Texas Tech is probably the most talented team in college football that nobody is paying any attention to. Despite a legacy of winning seasons and bowl game eligibility that is unequalled in the Big 12, and despite coming off a solid 8-5 season, the Red Raiders have completely fallen off the map.
One reason for the Tech neglect is that dreaded dyad, "youth and inexperience." According to the most current depth chart the Red Raiders have 14 freshmen and 16 sophomores either in the two-deep or within striking distance of playing in 2011. The Red Raiders have seldom been more green.
But is this youth movement an indictment of veteran personnel or an indicator of superior talent among the underclassmen? Probably a bit of both.
But be that as it may, the two-deep is likely to get younger still as the season progresses. Look for the youngsters currently on the depth chart to climb it, and several just outside the depth chart to vault onto it. In other words, the current depth chart actually understates the youth of this team. And the predictions below demonstrate why.
To begin with, don't expect freshman flanker Bradley Marquez to remain trapped behind Darrin Moore for long. Moore looks like Tech's best receiver right now and Marquez appears to be the second best deep threat on the roster outside of Moore. It therefore makes no sense to have Marquez languish behind Moore, particularly when split ends Tramain Swindall, Jacoby Franks and Eric Ward are merely serviceable. The prediction here is that Marques will start at spit end sometime in 2011.
Staying within the receiver corps, don't expect Jace Amaro to remain a second-teamer behind Adam James forever. James, a senior, doubtless knows the nuances of the offense better than Amaro, and he might even be a better blocker at this point, but Amaro is simply too good a weapon to keep off the field. He has incredible wheels for a man his size, catches the ball beautifully, and is not afraid of contact. Amaro will emerge as Tech's go-to receiver on deep seam routes and will draw comparisons to former Oklahoma great Jermaine Gresham.
Moving to the backfield, don't be misled by Ronnie Daniels' absence from the depth chart. The only reason he's not front and center is the presence of veterans Eric Stephens and Aaron Crawford. But Daniels is more talented and is a more complete back than the two veterans, and this fact will eventually propel Daniels to the fore.
No back on the roster is as physical as Daniels, and none of Tech's larger backs has the wiggle that Daniels does. Plus, Daniels doesn't have a fumbling problem as far as we know. Daniels may not start as a true freshman, but by the end of the season he will be getting more carries than any other back.
At defensive end, look for true freshman Kindred Evans to avoid the redshirt and garner significant playing time. Particularly if Scott Smith does not come back full speed following his four-game suspension to start the season.
Now Dartwan Bush is probably secure as a starter, but Aundrey Barr, who has shown very little on the field, is vulnerable. The bet here is that Evans becomes Bush's top backup and maintains that position throughout the season.
As a bonus prediction for a player who's not a freshman, keep your eye on sophomore interior defensive lineman Chris Knighton. The former defensive end has bulked up to 270 pounds, and he plays like a blow-charged road grader. Knighton gets under the pads of offensive linemen and pushes them into the backfield. At some point he will work himself into the rotation.