.
This season's Red Raiders proved to be a bit streaky -- three wins in a row, then two losses, two wins, three losses and two wins -- but when they put it all together and played solid defense they were as tough an out as any team in the Big 12. Kingsbury's offense cranked out 46.6 points per game on average (good for No. 2 in FBS) and developed a young superstar-in-the-making at quarterback.
Here's a review of the Red Raiders’ 2015 season to this point as they begin to prepare for a AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl matchup with No. 20 LSU on Dec. 29.
Best win: Arkansas. The Red Raiders got their revenge for an embarrassing home loss in 2014 with an impressive 35-24 win in Fayetteville. Good battle on the field, even better off the field. Most will remember this one for Kingsbury going in on Bret Bielema in his postgame comments -- saying he “just got his ass kicked” -- and the minor spat that ensued. But knocking off those Razorbacks, who’d also finish 7-5, was a must for building this Texas Tech team’s confidence.
Worst loss: Oklahoma State. Yes, the Red Raiders got blown out by Oklahoma and Baylor. But you’d have to say a 70-53 home loss to the then-No. 12 Cowboys left just as bitter a taste. A very winnable 56-53 game slipped away on defensive busts and untimely errors. If your offense drops 53 points on one of the Big 12’s best defenses in your house, you have to find a way to win. Tech instead found a way to lose, blowing a 31-14 second-quarter lead. If just a few plays shake out differently against Oklahoma State and TCU, Tech finishes 9-3.
Player of the year: Jakeem Grant. The 5-foot-6 speedster was one of the best pound-for-pound playmakers in college football and has done a little bit of everything: 1,143 receiving yards, 921 kick return yards, seven receiving touchdowns, two rushing TDs, two kick return TDs and even a 72-yard TD pass. He passed Michael Crabtree and Wes Welker for No. 1 in the Tech career record books and came through for this team time and time again. Grant played with a chip on his shoulder through his career and is finally starting to get the recognition he’s long deserved.
Breakout player: Patrick Mahomes proved his stellar 2014 debut, while flashy, was not just a flash in the pan. He’s put up big-time numbers during his sophomore season (4,283 yards on 65 percent passing, nearly 500 rushing yards, 42 total TDs) and filled up the highlight reel with his wild scrambles and precision dimes. He’s the real deal, and he’ll be one of the nation’s most exciting quarterbacks in 2016.
Play of the year: Easy to pick from the Mahomes Magic playlist, but Grant’s trick play to finish off Texas probably merits top honors. Kingsbury snuck the little man onto the field behind Tech’s big line and tried a little fumblerooski-inspired trickeration. Grant kneeled down, took a handoff from Mahomes and ran around three Texas defenders for the 40-yard score. That helped seal the deal in a 48-45 Thanksgiving win in Austin that left the Red Raiders feeling mighty good about what’s to come.
2016 outlook: Onward and upward. There’s definitely some reloading to do on offense -- most notably on the offensive line after Le’Raven Clark, Jared Kaster and two more seniors graduate -- and young backs Justin Stockton and Corey Dauphine will try to replace All-Big 12 rusher DeAndre Washington. There’s also a lot more growing to be done on defense. The puzzle on D is still missing a few pieces, but defensive coordinator David Gibbs is making progress. If 2015 was about getting back on track, 2016 is about making a statement. The Red Raiders get a great chance to do so on Sept. 10 at Arizona State before heading into a relatively backloaded Big 12 slate.