Critical 20: No. 13 Ryan Bustin

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 of experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or may not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent for any reason.

Perhaps the best way to conceive of the critical players is to determine if 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.

Texas Tech Critical Twenty
Gary MooreDERS FRClarksville, TX6-5245No. 20
Rodney HallRBSRAngleton, TX5-10240No. 19
Donte PhillipsDLJRMilwaukee, WI6-2280No. 18
DeAndre WashingtonRBJRMissouri City, TX5-8190No. 17
Bradley MarquezWRSROdessa, TX5-11200No. 16
Baylen BrownOLSOSan Antonio, TX6-4305No. 15
Micah AweLBJRArlington, TX6-0200No. 14
Ryan BustinKSRKilgore, TX5-11180No. 13

Some folks might question the wisdom of pegging a placekicker this high in a ranking of important players, particularly when the kicker in question connected on 23 of 27 field goal attempts (but he missed three PATs) a year ago. To all appearances the Red Raiders seem solidly set with Ryan Bustin returning as their kicker.

But appearances are not always what they seem.

Specifically, Bustin had a miserable spring, at least as indicated by his performance in the three public scrimmages. Name a kicking travail and Bustin experienced it. He missed extra points, he missed short field goals, and a couple of his efforts were swatted right back in his face. It was like Danny DeVito trying to scoop a layup under the towering presence of Dikembe Mutombo.

But is there really anything to worry about here? After all, it was only spring practice. Nothing of consequence was on the line. Perhaps Bustin was simply in a funk borne of the very lack of pressure. By that theory, when the chips are down next season, Bustin will come through again and make his PATs along with all the short field goals that Tech routinely attempts.

And the Red Raiders do attempt a lot of field goals. Last season Tech attempted 2.1 field goals per game, which was tied for third most in the nation. Relatedly, Tech's red zone touchdown conversion percentage was a paltry 57.1, which was "good" for No. 87 nationally. Clearly, Kliff Kingsbury would love to dramatically up that TD conversion percentage (the presence of H-back Rodney Hall figures here) and obviate the entire question of Ryan Bustin's accuracy.

Perhaps Tech's red zone touchdown percentage will skyrocket in 2014 and Bustin will be largely irrelevant. When asked about the shaky performance of Bustin after the Red-Black Scrimmage, Kingsbury shrugged off any concerns and stated that he was fully confident in his kicker. Perhaps he is banking on better touchdown productivity next season, or perhaps he was attempting to bolster Bustin's presumably flagging confidence.

But all psychobabble and touchdown conversion projections aside, the reality is that Tech currently has a kicker who could not reliably make PATs in the spring, and Tech is coming off a season where they relied heavily on Bustin to put points on the board. If those two variables hold true in 2014, then Ryan Bustin's importance may actually underestimated by placing him at No. 13. For Tech's sake, that had better not be the case.

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