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November 19, 2013

Path for Tech is clear, not easy

Kansas State, Oklahoma State and now Baylor. The last two teams to represent the Big 12 in the Fiesta Bowl and, in all likelihood, the team the league will send to the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.

Texas Tech wants to be where the Wildcats and Pokes have been and where the Bears are right now.

Over the last three seasons, those three teams have shown, clear as day, that even programs with warts can win a Big 12 championship.

You don't have to be a traditional power. You don't have to have the best facilities, though clearly Mike Gundy's program wants for nothing in this area. You don't have to be located in a talent-rich region. You don't have to have great attendance or fan support.

Most importantly, you don't have to haul in nationally-recognized recruiting classes year after year to build a championship-caliber roster. Obviously, you would always prefer sign a class of 25 five-star prospects over a class of 25 three-stars, but those three programs have shown that stacking top-25 class upon top-25 class upon top-25 class is not a prerequisite for winning in the Big 12.

Oklahoma State won the Big 12 in 2011. The Pokes didn't sign a single top-25 class from 2007-11; their average Rivals.com recruiting class ranking over that span was No. 30.

Kansas State won a share of the Big 12 in 2012. Forget a top-25 haul, the fighting Bill Snyders only signed one class from 2008-12 that was ranked higher than No. 58 in Rivals.com's team rankings (No. 27 in 2008). KSU's average recruiting class ranking over that span was No. 62, which includes a 92nd-ranked class in 2009.

While this will likely change in February, Baylor hasn't inked a single top-30 class under Art Briles. The Bears are on the cusp of playing for the BCS Championship -- in the conversation with Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State -- with an average Rivals.com recruiting class ranking from 2009-13 of No. 43.

There seems to be this perception that Oklahoma State and Baylor have been consistently signing higher-ranked classes than Texas Tech in recent years. The facts don't back that up. The Red Raiders' average Rivals.com recruiting class ranking from 2009-13 is No. 34, ahead of Baylor (No. 43), Kansas State (No. 69) and just below Oklahoma State (No. 33).

The Bears didn't get to this point by signing higher-ranked classes than perennial powers Texas and Oklahoma, nor did the Cowboys or Wildcats.

So how did they do it? S-E-C. System. Evaluations. Continuity.


SYSTEM

The offensive and defensive schemes should be inherent to a successful and healthy program, not things that change as coordinators and position coaches come and go.

Gundy is on his third offensive coordinator in four years, but the Pokes' base offensive scheme has largely remained unchanged. Fifth-year senior quarterback Clint Chelf is in his fourth season in that system. Every defensive player on Oklahoma State's roster has played in the same base system from the moment they arrived in Stillwater.

The coordinators may change -- both of OSU's current coordinators are in their first year with the program -- and they may call games differently than their predecessors, but the base systems have remained the same.


EVALUATIONS

Coaches that are consistently good evaluators are worth more to a program like Texas Tech -- or Baylor, Kansas State or Oklahoma State -- than coaches that are simply good salesmen.

Look at Baylor's game against Texas Tech last week. The Bears' quarterback, top two receivers, top two running back and best offensive linemen were all lower-level three-stars coming out of high school -- none were Texas Top 100 prospects. BU's leading tackler in the game, cornerback K.J. Morton, was a two-star JUCO transfer; he also had a sack, three tackles for a loss, four pass breakups, a forced fumble and an interception against the Red Raiders. The team's injured star receiver, Tevin Reese, was also a two-star. Same with Bryce Hager.

That isn't to say that the Bears' title run has been built just by two and three-stars. Safety Ahmad Dixon was a Rivals250 prospect coming out of Waco Midway and running back Lache Seastrunk was a five-star prospect when he signed with Oregon. But Dixon and Seastrunk wouldn't be in a position to win a championship without players who were on the opposite end of the recruiting spectrum.


CONTINUITY

In the last five years, Texas Tech has had three different head coaches, five different defensive coordinators, seven different defensive back coaches, six different defensive line coaches and four different offensive line coaches.

You think that might have a little to do with the program's issues over the last few seasons?

Meanwhile, Art Briles has had very little coaching turnover since taking over Baylor in 2008. Gundy's 2011 staff -- his first season as a head coach was 2005 -- was dominated by coaches that were in their third to seventh year at Oklahoma State. Bill Snyder, after returning to the Kansas State sideline in 2009, only had two coaches leave before the Wildcats won a share of the Big 12 title in 2012.

There's something to be said for a player knowing what to expect out of his position coach, coordinator and head coach -- knowing how they operate, what they like, what they don't like, how they coach and what their expectations are. There's something to be said for a recruit knowing that, while there are no guarantees, there's a good chance that the head coach, coordinator and position coach that he committed to will still be around when he's a junior and a senior.


The path may be clear, but that doesn't make it easy. You have to have the right people in place, the margin for error is small and you have to be a little lucky. But, while things may seem bleak after four-straight losses, the good news for Red Raider fans is that if Kansas State and Baylor can climb the mountaintop, there is no reason that Texas Tech cannot do the same.



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