LUBBOCK, Texas – Kliff Kingsbury invariably is the first person to arrive each morning at the Texas Tech football offices. The Red Raiders' new coach likes to get his day started around 5:30 a.m., working in solitude to prepare for the day's work and challenges.
The former Texas Tech quarterback commissioned a painting that hangs in his office. Entitled "Suns Up, Guns Up" it shows the school's Masked Rider galloping in AT&T Jones Stadium at sunrise. And the new video board has an image of the most famous play in school history – Michael Crabtree's game-winning touchdown against top-ranked Texas in 2008.
The painting also represents a new rallying cry for the Red Raiders – "Ride together." The 34-year-old Kingsbury and his homegrown staff – six of the 11 coaches played at Texas Tech – is fostering unity.
"I feel like we've, as a team, we've never really rode together," junior tight end Jace Amaro said. "I finally feel like we have the chemistry to put all of this together for a great season, a greater season than anyone's expected."
"It's the little things that make a team great," senior running back Sadale Foster said. "If we can get closer to where we can trust the man next to us and know that if I mess up, he's going to have my back. That's going to make us a better team."
The players are emphasizing the idea that they have each other's backs, that each player plays for the player next to him. And that philosophy includes the coaching staff.
"We're all in this together," Kingsbury said. "I let these guys know that we're in the trenches; we're not coaching from a soapbox. We're part of this school and this is our school, too."
Texas Tech basically ran in place the last three seasons but prior to that the Red Raiders won 46 games over a five-year stretch that included the 11-2 season in 2008. Hiring Kingsbury to replace the departed Tommy Tuberville has created nearly nine months of West Texas excitement.
Kingsbury's first season in the Big 12 coincides with the Conference lacking experience and well-known names at quarterback. In that case, Texas Tech and its new coach are a perfect fit. The Red Raiders must replace two-year starter Seth Doege at quarterback. It's likely that two freshmen will split time at the position when Texas Tech opens the season at SMU.
For the coach, the first game is the first step.
"I think my expectations for the program are probably higher than anybody's in the country," Kingsbury said. "It's not like we're coming to a program that's broken. If we're not getting done what I think we should get done, that is what it is and that's pretty black and white. I don't put any extra pressure on myself. I just try and get better each and every day with our program."
Coach: Kliff Kingsbury (first season).
2012: 8-5 overall, 4-5 in Big 12, tied for 5th .
Bowl: Defeated Minnesota, 34-31, in Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Returning starters: 6 on offense, 9 on defense.
Key players: Junior RB Kenny Williams, senior WR Eric Ward, junior WR Bradley Marquez, junior TE Jace Amaro, sophomore QB Michael Brewer, freshman QB Davis Webb, freshman QB Baker Mayfield, junior DE Jackson Richards, senior DE Dartwan Bush, senior DT Kerry Hyder, senior LB Will Smith, junior LB Blake Dees.
Three Key Questions
1. How will the new kid in town fare?
Since he was hired last December, Kliff Kingsbury's presence as the team's new coach has stoked the enthusiasm for Red Raiders football in West Texas. At 34, he's the second-youngest coach at the FBS level. Kingsbury is regarded as one of the up-and-coming stars in the coaching ranks. Maintaining the excitement in Lubbock will be determined by how well the team performs.
2. Who will play quarterback?
As offensive coordinator at Texas A&M last season, Kingsbury worked with a Heisman Trophy winner. The three quarterbacks vying to be the starter have never started a college game. Sophomore Michael Brewer has been sidelined recently with a back injury. The starter for the season opener will either be freshman Davis Webb (who enrolled early and went through spring practice) or freshman walk on Baker Mayfield. There's a good chance both could play against SMU.
3. Will the defense improve?
Matt Wallerstedt is Texas Tech's fifth defensive coordinator in the last five seasons. In addition to schooling his players in yet another defensive play book, Wallerstedt wants to confuse opposing quarterbacks. The Red Raiders will use a variety of fronts and plenty of disguised coverages. The goal is to force more turnovers. Over the last five seasons, Texas Tech's turnover total has declined (29 in 2008 to 11 last season).
Cody Hayes, a 6-5, 275-pound freshman from Fort Worth Eastern Hills has impressed offensive line coach Lee Hays. Hayes finished second in the shot put at the Class 4A track and field meet three months ago. … Senior Sadale Foster is the frontrunner to be the team's punt-return specialist, a job receiver Austin Zouzalik held the last four years. Foster earned all-conference honors as a punt returner when he was in junior college. … Depth on the offensive line is a concern and sophomore Tony Morales, slated as the starter at left guard, is likely to miss the season opener after undergoing shoulder surgery. … Last season, Texas Tech won 2 Big 12 games in overtime, lost a game in overtime and lost three Conference games by 21 or more points.
Numbers To Note
As a senior quarterback in 2002, Kliff Kingsbury led the Big 12 with 5,017 passing yards. … Sophomore kicker Ryan Bustin tied a school record with 17 field goals last season. He attempted 24 FGs. … Senior wide receiver Eric Ward has caught 166 passes for 1,853 yards and 23 touchdowns the last two seasons. … In seven games last season, tight end Jace Amaro averaged 16.4 yards per catch. … Texas Tech has won at least eight games in 10 of the past 11 seasons.
|Aug. 30||at SMU|
|Sept. 7||Stephen F. Austin|
|Sept. 21||Texas State|
|Oct. 5||at Kansas*|
|Oct. 12||Iowa State*|
|Oct. 19||at West Virginia*|
|Oct. 26||at Oklahoma*|
|Nov. 2||Oklahoma State*|
|Nov. 9||Kansas State*|
|Nov. 16||vs. Baylor* (AT&T Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas)|
|Nov. 28||at Texas*|