Five questions for Texas Tech in 2016

Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes could be a sleeper Heisman candidate in 2016 -- if the Red Raiders can increase their win total. Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Now that Texas Tech’s season is over after a 56-27 loss to No. 20 LSU in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl on Tuesday, we’re ready to start looking ahead to 2016. Here are five questions for the Red Raiders entering the offseason.

1. Is Tech ready to take the next step? That is a tricky question. Kliff Kingsbury's squad made progress in going from 4-8 last year to 7-6 this season. What would be considered satisfying progress in 2016? The depth chart will feature more youth next season, so making the jump to eight or nine wins will be challenging. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes keeps getting better and just might be the Big 12’s most talented QB in 2016. But is he going to get enough help from his supporting cast and a defense that still has a long way to go? Tech must deal with a lot of questions this offseason, but this is the big one.

2. When is the defense going to get better? That’s been the question every offseason at Texas Tech since, what, 2011? The results were rough for their latest first-year defensive coordinator, David Gibbs, whose unit allowed 43.6 points and 280.5 rushing yards per game at a rate of nearly 7 yards per play. The defensive line will have to be rebuilt for next season, too. Gibbs’ arrival helped spark an impressive plus-15 swing in turnover margin this season. What kind of gains can this group make in his second year in Lubbock?

3. Could Mahomes be a Heisman contender? In the past five years, only two Power 5 quarterbacks have finished with more total yards in one season than Mahomes’ 5,109 in 2015: Marcus Mariota (2014) and Johnny Manziel (2012). Both won the Heisman that season. Mahomes should be one of the game’s most exciting playmakers in 2016 and is poised to put up more monster numbers. He ought to go into his junior year as a dark-horse Heisman candidate. But Tech will need to win more games to push him into the conversation.

4. Can the rest of the offense reload? Running back DeAndre Washington, receiver/returner Jakeem Grant and tackle Le'Raven Clark exit as three of the best to ever play their respective positions at Texas Tech. Gone, too, are four more senior offensive linemen. Expectations will be high for running backs Justin Stockton and Corey Dauphine, and No. 1-rated juco receiver Derrick Willies arrives soon. The skill-position talent will emerge, but rebuilding that veteran line will be a bit trickier.

5. How important are the upcoming hires? Kingsbury currently has five vacancies on his coaching staff. A rather serious overhaul is coming for 2016. The most important decisions will be on the defensive staff, where three assistants were dismissed. Tech has the right guy to lead the D in Gibbs, but he needs more help -- and some very talented coaches and recruiters -- to get that unit repaired. Kingsbury has to nail these hires.