Lone Star Gunslinger: Graham Harrell Leads Texas Tech to Parts Unknown

John BaucumCorrespondent INovember 19, 2008

Heading into Saturday’s showdown with No. 5 Oklahoma, Graham Harrell has a chance to do something no other Texas Tech quarterback has done—lead the Red Raiders to the Big 12 Championship game.

Despite his team’s unblemished record (which features wins over No. 19 Kansas, No. 1 Texas, and No. 9 Oklahoma State), few people give Texas Tech much chance to win at OU. That’s probably fine with Graham Harrell. The Red Raiders were underdogs against Kansas and Texas, too.

Simply put, Graham Harrell is the best QB in head coach Mike Leach’s tenure at Texas Tech. Now, let’s examine some reasons why.

First, Harrell is a natural leader and has displayed these leadership qualities since he became the starter in 2006. Harrell’s background also helps when it comes to being successful at QB. He is the son of a coach. He’s spent hours upon hours looking at film and dissecting defenses.

Additionally, Harrell has played in the shotgun since he was 12 or 13 years old. His poise in the pocket and ability to find receivers is unrivaled. The greatness of Mike Leach’s offense is on full display with Graham Harrell in the shotgun awaiting the snap.

Harrell has a connection with his receivers and running backs that other Tech QBs haven’t enjoyed. He seldom makes a bad read, and his sure-handed receivers usually don’t let him down.

What’s new this season is Harrell’s increased pocket savvy. He’s shown a greater ability to sidestep pass rushers, as well as the ability to run for a first down when other options are covered. Few realize that Harrell rushed for 1,000 yards and 17 TDs during his senior season of high school football.

Harrell came to Texas Tech like many others—not too heavily recruited, but with enough talent to garner attention from recruiting experts. Harrell’s offer list included Wisconsin, Louisiana Tech, Arizona State, Baylor, Georgia, NC State, and Purdue. Texas Tech’s biggest competition for his services was NC State.

But Harrell saw something special in Mike Leach’s offense and has been climbing NCAA passing charts ever since he signed on the dotted line.

In a season of firsts, it’s no coincidence that Harrell is leading the charge. Texas Tech is enjoying its first 10-0 start since 1938, and the team celebrated its first victory over a No. 1 team in program history. Harrell’s experience and decision-making are two of the reasons for Texas Tech’s meteoric rise.

A constant knock on Graham Harrell is that he’s a system QB. That can’t be further from the truth. Harrell has done everything that is asked of him and more—and he’s done more than any other Texas Tech QB.

Harrell’s NFL chances may hinge on his ability to put on weight and increase his foot speed. Over the last few weeks he has made all the throws that NFL QBs make, and he’s done it on a national stage against good defenses. Anyone who believes Graham Harrell can’t be a pro football player is judging Harrell based on previous Tech QBs and not on what Harrell has accomplished.

Mike Leach’s first QB at Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury, threw for 5,017 yards with 45 TDs and 13 INTs. Harrell has at least three games to play and has thrown for 4,077 yards with 36 TDs and five INTs. Kingsbury’s go-to guy was Wes Welker, and Harrell has Michael Crabtree.

Welker is proving his worth with the New England Patriots, and Crabtree continues to add to his lore at Texas Tech. But don’t criticize Harrell’s game for Crabtree’s success—he is far from the only weapon at Harrell’s disposal.

Harrell outshines Kingsbury for several reasons. One, he hasn’t lost. Two, changes in clock rules have shortened the games. Three, Harrell is able to utilize a vastly superior running game that has taken away opportunities for passing yardage, but helped the team win.

Also, Harrell broke Kingsbury’s school record for passing yards in only the fifth game of his senior season.

However, Kingsbury and Texas Tech’s past aren’t on Harrell’s mind. The senior from Ennis has a potential Big 12 Championship game to play and a trip to New York City on the horizon. Go ahead and doubt Graham Harrell, but don’t be surprised if he comes out on top.