Opening camp: Texas Tech Red Raiders
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Next up: Texas Tech.
Media's predicted finish: Ninth.
Biggest storyline: Texas Tech is on a little redemption tour of its own after breaking the Big 12's longest stretch without a losing season, one that reached back nearly two decades. Last year's 5-7 season was aided by injuries, but the defense simply wasn't good enough. The pundits clearly aren't convinced Texas Tech is ready to rebound and reach the postseason, but the Red Raiders should have the offense. Can they stay healthy and finally turn the corner after a couple of rough seasons to begin the Tommy Tuberville era? He's recruited really well. The Red Raiders have the athletes to make it happen.
Biggest question mark: The entire defense. Texas Tech was by far the nation's worst run defense last season. That's an accomplishment especially in the Big 12, where passing is the name of the game. The Red Raiders gave up 12 more yards a game than New Mexico, the next-worst rush defense and a team that won one game. They gave up 25 more yards a game than the 116th-ranked rush defense. New coordinator Art Kaufman is the fourth man in four years to be in charge of the Texas Tech defense, which fell victim to poor depth in 2011. Coach Tommy Tuberville says the basic terminology and schemes haven't changed, even though the alignments have, from a 4-3 in 2009 to a 3-4 in 2010 to a 4-2-5 last year and back to a 4-3 this year.
Who needs to step up: The defensive line. Even with the injuries, the offense was good enough to win 7-8 games or more last season, averaging almost 34 points a game. Still, there's no underestimating the importance of this unit's improvement. If Tech can't stop the run any better than last year, the offense won't have a chance. Defensive tackle Delvon Simmons must emerge at the front line of the defense. Tackle Kerry Hyder and ends Branden Jackson and Dartwan Bush are the guys who can have the biggest influence on whether or not Texas Tech's rise begins in 2012.
On the mend: This list could go on and on and on, but we'll focus on the biggest guys who need to be back on the field. That starts with running backs Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington who are returning from knee injuries. Receivers Alex Torres (knee) and Darrin Moore (ankle) are back and healthy, though Moore is facing disciplinary action after an offseason DWI arrest.
Breaking out: Texas Tech may have a pair of linebackers who are household names by the end of the season. Juco transfer Will Smith took over this spring and earned a starting spot at middle linebacker. Tuberville wants him on the field as much as possible. Terrance Bullitt, a converted safety, is playing outside linebacker and the 215-pound senior is a big hitter who can fly around and be everywhere. He just needs to prove he can be where he needs to be when he needs to be there. He's got the athleticism to make it happen.
Don't forget about: WR Eric Ward. Torres has had a great career already, and Moore has all the potential in the world, but Ward was the guy producing in 2011, and returns as the team's leading receiver. He was steady during a rocky 2011, catching 84 balls for 800 yards and 11 scores.
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