You’ve got a pretty good idea about Oklahoma heading into its season opener against Houston. But how about some of the other conference foes?
All this week Sooners Illustrated is going to check in with various publishers from the conference to see how things are going.
This trip takes us to Lubbock, Texas, to check in with Raider Power publisher Jarret Johnson.
Where have you seen the biggest growth with Patrick Mahomes? Is it possible he actually might be a little underrated?
He has literally grown this past offseason to 6-foot-3, 230 pounds after hanging up the baseball glove and bat to participate in his first full football offseason of his life. In addition to the added muscle, his leadership on the team grew immensely as he was there for every rep in the weight room, every sprint in the hot Texas sun and all the film study.
As far as him being underrated, I don't know maybe nationally, but those around Lubbock believe him to be the best QB to ever come through the program, which is saying a lot, and those around the Big 12 know he's one of, if not the best player in the league. If Tech wins big this season it will be a non-issue.
Why is this the year the Red Raiders defense turns things around?
Tech's defense was historically bad last season so improvement shouldn't be that difficult. There are still holes there, especially in the secondary, but that being said the defense has absolutely been the story of fall camp. Two things to know: 1, Tech's defensive line is completely revamped and unbelievably improved from over the past two seasons in large part due to transfers Ondre Pipkins at defensive tackle and Kolin Hill at defensive end. 2. This defensive group doesn't look like recent Tech defenses in that it's physical, which led to a lot of fights the first week of camp as for the first time in years the defense didn't curl up in a fetal position against the Red Raider offensive onslaught.
The Big 12 is thrilled Jakeem Grant has moved on. Is OKC product Cameron Batson the answer? Or is there really no such thing as a single answer to Grant?
No, there's only one Jakeem as evidenced by how he's already turning heads with the Dolphins. Still, Batson is going to be a huge part of what the Red Raiders do this season as both the starting H-receiver and primary punt returner. By all accounts Batson, who possesses a 4.0 GPA, had the best offseason of anybody on the team. He won the fastest player competition in the spring by winning six consecutive 20-yard sprints and has starred in live situations in the slot. He should also benefit from the hiring of special teams guru Joe Robinson, who is known as one of the best in the business and plans on being more aggressive in that phase than Tech has been in recent seasons under Kingsbury.
Has the shine worn off with Kliff Kingsbury? Is he in any sort of danger heading into the year, and how have you seen him mature as a coach?
No, the shine is not off Kingsbury and he is absolutely in zero danger heading into the 2016 season. Now, if this year is an absolute dumpster fire then he could be on the hot seat in 2017, but it would likely take a Titanic type season both on and off the field for that to happen. Most fans believe the previous coach left the program in very poor shape before leaving, plus admire Kingsbury for his playing days so he's been given a lot of leeway. Wins in Fayetteville and Austin last season also quieted most naysayers.
This is the first season Kingsbury will be playing with almost exclusively his recruits so the previous coach excuse will run its course soon.
His maturation as a head coach has been very interesting to watch and is something I have talked with him about on more than one occasion this offseason. Despite his public persona as a cool guy player's coach, which he and the program perpetuated when he first arrived, Kinsgbury is actually a recluse more interested in drawing up plays on the erase board in his office than attending public events. He's also a coach's son who grew up in a strict military household and relies on a regimented existence.
When he first arrived he thought he could come in, focus on scoring a lot of points and that would win Tech a lot of games, but what he quickly realized is that everybody scores a lot of points in the Big 12. While he still serves as the primary play caller and quarterback coach, he has taken a step back and looked more closely at the entire program, the CEO approach.
At face value Texas Tech would appear to look a lot like it did last season as the head coach, defensive coordinator and quarterback all return, but Kingsbury overturned his entire strength and conditioning staff, replaced four assistant coaches and changed a large part of his overall support staff in the offseason in an effort to make Red Raider football a "more serious football program."
What has been the biggest surprising development from camp?
I mentioned it above, but the play of Texas Tech's defensive line has shocked almost everybody around the program and it starts with Ondre Pipkins at nose guard. I expected very little from him as a transfer due to previous knee and concussion injuries at Michigan. Then when he first showed up at Tech a year ago it was obvious he was overweight and out of shape. Yet, after sitting out the 2015 season he raised eyebrows all around the program with his play in the spring and then shocked many this fall camp by weighing in at 305, some 30-plus pounds less than when he first hit campus. The most telling factor though was his play during live action of fall camp. Tech's offensive linemen have struggled mightily against him and Kingsbury singled him out as the most improved player.