Gator's Bayou Wonderings: It's season prediction time...
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THIS WEEK'S WONDERINGS: I'm ready to make my 2017 predictions for the Red Raiders...
That's right, friends. college football season is in full swing. By the time you've read this, we'll either be hours away from or hours into the season with games beginning on Thursday night.
The Red Raiders will obviously get things popping with their season opener against Eastern Washington on Saturday afternoon, which everyone is undoubtedly now chomping at the bit to see.
With that said, I've done my research, combed through the roster, calculated outcomes, and consulted a shaman, so I'm ready to throw out all my predictions that will most likely make me look like a buffoon come December.
So, here we go....
-I feel this Texas Tech defense is going to take a significant step forward. Does that mean they're going to be a top 85 scoring defense? No, I don't think it does. But I do think your secondary and linebacker units are far and away better than they've been since 2013, probably better, and I feel really good about the interior depth on the defensive line. I'm still not sold on what you've got going on off the edges, however. I like Lonzell Gilmore a lot, and I like Eli Howard, but beyond that I have my questions. As a result, I think that's still going to be your biggest Achilles heel this fall. I think you jump up to 35 points per game as a scoring defense and make a major improvement with turnovers gained because of your improvements at LB/DB. Look for the defense to be able to get big stops when they have to finally.
-As for defensive players I circle to have big years: Jah'Shawn Johnson, Jordyn Brooks, Broderick Washington, Octavious Morgan. I think those are your four best defenders. Morgan is the best talent you've had at corner since Bruce Jones, Johnson will be a ballhawk again, Brooks will be Brooks, and Washington will have a really good year on the interior. Book it.
-Many are probably freaking out about Dakota Allen not being in that group of four. I think he's still going to be a really good player for you, but I simply think Brooks will be your tackle vacuum. look for Allen to make the bigger impact in your passing game in coverage.
DEFENSIVE MVP: LB Jordyn Brooks - I fully expect the sophomore to take his next step and be one of the best linebackers in the conference. He moves as well laterally as anyone you've had at linebacker in a long time, which is something when you consider his size. You simply haven't had anyone with these measurables playing at linebacker with this age in as long as I can remember.
DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: CB Ocatvious Morgan - Playmaking cornerbacks are a premium in the Big 12, and the cupboard has been bare for the Red Raiders in that perspective for a while. The talent at receiver in the conference these days require big, physical DBs that can hand fight and win one-on-ones downfield, and I think Morgan will be that for you. I think he'll still get beat, like every corner in the Big 12 does, but I fully expect him to be a marked improvement and true difference maker against home run balls this fall.
BIGGEST SURPRISE DEFENDER: Nose tackle Mych Thomas - Thomas started quietly making plays late last fall, and now, as Tech's full time starting nose tackle, I expect the big man to make a difference in the run game as a space eater for Tech. He's lost needed weight to allow himself to move better while adding strength to become more physical, which I think will lead to a nice finale for the DFW native as a Red Raider.
-Losing a guy at quarterback like Pat Mahomes is no small thing. He's undoubtedly the most purely talented player to ever grace the position in your school's history, and I doubt you ever see another guy like him play QB for you ever again. But that being said, I think this offense can be more balanced and consistent than the one a year ago. Will they put up the scoring numbers and they did in 2016? No, I don't think so. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
-This receiving corps. diversity will be this offense's biggest strength. You have speedy slot YAC playmakers, big physical targets that can go get the ball downfield, and players that can fight for extra yards. You'll be able to attack secondaries in a multitude of ways, which is going to force opposing DBs to make decisions on how to defend you. If you can add any kind of legitimate run game to the mix, you're going to be cooking with some real gas here.
-Speaking of running back, I still just have no real feel for how this is going to work out as far as carries or production goes, which scares me. This offensive line is going to be better at run blocking, but I don't know if there's a guy not named Da'Leon Ward who can be your every down back, and his status is still essentially up in the air as far as what he's going to give you in 2017. Can Justin Stockton take an evolutionary step forward to be a feature back? I don't think so yet. Is Nisby your go to guy? No, I don't believe so. DeMarcus Felton is your best bet in my book, but it's surprised me how little he's been talked about. I have a feeling this will be an ever evolving situation as the year goes on.
-This offensive line will flat out be better than it was in 2016, particularly in the run game. I just have a lot of faith in Brandon Jones as your offensive line coach to make the most of his young unit, though it may be a bit herky jerky through the first month as they learn how to play with each other and get in a rhythm. I think Nic Shimonek and Paul Stawarz will both serve as calming, synchronizing presences for this unit. I don't expect an elite unit, but I do expect it to be a solid group with a bright future for 2018 by the end of the year.
-I think Nic Shimonek will be a great manager of your offense. That's not a knock, and I don't mean that in the derogatory "He can't make plays" way. I mean it in that I think he'll be the most efficient signal caller that puts your offense in the best position to succeed that you've had in a good while, maybe since Graham Harrell. Yes, Mahomes was a fantastic playmaker, but I think things fell on his shoulders to make all the plays far too often. That won't be the case with Shimonek, who I believe will be a great distributor who lets your elite receivers make all the plays.
-Ultimately, I see this as a more consistent offensive unit that goes through a few bumps with the run game early on but smooths out as the year continues to develop. Your receivers are just going to be so good and diverse along with Shimonek being an efficient QB that I think this unit can play in a lot of different ways. That's a great thing. But, I don't think you'll have quite the number of explosive plays you had a year ago and will have to rely on longer drives more often.
OFFENSIVE MVP: IR KeKe Coutee - Coutee is going to be a 1200 yard receiver this fall, as I'm all in on the koolaid of him being an absolute dynamic playmaker in the open field for the Red Raiders. He's got speed for days, is a good route runner, and he has fantastic vision. I think Coutee can be your best pure receiver since Amaro in 2013.
OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: RB Desmond Nisby - I don't think Nisby is going to be your all-star running back. He's not going to tote it for 700 yards, and I don't think he's going to be your starter. I do, however, think he's going to be a mismatch and difference maker in short yardage situation that you can use as a tool to really add another dimension to your offense in must-get situations on the ground.
SURPRISE OFFENSIVE PLAYER: C Paul Stawarz - I think Stawarz is the key to your offensive line's success as a unit this fall. I believe he can be a true difference maker by being the setup man for your blocking and putting the youngsters around him in the best possible position to succeed. Look for Stawarz to be this offense's unsung hero.
-In my opinion, this is a much better Big 12 as a whole in 2017 than it was in 2016. The only team I expect to see a major drop off from is Baylor, and that's simply because their roster is a mess this season. Texas, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, and TCU are all going to be better. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are both playoff contenders. I expect West Virginia to be solid as a rock. For the first time in a long time, I just don't see a gimme game on Tech's schedule this fall.
-What that believe this year is going to ultimately be an odd one. What I mean by that is I believe this will team's parts create a greater whole than they did in 2016, and I believe in some cases, specifically at linebacker and defensive back, a much greater whole. However, I could see this team being much better on the field and still only winning six games. Why? The schedule. Road trips to Houston, Morgantown, Austin, and Norman will all be tough, TCU and Kansas State will be better football teams and tougher home tests than they were road tests in 2016, and both Kansas and Iowa State will take another step forward in their evolution.
TECH RECORD PREDICTION: 7-5 (4-5)
BOWL GAME: Cactus Bowl vs. Utah
BEST WIN: Kansas State
WORST LOSS: @ Kansas
BIG 12 FINISH PROJECTIONS:
1. Oklahoma State (12-1, 9-0)
2. Kansas State (10-3, 7-2)
3. Oklahoma (9-3, 7-2)
4. Texas (8-4, 6-3)
5. West Virginia (7-5, 5-4)
6. Texas Tech (7-5, 4-5)
7. TCU (7-5, 4-5)
8. Kansas (5-7, 2-7)
9. Iowa State (4-8, 2-7)
10. Baylor (4-8, 1-8)
OFFENSIVE MVP: WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
DEFENSIVE MVP: DL Reggie Walker, Kansas State
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: QB Will Grier, West Virginia