LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury says this year's talent is the best since he's returned to his alma mater.
The fourth-year coach is hopeful that translates to the best season yet. Kingsbury's record as coach sits at .500, and he still lacks a winning Big 12 season.
The pluses this season are a receiving corps that's tall and deep, a lightning-fast running back and a quarterback who shunned playing baseball this spring so he could focus full time on football.
“Without a doubt this will be the best team we'll be putting out on the field,” Kingsbury said.
Texas Tech finished 7-6 last season, falling 56-27 to LSU in the Texas Bowl. That season record was a strong rebound from the previous year (4-8), in which the Red Raiders won just two conference games. Their point average last season (45.1 points) was a school record, and the program was one of two schools nationally (Bowling Green was the other) to score at least 30 points in every game.
Last year, Kingsbury had the luxury of having two standout quarterbacks, Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes. The latter emerged as the starter. Webb, who graduated this spring, has a year of eligibility remaining and will play for former Texas Tech assistant Sonny Dykes at California.
The Red Raiders open their season at home against Stephen F. Austin on Sept. 3.
Here are some things to watch this season at Texas Tech:
MORE MATURE MAHOMES: Texas Tech's success this year rests on the shoulders of its junior QB. Last year, Mahomes led the Big 12 in pass attempts (573), passing yards (4,653), passing touchdowns (36), total yards (5,109) and total touchdowns (46).
He wants to take a larger leadership role after key departures.
Kingsbury said Mahomes has worked on his footwork and mechanics. “There were games (last season) that he kind of played loose, played street ball the entire game,” Kingsbury said. “If what I saw this spring translates to the field, he will have a monster season.”
STOCKTON'S SPEED: Look for the Red Raiders to rely on junior Justin Stockton out of the backfield after scoring 11 touchdowns last season. His quick burst in open space makes him a dangerous weapon, whether taking handoffs or catching passes.
“He's literally one of the most explosive players in the country,” Kingsbury said. “His burst and his flat out top end is as fast as anybody.”
DEFENSIVE WOES: For the first time in nearly a decade, the Red Raiders have the same defensive coordinator for a second year in a row.
David Gibbs has a lot to work on.
In six losses last season, Texas Tech gave up an average of 56 points. The Red Raiders gave up 279 yards rushing per game and surrendered 49 touchdowns on the ground, the most in the nation.
KEY GAMES: At 19-19 over the last three seasons, Texas Tech hasn't been among the Big 12 title contenders. For that to change, the Red Raiders need a strong start in conference play.
The first three league games against Kansas, Kansas State and West Virginia in late September and early October will determine if Texas Tech can be a Big 12 player for the first time since 2008.
SEASON OPENER: The Red Raiders open the season against FCS opponent Stephen F. Austin and should have little trouble getting a good start with a win.