Football finally returns to Jones AT&T Stadium today where Texas Tech will kickoff the 2011 season against Texas State.
Not exactly the banner headline game that some teams are gravitating toward in order to push the possibilities of making the national championship game and attracting national attention at the same time on opening weekend.
But this isn't a Texas Tech team that's expected to be playing for the crystal ball this season or perhaps even a Bowl Championship Series game. This is a learning year.
The Red Raiders have been labeled "The Enigma" of the Big 12 Conference – which in itself is close to being extinct with Texas A&M eyeing a January departure and now Oklahoma telling sources its close to leaving the conference within the next three weeks.
But 2011 is something different for head coach Tommy Tuberville and his squad. This crew is not picked to finish higher than sixth in the conference by most media groups and does not have an overwhelming star to boost the hype needed for a crazed campaign throughout the season.
Hey not many knew who Cam Newton was at this point last season, either.
Tuberville has a solid mix of seniority and fresh talent in what will leave a lot of fans saying, "Who made that tackle?" at the end of plays on today.
Heck even some of the coaches are still carrying roster cards in hands to help learn all the new faces around the program.
Tech is the easy favorite against the Bobcats and should win by plenty when the final whistle blows, but there will be so many more things to keep an eye on to see where the program is to start off the season and then judge once again two games into conference play.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
New Texas Tech defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow brings his intensity and 4-2-5 defense into West Texas against Texas State for a practice test. Glasgow hopes to fair better than his former employer of 10 years – TCU – who lost 50-48 to Baylor on Friday night. Maybe that just means Glasgow was the lucky charm … Maybe.
Either way, Glasgow has shown he has the correct formula in place to utilize the insane amount of young talent on the defensive side of the ball. The front four of the defense will include highly-touted recruits Delvon Simmons and Leon Mackey. Simmons will be limited to 20-25 snaps during the opening game while Mackey is expected to get a little more time and may be one of the most fun players to watch for the next couple of years. He's quick, shows a great first step and loves to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
But there will also be plenty of questions surrounding the middle and secondary defenders. Watch for D.J. Johnson and Cody Davis to quarterback a group that includes first-time starting linebackers Blake Dees and Cqulin Hubert, who continued to turn heads throughout the spring, summer and now fall with talent and work ethic.
Moore, Moore, Moore …
Texas Tech has always been know for its wide receivers over the last few years. Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree, Danny Amendola – just to name a few. This year, quarterback Seth Doege inherits returning receivers Alex Torres, Austin Zouzalik and Tramain Swindall. But one of the most interesting stories might be wideout Darrin Moore.
Moore transferred from Blinn College – where he played with Newton – and made a few cameos last season behind Lyle Leong and others. Leong possesses great hands and the big-plat potential coaches love to see as a natural ability in players. Moore could easily be the breakout player for Tech this season if he is able to make the same big catches he's made during scrimmages and practices up to this point.
But don't forget about freshman Bradley Marquez, who moved from being the all-time leading rusher at Odessa High School into the wide receiver role while also signing a contract to play baseball in the New York Mets system. Marquez has great speed and can be best used in the open field on tunnel screens and slants, where he turns right back into a running back headed for daylight.
Speaking of running backs, Tech has plenty.
Tuberville joked at the 2011 signing day press conference about having 3-running back sets to accommodate everyone and not miss anything, but this won't happen. Expect the touches to go to Eric Stephens, Aaron Crawford, Ronnie Daniels, DeAndre Washington and Ben McRoy today – meaning there will always be fresh legs available on the field.
Washington appears to be the name growing more and more popular each day and may get more touches as the season goes on, but don't forget about Aaron Crawford, who will sit just behind Stephens on the depth chart this season. Crawford is in his last season and showed a lot more improvement during fall camps to earn the extra carries on certain yardage situations – much like how McRoy will be used. Expect Stephens to get the majority of touches, regardless of score but as long as he can hang on to the ball.