The Juice: Ten bold predictions for the 2018 football season
For the sixth season in a row, I present my bold predictions for the upcoming football season.
RELATED: Revisiting 2017's bold predictions
1. Let's get ready for a rematch - Oklahoma will top TCU for Big 12 title
This is perhaps more medium roast than bold, but the Sooners are the most talented team in the Big 12 top-to-bottom and TCU boasts a top-shelf defense and a favorable schedule.
2. West Virginia will underachieve and win just seven games
Will Grier and David Sills make up the best QB-WR connection in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country, but they won't be enough to make up for the Mountaineers' depth issues and hellacious schedule.
3. McLane Carter's stats will lag behind Nic Shimonek's, but few will care
McLane Carter will not match or exceed the 3,963 passing yards or 33 touchdowns that Nic Shimonek accounted for in 2017. Carters' numbers will be fine, if somewhat pedestrian by normal Air Raid standards - 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns to go along with a 60 percent completion rate - but he will lead an altogether more productive offense than the No. 23-ranked unit led by Shimonek in 2017.
4. Zach Austin leads the team in receptions
T.J. Vasher is the headline returnee at receiver, Seth Collins is the splashy transfer and Caden Leggett and Dalton Rigdon are the fun, seemingly out-of-nowhere rotation stalwarts, but the prediction here is that Zach Austin ends up leading the 2018 Red Raiders in receptions. An inside receiver has led Texas Tech in receptions in each of Kliff Kingsbury's past five seasons, and there's no reason to think that will change now. Austin had a great debut as a sophomore in 2015 and, provided he can stay healthy, is more than capable of being a reliable chain-mover for this offense.
5. Texas Tech will be one of the four best rushing teams in the Big 12
Texas Tech has finished in the top half of the Big 12 in rushing offense just once in the program's Air Raid era - the 2014 team ranked fifth in that category. The 2018 Red Raiders will show dramatic improvement on the ground, besting last season's 1,832 yards and 19 touchdowns by a healthy margin. Da'Leon Ward will lead the team in rushing attempts, Tre King will lead in yards and McLane Carter will chip in 150 yards of his own.
6. The Red Raiders will force 23 turnovers in 2018
Texas Tech's 29 forced turnovers last season led the Big 12 and ranked sixth nationally. The Red Raiders will regress a bit in that category this fall, logging just 23 takeaways. That will partially be due to a lack of opportunity, as David Gibbs' group defended 998 plays in 2017 but will face just 915 this season.
7. Joe Wallace will emerge as Texas Tech's most exciting young DT since Colby Whitlock
Mych Thomas' departure, at one point a minor point of concern over the offseason, will be a mere blip on the radar by the time October rolls around. Joe Wallace lit up Texas Tech's Thursday scrimmages last season and will emerge in a big way this season. He'll bolster a group that will finish as the best Red Raider defensive line unit since 2009.
8. Dakota Allen wins Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year
I missed the mark last year with my prediction that he would win Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors, but I'm doubling down on Dakota Allen this season. The Red Raiders' best defender, and perhaps best player overall, will lead the league in tackles and make enough splashy plays to be the first Red Raider since Dwayne Slay to be named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
9. Texas Tech posts the program's first eight-win regular season since 2009
Texas Tech was two missed chip-shot field goals away from winning eight games a year ago, and the bulk of that team, including virtually the entire defense, returns intact. It's reasonable to expect improvement out of every position group except for wide receiver and perhaps quarterback. Experience on the offensive line and the return of Da'Leon Ward will make for a more effective running game, which should help ease McLane Carter's transition into the team's starting quarterback role. David Gibbs' defense will emerge as one of the league's best.
10. Kliff Kingsbury's contract is extended at the end of the season
Following the end of the regular season, Kirby Hocutt and the Texas Tech administration will move to reward Kliff Kingsbury with a contract extension that keeps him in Lubbock through the 2024 season.