Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they to be absent for any reason. In fact, that may be the best way to conceive of the critical players—they are the performers the team could least afford to lose.
With this series, we will take a reverse order look at the Red Raider football players we consider most invaluable.
5' 11" 170
Based upon Ryan Bustin's performance a year ago, Kliff Kingsbury surely thought the placekicker position would be the least of his worries in 2013. But after what one may charitably term a dismal performance in the spring scrimmages by Bustin, placekicker must now be classed a concern.
Outside of the most recent spring camp, however, Bustin's track record is very good. He arrived from Kilgore Junior College with a modest reputation, but quickly wowed all and sundry with his accuracy in practice. Such was Bustin's proficiency that he looked like future All Big 12 if not All American material.
Once Bustin finally got the opportunity to show his stuff in live action, his performance diminished somewhat, but was still more than acceptable. In 2012, Bustin's sophomore season, he connected on 17 of 24 field goal attempts. The 17 made field goals ties him with three other kickers for most in school history. Bustin also hit the game-winning field goal as time expired to send the Minnesota Golden Gophers packing in the Texas Bowl. He hit all 59 of his PATs as well.
Bustin was deadly accurate from inside 40 yards, hitting on 14 of 17 attempts from that range. His accuracy diminished considerably from 40 yards and beyond, where he connected on only three of seven tries. Bustin did show some range, however, nailing a 50-yarder against Texas State.
Now the 64-dollar question is, What happened? In the spring scrimmages, Bustin couldn't make anything. Unsurprisingly, he was not terribly sharp from long range, but much more alarming, he was also wildly errant from inside 30 yards. It was shades of Donnie Carona in his early Red Raider days.
Presumably, new special teams coordinator Trey Haverty hasn't altered Bustin's technique. You don't fix a kicker that isn't broken. Potential damage to the notoriously fragile psyche of kickers during the transition to a new style is too great a risk for not enough reward. Far more likely, Bustin went into a slump early in spring camp, lost his confidence, and did not retrieve it before camp concluded.
Whatever the reason, Bustin simply must snap out of it before the season begins because backup kicker Taylor Symmank does not look like a solid option at this point either. And given Tech's history of having to win games by simply outscoring the opposition, the Red Raiders will need every point they can get.