After several weeks of training camp and three team scrimmages under their belt, the Red Raiders are rapidly approaching their season opener on September 2nd. This is the first college football Saturday of the year and they will go up against Eastern Washington. Putting up a mediocre, at best, 5-7 record last season and losing their star quarterback Patrick Mahomes II to the NFL Draft, the Red Raiders probably are not under what anyone would consider ideal circumstances to try to climb themselves up in the Big 12 totem pole. This is leaving many analysts and fans alike questioning how large the odds are for vast improvement under fifth year head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Of course, much of this pressure falls on the shoulder’s of fifth year senior and now starting quarterback Nic Shimonek. Shimonek spent last year backing up Mahomes after earning second-in-command on the depth chart in spring of last year. Adding to the pressure is the fact that Shimonek has to try to follow up Mahome’s performance of being #1 in the country in passing yards, not to mention the fact that Tech was #8 in total offense. Three out of 2016’s top receivers will return this season, with the exception of Jonathan Giles. Giles was last year’s number one receiver who nearly doubled the amount of touchdowns over the season as the next highest scorer. Top rushers Da’Leon Ward and Demarcus Felton are set to return.
Even given the uncertainty of how well Shimonek will be able to perform in a rebuilding offensive scheme, the offense still will not give Raider fans anywhere near as much to worry about as the defense. On the bright side, when you are coming off having the worst defense in all of D1 college football, you can only go up from here. Texas Tech was the only FBS school to allow over 500 points be scored on them last season. The defensive side of the ball clearly does not have much to say for themselves right now. If the Red Raiders have even a glimmer of hope of being able to compete for the chance to be towards the top of the Big 12, improvement will have to begin with the D.
As far as the schedule goes, Texas Tech will be facing Eastern Washington, Arizona State, and Houston as their out-of-conference opponents, which will be their first three games of the season. EWU is a top 5 team in the FCS, and could very well give the Red Raiders a run for their money. TTU faced ASU last season and won in a wild, high-scoring game. This will be Tech’s first matchup against UH since 2010, when they won as well. The Big 12 Conference is looking as competitive as it has been in recent memory, with Oklahoma setting sights on a playoff birth and Oklahoma State right on their heels. In the AP top 25 preseason rankings, the Big 12 takes up 5 spots with Oklahoma at #7, OSU at #10, Kansas State at #20, West Virginia at #22, and Texas with the #23 spot.
As it often goes in college football (and life) sometimes you just do not know what will happen ’till it happens. The Red Raiders have most of the pieces to their puzzle in place, but there is a big question mark hovering over Nic Shimonek and the whole defense. It is not going to be an easy road to success.