The 2009 Texas Tech Red Raiders will not drop off the face of the earth. Nothing in the history of Mike Leach's program offers the slightest hint that they will. The Red Raiders have absorbed fairly grievous personnel losses in the past and always managed to field highly competitive teams despite them. That rule should hold true next season as Tech seeks to overcome the departure of several key players.
But technically speaking, those losses did not have to be quite so severe. Yes, luminaries such as Graham Harrell, Louis Vasquez, Rylan Reed, Stephen Hamby, Eric Morris, Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet exhausted their eligibility. Michael Crabtree and Brandon Williams, however, did not. If they had desired to do so, they could have returned to Lubbock for the 2009 campaign.
And how different the upcoming season would look had they chosen to do so.
The early preseason polls generally peg the Red Raiders near the bottom of the top 25. That's not bad at all considering the players Tech loses from a year ago. And there was certainly a time when Red Raider fans would have been ecstatic at any preseason top 25 recognition.
Now, however, a preseason ranking of No. 25 seems like pretty small beer to many folks, and all the more so if one contemplates where Tech would be sitting with Crabtree and Williams back in the fold.
How would the return of Crabtree, a two-time unanimous All American and Biletnikoff Award winner, have altered Tech's aspect?
Crabtree's return would have given the Tech offense a level of credibility and clout that it now does not have. Mike Leach's system can always be counted upon to generate yardage and points, but the current iteration lacks a true name player at the skill positions.
Taylor Potts is an unknown to most observers. Detron Lewis is generally regarded as a good but not epochal receiver. And most people consider running backs in the Air Raid to be helpmates and afterthoughts. Therefore, even though Baron Batch is recognized as an accomplished player, he is not seen as a force that will elevate the Tech offense to ridiculous levels of proficiency.
Crabtree would have provided the Red Raider offense with such a player. He would have given it broad shoulders upon which to be carried against the best defenses on the schedule.
Crabtree would also have provided new quarterback Potts with a wealth of confidence. What quarterback would not feel greater security and have greater faith knowing that Crabtree is an option? Crabtree would have made Potts' job so much easier.
And as much as Crabtree's return would have helped the offense, Brandon Williams' would equally have boosted the Tech defense.
Everybody knew that Crabtree was declaring early for the NFL draft. Few people had that expectation of Williams.
The sudden loss of Tech's best pass rusher hurt badly. But how much greater is the pain knowing that McKinner Dixon and Brandon Sesay, two players expected to take up much of Williams' slack, may also not be around to help next year?
Suddenly, a Red Raider defensive line that looked to be the scourge of the Big 12 is a bit of a question mark. If, however, Williams had not flown the coup prior to the expiry of his eligibility, the line could have weathered the potential loss of Dixon and Sesay without too much difficulty. A starting line of Williams, Colby Whitlock, Richard Jones and Daniel Howard would have commanded some serious respect. Now, without Williams, the line could be lacking for horsepower.
Just as the absence of Crabtree leaves a hole in the big play and touchdown receiving department, so does the absence of Williams leave a void in sack production. Without Williams the Red Raiders simply do not have much in the way of returning pass rushers. With him, on the other hand, you could have penciled in double-digit sacks at the rush end position.
Boiled down, the preseason image of the 2009 Red Raiders would have been enhanced tremendously by the return of its top playmaker on offense (Crabtree) and defense (Williams). Tech supporters can only hope that reality somehow manages to surpass that image.