In late 2008, Tommy Tuberville looked as beaten and battered as his football squad leaving the field after a 36-0 drubbing by No. 1-ranked Alabama.
After 10 pretty good years at Auburn University, Tuberville appeared to have lost his edge despite his adamant retorts that this was not the case.
After taking a season away from the limelight, Tubs has landed in Lubbock, Texas and already shown his guns are slinging at Texas Tech. Without coaching a game or even going through two-a-days, Tuberville already earned a public reprimand from Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe.
Good news for Texas Tech fans: He’s back and appears ready to be better than ever.
He has pledged not to stray from the Air Raid days of Mike Leach, and youngster Neal Brown will attempt to be a better fit with Tuberville than short-lived Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was running the spread on the Plains.
Brown earned the job by promising to be more lenient with the running game calls. This means, regardless of the quarterback, Baron Batch will be the focal point of the TTU offense this season.
Batch has been Mr. Dependable at the tailback position during the Leach Era, and Tuberville knows a good running back when he sees one. His 4.4 speed and 5'10", 204-pound frame will be a great weapon in this offense—if Brown is allowed to run it at his discretion.
Seniors Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield are the top two quarterbacks, and the pair split starting duties a year ago thanks to injuries. Potts appears to have earned Tuberville and Brown’s blessing as the team’s No. 1 heading into fall camp, but Sheffield is far from out of the equation at the position.
Sheffield’s numbers are excellent in limited duty in 2009 (101-of-136, 1,219 yards, 14 touchdowns), giving the Red Raiders a highly coveted commodity in the Big 12 this coming season—two very experienced quarterbacks topping the depth charts.
Detron Lewis, Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, and Alex Torres are the first teamers at the wide receiver positions. Lewis is the star of the group, coming off a 2009 campaign where he collected a team-best 65 catches for 885 yards and six scores. Swindall’s speed will allow Brown to move him around and get him the ball in space—whether that be by handoffs, reverses, or receptions.
Matt Moore is the lone holdover from the Leach staff, and his four-year experience coaching the offensive linemen will be much welcomed when the Red Raiders hit the field this season.
One of the requirements for the Tony Franklin spread offense is smaller, more agile offensive linemen than Texas Tech has seen in the past. Several of the five starting spots are up for grabs heading into fall camp, but Lonnie Edwards should have a strong hold on his left guard position.
New defensive coordinator James Willis earned a national championship ring at Alabama last season and will bring a 3-4 philosophy with him from Tuscaloosa—a far cry from the 4-3 he helped coach with Tuberville at Auburn, his alma mater. This should be the first sign for Tech supporters that Willis plans to be his own man while calling the shots and coaching the linebackers.
Brian Duncan gives Willis and Tuberville a versatile star that could line up with his hand in the dirt at end or standing up at outside linebacker. There will also be times when Duncan lines up in the middle linebacker spot to confuse opposing quarterbacks even more. In a season that will feature new quarterbacks aplenty in the Big 12, Willis will be one of the top assistant coaches in the country if the Red Raiders make a smooth move to the 3-4.
Colby Whitlock and Myles Wade will be the first-teamers on the defensive line, and whenever Duncan is lined up at linebacker, one of TTU’s top pass rushing options will be Kerry Hyder. Whitlock had a huge 2009 with 45 stops, three sacks, and eight tackles for loss from his spot in the middle of the defensive line.
One of the players who should shine under Willis’ tutelage is inside linebacker Bront Bird. The senior earned several lines of praise from Tuberville and Willis in the spring, and all signs point to All-Big 12 type numbers from him. Sam Fehoko is a prototypical Tuberville linebacker in size and speed. Count on Tech’s defensive staff turning him loose from the outside intent on sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The secondary is green, but there is plenty of talent. LaRon Moore hopes to bounce back from the broken leg that limited his role in 2009, and he appears to be the Red Raiders’ best chance of having a lockdown corner. Tuberville has likened him to former Thorpe Award winner Carlos Rogers. Jarvis Phillips will be the starter at the other corner spot.
Franklin Mitchem is a clone of his new position coach, Travarious Robinson, which bodes well for the Red Raiders' defensive backfield. He loves to hit and has a great frame to withstand massive hits throughout the season. Junior Cody Davis will be the team’s top option at the free safety position.
One thing is for certain: Texas Tech will beat someone they’re not supposed to this season, most likely on the road. The Red Raiders will also suffer a head-scratching defeat, most likely at home. My picks: a win at Oklahoma and a loss to Missouri immediately preceding the trip to Norman. Overall, the schedule sets up well for a solid opening season for Tuberville in Lubbock.
While the public reprimand is a good indication that Tuberville is back to his old self after a year off, you’ll know he’s back to the Riverboat Gambler persona when the Red Raiders inexplicably fake a punt inside their own 20-yard line.
Quick Look: Texas Tech 2010
Starters returning: Offense 7, Defense 6
Key to the team: Brian Duncan, LB/DE
Most likely to break out: Bront Bird, LB
Most important game: at Texas A&M, Oct. 30
This CSM original content written by Chris Rushing.