by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

Tommy Tuberville is as glib and outspoken as they come as a head coach. In his 15 years at Mississippi, Auburn and Texas Tech, 11 of his teams have made the postseason, including his 13-0 Tiger team in 2004, which currently has at least a semi-valid claim on a national title after the Reggie Bush-USC Trojans were stripped of their 2004 BCS championship. Tommy’s teams have won six of their last seven bowl appearances, including last year’s 45-38 victory over Northwestern in the Ticket City Bowl in Dallas.

When Mike Leach got in trouble in Lubbock in 2009, Tuberville seemed to be an excellent replacement, even though the Red Raider faithful were hesitant to change from Leach’s pass-happy ways for a more balanced team that would feature more rushing and defense. Like Leach, many of Tuberville’s comments—on everything from President Obama’s birth certificate to the future of the ten-team Big XII without a title game—have raised eyebrows and have created some mini-controversies. The head coach says he will endeavor to avoid getting any more letters of reprimand from the league office in the future.

Another thing he is trying to do is to uplift the TT defense, which collapsed in 2010 due to injury, suspension, and lack of depth, with the Red Raiders finishing 114th in total defense and a barely-there 118th vs. the pass. After a good offseason on the recruiting trail and with a key change in defensive scheme, Tuberville is confident he has bolstered a decent group of returning defenders. Tuberville, a veteran of the fierce SEC recruiting wars, landed this year’s 12th-ranked class, according to TGS recruiting “scorekeeper” Mark Teehan. Tuberville has also enlisted the help of Chad Glasgow, who is the Red Raiders’ new defensive coordinator after spending the last ten years working with Gary Patterson to develop TCU’s stingy 4-2-5 scheme, which has helped the Horned Frogs lead the nation in total defense four times in the last ten years. Plus, Tuberville and Glasgow have been pro-active in the offseason in changing the positions of defenders in order to get more speed on the field.

Regardless of the defensive scheme, the primary keys are speed and depth, says Tuberville, who was seeking to set up an SEC-style defensive rotation until attrition did in the Red Raiders in 2010. Says the head coach, “It’s all about depth and speed on defense. You really don’t have to worry about size. You worry about quickness and speed. I’ve always believed in that anyway.” Tuberville started with his secondary, which he believes returns enough young speed and depth to offer sufficient DB coverage should the pass rush improve. 6-2 jr. S Cody Davis (87 tackles LY) and 6-3 soph S Terrance Bullitt (impressive spring) offer loads of ball-hawking height and tackling ability as two of the three safeties in the new 4-2-5. Partly because of the spring work of true frosh LB Blake Dees, 2010 OLB Sam Fehoko (40 tackles) will spend lots of time up front this season as a pass-rushing DE. 2010 DE Kerry Hyder has been moved inside to become a speedy DT. New blood is incoming in the form of highly-regarded juco DE Leon Mackey and true frosh DT Delvon Simmons. And, perhaps best of all, impact DE Scott Smith is likely to return after being suspended after only four games LY. Just a week before that suspension, Smith had excelled against hated Texas with a pair of sacks, one interception, and a forced fumble. With improved depth up front in 2011, Tuberville might indeed have his SEC-style defensive depth and rotation.

On offense, there will be a new “battery” in Lubbock after the loss of senior “hurlers” Taylor Potts & Steven Sheffield, in addition to play-making receivers Lyle Leong & Datron Lewis, who combined for 161 recs. & 25 TDC LY. However, new QB Seth Doege (a RS jr.) is in his fourth year in the program, started one game in 2009, and appears to have talents similar to those of the prolific TT QBs who have preceded him. All five starters return on the offensive line, including Outland nominee sr. G Lonnie Edwards. Jr. RB Eric Stephens rushed for 668 yards LY, and true frosh RB Kenny Williams is expected to help quickly. Several veterans (sr. Tramain Swindall, jr. Alex Torres, jr. Austin Zouzalik) return from LY’s receiving corps, which is expected to be quickly bolstered by 6-4 juco Marcus Kennard and 6-5 true frosh TE/WR Jace Amaro.

Sr. kicker Donnie Carona, a one-time Texas prep star, gets another shot this season after losing his job as a freshman when he suffered four blocked PATs in his first six games. Carona, last year’s long-distance specialist, says he has solved his trajectory issues. Just in case, juco Ryan Bustin is around.

Summary...TT won its last three games in 2010 to close at 8-5. And the Red Raiders dropped TCU from their schedule this season in order to accommodate the new nine-game, round-robin slate of the shrunken Big XII. Tech is a bit of a question mark entering the year, mostly because of the new passing nucleus in Lubbock. However, recent history has shown that the Red Raiders’ new attack will fire up quickly, as long as its veteran forward wall stays healthy. And Tuberville has previously shown a knack for building quality defenses. TT might not be the best in the new Big XII, but the Raiders aren’t too far from being able to continually threaten the league’s best, as they usually did during the Leach era (just ask Texas in 2008). It’s another bowl for TT in 2011, but not likely one of the “big boy” bowls.

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