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2016 season preview: Texas Tech Red Raiders

The Texas Tech Red Raiders were one of the most exciting teams in the country last season. That, however, didn't always translate into wins. Behind QB Patrick Mahomes, the Red Raiders are hopeful they can become a factor in the Big 12 race for the first time in eight years. That, however, won't happen unless Tech can take a big jump defensively.

Our season preview capsule for the Texas Tech Red Raiders:

Key losses: QB Davis Webb, RB DeAndre Washington, WR Jakeem Grant, OT Le'Raven Clark, C Jared Kaster, DE Branden Jackson, DE Pete Robertson, LB Micah Awe

Key returners: QB Patrick Mahomes, WR Devin Lauderdale, OT Baylen Brown, DT Breiden Fehoko, S Jah’Shawn Johnson

Preseason storyline: All eyes have been on a defense that once again finished among the worst in college football in 2015, as the Red Raiders ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams in total defense.

One area where the Red Raiders could be improved is up front, headlined by Fehoko, who started every game as a true freshman last season. Transfers Kolin Hill (Notre Dame) and Ondre Pipkins (Michigan) could give the Red Raiders a boost, too.

Stopping the run will be paramount in order for Tech to take any step defensively. And at the least, there's more potential this time around up front.

Most interesting position: The Red Raiders graduated record-setting receiver Jakeem Grant, but could actually be improved at the position overall. The arrival of top juco WR transfer Derrick Willies and return of Dylan Cantrell gives Tech a pair of physical deep threats. Inside, Jonathan Giles has come on strong this preseason, providing the Red Raiders with three reliable slot receivers along with Cam Batson and Ian Sadler.

Even without Grant, this might very well be the deepest receiving corps Kliff Kingsbury has had at Tech.

Game that matters most: Oklahoma on Oct. 22. Since he spurned Tech for Oklahoma three years ago, the Red Raiders have been waiting for Baker Mayfield to return to Lubbock. This showdown will also pit two of the top quarterbacks in the country against one another in Mahomes and Mayfield. And if the Red Raiders can navigate their way through a manageable first six games, Tech will have a prime opportunity to land its biggest victory since 2008, when it knocked off top-ranked Texas.

Prediction: Because of Mahomes, Tech will have a chance in every game this year. But the defense will prevent the Red Raiders from being a serious contender, leaving them with a very solid, if unspectacular, 8-4 record.